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Victoria nuns protest death penalty in Dallas

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Aug. 27, 2010 at 3:27 a.m.


CAPITAL PUNISHMENT FACTS Methods of capital punishment practiced around the globe: Lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, firing squad, hanging, shooting and stoning

Only 58 countries practice capital punishment, and the U.S. is one of only three industrialized countries that still use it. The other two are Japan and South Korea

Capital derives from the Latin Capitalis, meaning "regarding the head"

41 percent of death row is made up of African-Americans

The South has both the highest murder rate and accounts for 80 percent of all executions

14 states and the District of Columbia have abolished execution. New Mexico is the most recent to do so, eliminating the practice in 2009

Is there a need for capital punishment in civilized society?

Sister Mildred Truchard, a nun at Incarnate Word Convent in Victoria, believes passionately there is not.

Serving God in the Catholic tradition in both word and deed for more than 50 years in South Texas, Truchard's opinions of human life have transitioned somewhat over time. To that end, she now approaches the death penalty with fervent dissent.

"As long as there are other ways of protecting society, the death penalty should not be used," she said. "It's kind of a cultural thing in Texas, but there's a growing recognition here of the dignity of human life."

Two weeks ago, Truchard led three fellow Incarnate sisters to Dallas where they joined about 600 Catholic women and men to protest Texas' heavy-handed execution laws.

"It was very peaceful and well organized. One of the most peaceful assemblies I've been to," Truchard said. "Even the police were overwhelmingly friendly."

Organized in part by Truchard and affiliated with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the primary objective of the rally was to demonstrate God's love for all people, even criminals, and circulate information about punishment alternatives.

"We're not saying don't punish," Truchard said. "But take Jesus in his time, he advocated mercy."

In 2009, there were a total of 52 executions in the U.S. by lethal injection. Of the 35 states that practice capital punishment, Texas had the highest number of executions with 24, followed by Alabama with 6. Virginia was the only state to use electrocution.

Sister Amata Hollas, an Incarnate nun who joined Truchard at the rally, said she too believes the death penalty is morally reprehensible.

"Someone might see (the death penalty) as justice, but I just don't see it that way," Hollas said. "We believe in the sacredness of human life ... It's someone's life."

Both Truchard and Hollas advocate life sentences without parole as an alternative to the death penalty.

"If I were locked up for life, personally I think that would be worse than having an escape," Truchard said. "Hearing that door clang behind you forever is a powerful thing."

Truchard admits she once maintained a position of neutrality on the controversial topic, but twenty years ago, she found herself leaning toward the side of abolishing capital punishment altogether.

"As I grew up, I breathed the air of Texas and understood it to be a normal thing. I wasn't for it, or against it," she said. "But as society became more conscious of the dignity of the human life, I became more aware. "

In addition to Truchard's moral objections to the dealth penalty, she said there are pragmatic reasons to oust the death penalty in Texas.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Texas spends an average of $2.3 million on individuals put to death, about three times higher than imprisoning someone for 40 years in a private cell.

"I'm not sure if people realize that when executions are handed down, it takes money away from the local community," Truchard said. "Money used for the death penalty could be filtered back into the system and used for service projects, education, transportation, education and other things."

Until the U.S. penal system catches up with modern times and many other Western countries that no longer practice capital punishment, Truchard says she'll continue to protest and pray for change.

"We hold prayer vigils every time there is an execution here . We pray for the person who dies, their family, the victim, the victim's family and those carrying out the execution," she said. "Back in Texas 100 years ago, there were no secure prisons at that time and the death penalty was how you kept the peace. But now with a greater awareness and secure prisons, we have a better flashlight to shine on reality."

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