Members of a group known as Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona helped organize a legislative summit Sept. 13 at the Arizona State Senate. Eight speakers — including Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares — addressed a crowded hearing room regarding both the costs and the justice of the death penalty.
Arizona is one of 32 states nationwide that performs executions.
The traditional teaching of the Catholic Church “does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor,” but the Catechism says such cases “are rare, if not practically non-existent.”
Dan Peitzmeyer, president of Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona, said three bills dealing with the death penalty were introduced to the Arizona Legislature last year. “All three died in committee,” Peitzmeyer said. “The purpose [of the death penalty summit] is to start a dialogue in the community.”
Sen. Ed Ableser, who ran the discussion, stated his opposition to the death penalty and noted that Arizona is second in the nation with respect to the number of executions carried out.
“Since 1973 we haven’t had a true conversation” about the death penalty, Ableser said. “Does it save money? Is it ethical?”
Bishop Nevares explained his opposition to the death penalty in spiritual terms.
“It is a constant teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that all human life is sacred from the very first moment of conception through natural death,” Bishop Nevares said. “We believe that all life is from God and it’s only God who gives life and it’s only God who can take life.”
When man decides to take a life, Bishop Nevares said, “that is when so many disastrous consequences happen.”
Professor emeritus John Johnson distributed information to those in attendance about the costs associated with exercising the death penalty.
“It costs more to execute someone than to keep them in prison at the highest level of security for 40 years,” Johnson said. He cited a study that showed the State of California had spent $4 billion on the death penalty since 1978.
Montgomery acknowledged Johnson’s figures but said there was “the other half of the ledger” to consider. “What is the cost of justice for surviving family members of homicide victims? How do you measure the value of a life?” Montgomery asked.
“I would not characterize any dollar spent for public safety as misspent,” he said. Pre-trial litigation costs had gone up, he said, because prosecutors want to avoid having to retry cases due to issues at the appellate court level.
Four students from Brophy College Preparatory attended the summit with Megan McDonald of the religious studies department.
Jake Derito, a junior at Brophy, said he was opposed to the death penalty. “Just because someone did something bad doesn’t mean we should kill them,” Derito said. “The Bible says we shouldn’t kill. It doesn’t say ‘unless you do something really bad.’”
According to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, 1,344 individuals have been executed in the United States since 1976. The Arizona Department of Corrections website states that Arizona currently has 122 inmates on death row.