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It may be time to sign on the dotted line.

The state of New York last week reinstated capital punishment and Brooklyn-based Mercy Sr. Camille D'Arienzo recommitted herself to spreading the word about the "Declaration of Life," which for her has become a passion. A signer of the declaration is asked to agree that if killed, he or she does not want the murderer executed (NCR, July 29, 1994).

It may be time to sign on the dotted line.

Vowing to continue her work against the death penalty, D'Arienzo said, "We are not powerless if we continue to speak up. ... I am 62 years old. The first executions won't start for another 10 years or so. I will be 72 at he time. I won't see many but will spend every day of the rest of my life doing something about it."

D'Arienzo is president of the Brooklyn regional community of the Sisters of Mercy and a member of the Cherish Life group that backs the "Declaration of Life." She is also one of many Catholics who see capital punishment as both barbaric and contrary to the teachings of Jesus. "It goes to the heart of God's creative love. (Capital punishment) says not all life, only innocent life is sacred. But that's not what Jesus taught."

Capital punishment, she says, is "Orwellian contradiction, killing to teach that killing is wrong."

At the same time, she says she understands and sympathizes with those who support the death penalty. "We feel vulnerable. It is understandable that people have responded to the media hype. Ours is a climate of fear."

Capital punishment, she adds, and we concur, is not the answer to the climate of fear. Eventually the nation will wake up to that fact. While not politically popular at this time, dealing with root causes of crime - poverty and racial discrimination - gets closer to the real problems.

New York became the 38th state to reinstate the death penalty; the United States is the only Western nation to execute its citizens.

The two-page "Declaration of Life" statement, which requires notarization to be effective, states: "I hereby declare that should I die as a result of a violent crime, I request that the person or persons found guilty of homicide for my killing not be subject to or put in jeopardy of the death penalty under any circumstances, no matter how heinous their crime or how much I may have suffered."

If the declaration does not change the law, it does allow one to take personal responsibility for personal belief. The declaration instructs family and friends to deliver copies to the judge overseeing the case, attorneys, the county recorder and the media.

It was ironic that on the day New York Gov. George Pataki signed the death penalty legislation, the daily gospel reading came from Matthew and cited the Lord's Prayer, containing the words: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

The New York legislation establishes about 10 crimes punishable by death via lethal injection. Experts on capital punishment estimate that 15 to 20 percent of the 2,400 murders in New York each year could be classified as capital crimes under the bill.

The pro-death penalty climate has not yet peaked. During the legislative deliberations in New York there were no hearings, no reports, no discussion showing that the politicians understood the bill. Only boisterous speeches playing to the crowds.

Although the bill would let a jury impose a life-without-parole sentence in place of the death penalty, it does so in a confusing way. The judge is to instruct the jurors that they may impose either death or life without parole, but that if they cannot decide between those penalties, the court must impose a lesser punishment - 20 years to life.

A New York Times editorial asked last week: "What is the purpose here? To drive a jury to impose death lest the judge make it possible for the accused to go free someday? Or to empower any juror to deadlock the panel and force a sentence that is lighter than either of the two main choices? Either way, the results could be freakish and random."

When the euphoria dies, New Yorkers will awaken to realize they have increased the violence of the state's crime and punishment without making themselves any safer or more civilized.
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Title Annotation:capital punishment
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 17, 1995
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