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Catholic leaders praise stays of executions for Arkansas death-row inmates

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Catholic leaders praised the federal and state rulings that granted stays of executions for a group of Arkansas death-row inmates during the week of April 17.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is pictured in a 2013 photo. Arkansas, which has not executed anyone in more than 12 years, plans to execute eight death-row inmates in a period of 10 days this April before one of the state's lethal injection drugs expires. Hutchinson in late February set the four execution dates for the eight men between April 17-27. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is pictured in a 2013 photo. Arkansas, which has not executed anyone in more than 12 years, plans to execute eight death-row inmates in a period of 10 days this April before one of the state’s lethal injection drugs expires. Hutchinson in late February set the four execution dates for the eight men between April 17-27. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

“After the darkness of Good Friday has come a great light,” Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network against the Death Penalty, said in an April 16 statement. She said the plan to execute these men in such a short period of time brought about “an extraordinary response from so many people calling for a culture of life and an end to this practice of retribution.”

A federal judge’s April 15 ruling stopped the state from executing six of the inmates with a preliminary injunction handed down in response to a lawsuit filed by the inmates, who claimed the executions were unconstitutional because of their rapid pace and the ineffectiveness of the lethal injection drug midazolam. They claimed the sedative drug doesn’t always work and causes those who are being executed to feel pain from the use of other two lethal injection drugs.

The previous day, an Arkansas judge, responding to a lawsuit from two pharmaceutical companies, issued a temporary restraining order on the state’s executions based on evidence the state may not have obtained midazolam properly.

The state and federal judges’ rulings are both under appeal by the state. A significant delay in these arguments could indefinitely halt these executions since the state’s supply of midazolam will run out at the end of the month and state officials have said they have no source to obtain a further supply of the sedative.

But even with the court-issued stays, the executions are still possible before the end of April if the cases are sent to the Supreme Court and it sides with the state of Arkansas in its appeal.

Arkansas officials originally scheduled eight executions from April 17-27. Two of the inmates were granted stays of execution outside of the federal judge’s April 15 decision.

These executions were announced months ago by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said they had to be done in quick succession to use the state’s final batch of the midazolam before it expired at the end of April.

Many people have demonstrated against the state’s plan to execute these man in such quick succession, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In an April 13 statement, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urged the state’s governor to reconsider the scheduled executions and reduce the sentences to life imprisonment.

“May those in Arkansas who hold the lives of these individuals on death row in their hands be moved by God’s love, which is stronger than death, and abandon the current plans for execution,” he wrote.

The bishop said the timing for these executions “was not set by the demands of justice, but by the arbitrary politics of punishment,” referring to the state’s supply of the sedative used in executions. “And so, in a dark irony, a safeguard that was intended to protect people is now being used as a reason to hasten their deaths.”

After the rulings temporarily halting the executions were issued, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, thanked all of those who had “prayed and worked so hard to prevent these scheduled executions from taking place.”

“Let us continue to pray and work for the abolition of the death penalty in Arkansas and throughout the country,” he said in a statement. He also urged for prayers for “healing for the victims of the horrific crimes” and for the perpetrators of these crimes, saying: “The Lord never gives up on anyone and neither should we.”

 

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Baltimore archbishop calls Justice Department report on city police ‘sobering and distressing’

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BALTIMORE — The same day a federal Department of Justice report cataloging systemic abuses by Baltimore’s police was issued, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore called that report “sobering and distressing.”

People gather to remember all victims of police violence during a rally outside City Hall in Baltimore July 27. The U.S. Justice Department issued a report Aug. 10 cataloging systemic abuses by Baltimore's police. (CNS photo/Bryan Woolston, Reuters)

People gather to remember all victims of police violence during a rally outside City Hall in Baltimore July 27. The U.S. Justice Department issued a report Aug. 10 cataloging systemic abuses by Baltimore’s police. (CNS photo/Bryan Woolston, Reuters)

“The report is an affirmation of those in our community who have long criticized the policing strategies and practices of the (police) department,” the archbishop said Aug. 10 in a statement, “and a repudiation of those whose actions have undermined both public trust as well as the inherent dignity of those they have sworn to serve and protect.”

In Baltimore, the police’s “pattern of making unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests arises from its longstanding reliance on ‘zero tolerance’ street enforcement, which encourages officers to make large numbers of stops, searches and arrests for minor, highly discretionary offenses,” the report said.

“These practices led to repeated violations of the constitutional and statutory rights, further eroding the community’s trust in the police,” it added.

The Justice Department reviewed five-and-a-half years of police records before making its determinations.

The report also revealed racial bias on the part of Baltimore police.

In a city that is 63 percent black, African-Americans made up 95 percent of those stopped at least 10 times without arrests or citations, one man in his 50s was stopped 30 times, and 91 percent of those arrested whose only charge was “failure to obey” or trespassing.

“I encourage people to read the report, reflect on the findings and consider the role that each of us should play in bringing about much needed change,” Archbishop Lori said.

The investigation was prompted by the April 2015 death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray from spinal injuries he sustained riding in the back of a police van after being arrested for possession of what officers said was an illegal switchblade. They suspected Gray was watching out for a drug transaction.

Although Gray’s death was ruled a homicide by the city’s medical examiner’s office and six Baltimore police were charged in connection with Gray’s death, one mistrial and a series of acquittals led prosecutors to forgo the trials of the remaining officers.

Protest marches in Baltimore turned violent before and after Gray’s funeral, with dozens of police injured and even more protestors arrested. The city of Baltimore paid $6.4 million to Gray’s family to avoid a lawsuit.

Fourteen U.S. cities are currently operating under consent decrees with the Justice Department to reform their police practices. Baltimore has not entered into a consent decree, but is expected to do so, although a few elected officials have wondered how to pay for the reforms.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had asked the Justice Department to conduct its investigation after the rioting that followed Gray’s death. In response to the report she said the findings “are challenging to hear,” but are a crucial step in reforming the department.

Archbishop Lori said, “it is clear from the report that nothing short of a change in the culture within the (police) department will result in the kind of reform that is necessary to ensure the fair and equitable treatment of every citizen of Baltimore.”

He added, “While this report rightly warrants a collective call for change, we cannot ignore the good and just service of the vast majority of policemen and women who put their lives on the line every day as they carry out their duties with respect for their office and those they serve.”

Archbishop Lori said, “I pray the reaction to this report will not obscure their selfless service and will inspire others to follow them and to join efforts to address this resounding call for urgent change.”

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Federal appeals court rules agains Wisconsin abortion law

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CHICAGO — A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that Wisconsin’s abortion law requiring abortion clinic doctors to have hospital admitting privileges was unconstitutional.

In a 2-1 decision Nov. 23, the 7th Circuit in Chicago said the provision of the 2013 law endangered the health of women.

The decision for the majority, written by Judge Richard Posner, said the medical benefit of the requirement was “nonexistent” and “cannot be taken seriously as a measure to improve women’s health.”

“What makes no sense is to abridge the constitutional right to an abortion on the basis of spurious contentions regarding women’s health, and the abridgment challenged in this case would actually endanger women’s health,” Posner wrote.

In response, Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, said the appeals court decision “is detrimental to providing continuity of care for women who suffer complications from an abortion.”

“Wisconsin Right to Life is disappointed that women will continue to not receive the care they need under these frightening circumstances,” Weininger said in a statement from the organization.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel planned to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision, a spokesman said.

Weininger welcomed Schimel’s announcement, saying the health and safety of women across the country were at stake.

The high court is reviewing a case challenging a Texas law that has a similar admitting privilege stipulation. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the Texas law and its wider provisions that include regulations that would close three-fourths of the state’s abortion clinics.

In a dissenting opinion on the Wisconsin law, Judge Daniel Manion determined that the requirement for admitting privileges helps ensure that doctors are properly credentialed and promotes continuity of care and informed decision-making by patients.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services, the state’s two abortion providers, challenged the law soon after it took effect. The lawsuit contended that Affiliated’s Milwaukee office would be forced to close because its doctors could not get admitting privileges. Doctors at Planned Parenthood’s three clinics in the state have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

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