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The Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy voice of the Catholic dioceses of Massachusetts, spoke out Dec. 23 against the death sentence imposed on convicted murderer Gary Lee Sampson. Massachusetts, one of 12 states without capital punishment, has not executed a criminal since 1947.
In September 2003, Sampson confessed to carjacking and killing two Massachusetts men in July 2001. Because Sampson was tried under a federal carjacking law, he was subject to the death penalty.
Reacting to the death sentence, MCC released a statement saying, “We are saddened by the unfortunate decision of the jury in the case of Gary Sampson in favor of the death penalty.”
“The means of death and the surrounding circumstances will differ. Yet, the lethal injection of Gary Sampson in reaction to his murders will continue a cycle of killing that is ‘simply wrong. It solves no problem. It renders us ever more callous as a society to human life,’” MCC said, quoting a February 2001 statement by the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops on the death penalty.
The MCC statement also quotes a 1999 address by Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley, when he was bishop of Fall River saying, “The senseless violence and brutal violation of innocent victims instinctively repulses us . . . [However,] justice is not revenge.”
“Killing murderers does not deter murders, but, rather, promotes an attitude that life is cheap and that when we have the power it is all right to kill,” Archbishop O’Malley continued in his address. “State-sponsored violence will not promote a new respect for life but only serve to erode reverence for life even more.”
The death penalty was established in Massachusetts in 1898. In 1975, the commonwealth’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional. Despite popular approval of a constitutional amendment to allow the death penalty in 1982, the court ruled against it.
Support for the death penalty in Massachusetts peaked in the Legislature after the 1997 murder of 10-year old Jeffrey Curley of Cambridge. In recent years, support has declined. The past four Republican governors have tried and failed to reinstate the death penalty. In September 2003, Gov. Mitt Romney, who favors reestablishing the death penalty, commissioned a panel of scientific and legal experts to draft a detailed proposal on how a narrow capital punishment statute would function in the commonwealth.