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Leadership statement on recent federal executions

For the first time in 17 years, the bells tolled at the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. for each of the three federal executions during the week of July 13-17, 2020. We are saddened by the government’s decision to move forward with these three executions, especially during a global pandemic which has taken the lives of more than 600,000 souls worldwide and more than 140,000 here in the United States.

Sister Paula Damiano (back, left) and Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp (back, right) hold a Sisters of Providence Love, Mercy, Justice sign during a July 13 press conference as Priscilla Hutton speaks.

We were both surprised and saddened to see the administration carry out the execution of Wesley Ira Purkey, who was impaired with Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and brain damage. The execution of Dustin Lee Honken hit us hard as well, as our own Sister Betty Donoghue ministered with him.  And we were aghast upon reading attorney Ruth Friedman’s statement referencing the treatment of her client, Daniel Lewis Lee, during his final hours on earth, which was inhumane.

As most of us across the country were sleeping on Tuesday, July 14, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision setting the table for Daniel Lewis Lee’s execution. Before 3 a.m., witnesses were called back to the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary for the execution, set for 4 a.m. During a flurry of judicial decisions, Daniel Lewis Lee was strapped to a gurney for more than four hours and was finally executed and pronounced dead at 8:07 a.m.

This social media screen capture is the full statement by Ruth Friedman, Lee’s attorney and director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, which brings the ordeal in focus and presents the final hours of Daniel Lewis Lee’s life. After reading this statement, we were horrified for Mr. Lee and all who witnessed this tragic taking of a life.

Without a doubt, what each of these men did to receive the death penalty was abhorrent.  At the same time, we support life and respect all persons.  We will continue to pray for the victims and their families, for death row inmates and their families, and for legislators who determine life or death decisions.

As we expressed just last year in our statement on the death penalty, we, the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., believe in the sacredness and dignity of all life. We believe we are to love our neighbor and not to kill.

During our General Chapter in 2001, we passed a Congregation resolution opposing the death penalty. We sponsored and joined prayer vigils during executions and continue to do so to this day.

As Saint Mother Theodore Guerin said, “Charity consists in loving sincerely persons whose inclinations are most opposed to ours, in pardoning those who injure us.”

Our own Sister Ann Casper, in a recent blog, also said “My questions about the death penalty remain unresolved. Why do we (The United States Government and society) kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong? Why do we perpetuate violence in the name of justice?”

We stand for all life, not death. As a Congregation, we believe humanity has moved past the old adage of “an eye for an eye.” In fact, Jesus urged all to “turn the other cheek.” As a Congregation, we call on our country to move beyond these barbaric rituals.

The federal government has scheduled one more execution this year. This administration has scheduled the execution of Keith Dwayne Nelson for Aug. 28.

Fewer than 60 nations globally continue to utilize the death penalty, including the United States. When will this end?

It must end.

In Providence

Full statement from Ruth Friedman

“It is important for everyone to understand exactly what happened last night to our client, Daniel Lewis Lee. At 2 a.m., on July 14, while the country was sleeping, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision vacating the injunction that had been in place against the first federal execution in 17 years. Within minutes, the Department of Justice moved to re-set Danny Lee’s execution – for 4 a.m., summoning media and witnesses back to the prison in the very middle of the night. When it was brought to the government’s attention that a court stay still remained in place, the DOJ first maintained that that stay presented no legal impediment to executing Danny Lee, but then filed an “emergency” motion to lift the stay.

“Over the four hours it took for this reckless and relentless government to pursue these ends, Daniel Lewis Lee remained strapped to a gurney: A mere 31 minutes after a court of appeals lifted the last impediment to his execution at the federal government’s urging, while multiple motions remained pending, and without notice to counsel, he was executed.

“It is shameful that the government saw fit to carry out this execution during a pandemic. It is shameful that the government saw fit to carry out this execution when counsel for Danny Lee could not be present with him, and when the judges in his case and even the family of his victims urged against it. And it is beyond shameful that the government, in the end, carried out this execution in haste, in the middle of the night, while the country was sleeping. We hope that upon awakening, the country will be as outraged as we are.”

Ruth Friedman, attorney for Daniel Lee and Director, Federal Capital Habeas Project

July 14, 2020

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Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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