TO ACT JUSTLY, TO LOVE MERCY AND TO WALK HUMBLY
My Own Journey As An Abolitionist
by Marilyn J. Trechter
My own journey toward abolition actually began on April 4, 1968. On the day before my sixteenth birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. What impressed me was that I was so saddened by the riots that occurred as a response to the murder. This man was an Apostle of Non-Violence. His murderer was not found until another murder occurred in June of that year.
On June 5, 1968 Robert F. Kennedy became the second member of his family to be murdered. The response of the Kennedy family was to appeal to the court not to seek the Death Penalty for Sirhan Sirhan. The Kennedys knew that society needed to be protected, and yet they chose life rather than death.
At that time I began to deeply contemplate this idea: Why do we kill when the Man who most of us consider our Lord and Savior said not to? This same man also died a violent death at the hands of the religious and civic leaders. How can we ever allow or desire the death of another as punishment?
For several years I contemplated this reality. I was vaguely aware of the US Catholic Bishops Good Friday Pastoral against the Death Penalty. I was more aware that a movie called Dead Man Walking had been made. This movie stirred my heart to its depths. Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph, became a death row prisoner’s spiritual advisor and accompanied him to his death. The story of Dead Man Walking and Sr. Helen completely changed my view of the Death Penalty. When I had the chance to meet Sr. Helen in person, I found her to be a warm and compassionate woman who manifested the charisma of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
I was also influenced by Pope John Paul II. The Pope advocated for many prisoners on Death Row. He met with the man who tried to assassinate him in 1981. When he visited St. Louis in January 1999, the Pope asked then-Governor Mel Carnahan to spare the life of Darrell Mease, a man about to be executed by the State of Missouri. Shortly after the Pope’s visit, Carnahan commuted Mease’s sentence to life in prison.
Two experiences dramatically affected my pro-life stance on this issue. The first was the conviction and execution of Timothy McVeigh. The second experience was the abduction, rape and murder of my cousin, Kaysi McLeod. When Kaysi was murdered, I chose to be pro-life and forgive.
I am an Abolitionist because I am convinced that no one has the right to kill another person, even if that person took a life. I am committed to the sanctity of all life from conception to natural death. I am convinced that God is loving and life-giving. God loves and forgives, as do I.