||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
The Perversion of Justice
By: Dale Recinella
Today is one of those days.
After waking with an impressive case of gout, then I cannot find my keys. The Sunday routine requires that I stop at the church on the way to the prisons to obtain the Blessed Sacrament. Finally, I am limping across the church parking lot to my van. That’s when I hear a familiar voice.
“Look who’s here. Did you break your foot kicking the dog?” he laughs. “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you a question. Do you have a minute?”
“Sure. For you always.”
“Good. A few months ago I overheard you saying something about how the death penalty perverts justice. But I didn’t hear you explain how that’s true. Is that just your personal opinion?”
“Well, in a way, it’s a lot like the gout in my left foot this morning,” I try to smile but fear it’s a grimace. “Even though the throbbing pain is just in my big toe, I can’t walk straight, so my entire body is thrown out of balance. Already my knees and my lower back are strained and hurting as well.
“That’s very similar to how the death penalty affects our justice system. In our effort to hasten executions, we are hammering away at legal protections and discarding procedural safeguards that protect the individual from excesses of government. We pretend it’s only about the death penalty. But it’s not. It can’t be. It affects everything else as well. And we are allowing our thirst for blood revenge to throw the entire justice system out of balance.”
“Very poetic,” responds my fellow parishioner, obviously unmoved by the metaphor. “But can you give me a for instance?”
“There are many, everything from the economic impact of capital cases on our judicial system to the erosion of civil liberties. Those system wide examples can be hard to get a handle on. So let’s focus on a particular case, a real situation with people just like you and me.
“There’s a businessman who has been on death row for almost fifteen years. He claims he was framed. In arguments before the Florida Supreme Court, the prosecution admitted the state knew that an assistant state attorney went to the man’s jail cell and solicited a $50,000 bribe for the judge. The state also admitted that during the trial the judge in the case was removed from the bench in handcuffs, charged by the FBI with taking bribes in other cases. No mistrial was declared.
“Now this man is being sent back to Miami for a resentencing hearing. The twelve jurors will not be allowed to hear about the state attorney’s bribe attempt, or about the corrupt judge. They will not be allowed to hear about any of the corruption or irregularities behind his conviction. No one is allowed to even suggest in front of the jury that this man never received a fair trial. The jurors are duped into rubberstamping this egregious situation by not allowing them to hear the truth. Then, the government washes its hands and says, ‘he was sentenced by a jury.’ But the jurors are told they must assume this man is guilty and decide whether to give him a death sentence or life imprisonment.”
“You are putting me on,” my friend bristles. “That can’t be true. That sounds like the phony justice system we used to hear about in the Soviet Union. This is America. That can’t happen here!”
“It is true. It’s happening this month. Right here in Florida.”
I finally break the silence of my friend’s dismay. “There is something about a government killing its own citizens that goes against everything we cherish in America. The death penalty perverts everything it touches.”
First published: The Florida Catholic, April 11, 2002
© 2002 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
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Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed