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Understanding life on death row

Indiana Abolition CoalitionRecently, I watched the powerful story of Nathan Fields, an African-American man who was wrongfully convicted in Illinois and spent 18 years in prison, 11 of which were on death row.

Posted on Indiana Abolition Coalition’s website, his “Witness to Innocence,” lecture is part of an ongoing effort to ban the death penalty in Indiana. It is worth watching to better understand the current status of our criminal justice system and life on death row.

My heart ached for this man, who was convicted without evidence of any kind. He was simply stopped and pulled over as he was driving down the street.

That conviction, along with the daily struggle of prison life and especially life on death row, was only part of the injustice. It also kept him from attending his mother’s funeral and raising his daughter.

It was not only Nathan, but a whole family who suffered the impact of this injustice. Think how you would feel if this happened to your family.

His freedom would come only after the judge who sentenced him to death row was convicted of accepting bribes, including a bribe in Nathan’s case. In time, that gained him a new trial and another exonerated victim posted $100,000 bail so he could be released on bond while awaiting trial.

Illinois banned the death penalty in 2011. To date, 18 states and the District of Columbia no longer have the death penalty. California is the next state set to vote on this issue.

California has had 13 executions since 1976, has exonerated three innocent people from death row, and currently has 745 people on death row.

According to the National Coalition for the Death Penalty, 80 percent of the 35 executions that took place in 2014 happened in just three states: Texas, Florida and Missouri.

By eliminating the death penalty, states would have millions of dollars a year to invest in programs that are proven to prevent violent crime, create safer communities and support those who are harmed by crime and violence. Thirty states have not used the death penalty in the last five years. Source: National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Indiana has conducted 20 executions since 1976. Two people have been exonerated from death row. There are currently 14 people on death row in Indiana. Senate Bill 136, authored by Sen. Lonnie Randolph (D-East Chicago) would repeal the death penalty statute.

The Sisters of Providence are collaborating with Indiana Abolition Coalition to end the death penalty. Find out how you can participate in the effort.

Further resources are located at the Death Penalty Information Center regarding costs of the death penalty and law enforcement views on the effectiveness.

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Sister Donna Butler

Sister Donna Butler has been a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for more than 60 years. Sister Donna has served in elementary education, parish ministry, diocesan social justice, as well as the Congregation’s liturgy office, archives department and social justice outreach. She also administered as the director of the Providence Volunteer Ministry. Sister Donna currently volunteers in outreach with Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College students.

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