Oklahoma City archbishop supports effort to end state death penalty

Lethal injection Credit Samrith Na Lumpoon Shutterstock CNA Samrith Na Lumpoon/Shutterstock.

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City has announced his support for state legislation that would remove the death penalty from consideration in capital cases.

"We don't end the cycle of violence by committing more violence," Coakley said in a Jan. 14 press release from the office of state Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City), who introduced the legislation.

"When available, we should choose non-lethal ways to ensure justice and protect society," the archbishop said. He called the bill "a bold proposal that addresses the disturbing realities and inequity of capital punishment."

The Oklahoma state legislature will consider House Bill 2876 during the 2020 session, and it will be assigned for a committee hearing in February, Dunnington said.

Coakley joined Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida - both jurisdictions that also utilize the death penalty - in writing a column last month for America Magazine, urging the faithful to reject the death penalty amid efforts to resume federal executions.

The bishops noted that Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have all strongly called for an end to the death penalty, with Francis during his visit to the United States in 2015 calling for the abolition of the death penalty because "every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes."

"To oppose the death penalty is not to be 'soft on crime.' Rather, it is to be strong on the dignity of life," the bishops wrote.

"The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that the death penalty in the United States is racially and economically biased, and it varies arbitrarily in its application based on the location of the crime. Most troubling of all, we know beyond any doubt that innocent people have been sent to death row, 166 of whom have been exonerated since 1973," they said.

Oklahoma's last execution took place in 2015. Rep. Dunnington noted that the cost of incarceration for death row inmates is more than twice that of inmates with life sentences. He said there is "no evidence" that the death penalty is an effective crime deterrent.

"This is neither a partisan nor an ideological proposal," he said.

"The profound problems with the death penalty are a concern for all Oklahomans, indeed for all Americans."

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