||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
By: Dale Recinella
It’s the time for distributing Easter Communion to the Catholics on Florida’s death row. Most of the men on this row are not Catholic. But our discussions of Easter seep out through the rest of the wing, stimulating thoughts about life after death. One gray haired fellow, articulate, well educated and softly spoken, has been listening as I conclude the sacrament with his neighbor. He greets me with a warm smile and a blessing in Spanish.
“You know the elderly man who used to be here?” he motions toward the end of the corridor. “He’s in general population now.”
“That’s great news. I’ll keep an eye out for him at the chapel.”
“Boy, I would love to see that chapel.”
I pause. One learns not to answer too quickly when ministering to such deep yearnings. This man was put on death row by the testimony of a jailhouse snitch. The state’s star witness cut a deal to save his own skin in exchange for giving the key testimony. This story is not unusual in the annals of the death penalty in Florida or in America.
Based upon the Old Testament Scriptures and the Jewish Talmud, the Ancient Hebrews eschewed such testimony. It was forbidden in capital cases. People convicted of irreligion or immorality, as well as gamblers, usurers, immodest persons and persons with anything to gain from their testimony, were not allowed as witnesses. The concern was that fallible human beings could too easily “remember facts” that would please the prosecutor’s in their own cases. Such corrupt evidence was fraught with the risk of condemning innocent people.
But even as our secular humanist society rails against infallibility in the Church, it has anointed our system of prosecution with the cloak of de facto infallibility. We have discarded the time-honored Scriptural and Talmudic protections against fallibility in our prosecutors. Self-interested testimony, sometimes from the very person who actually did the killing, greases the rails that lead to the gurney.
Take the case of a man who just last week was sitting in the Florida death house awaiting a May execution. The testimony that put him on death row came from a witness who only remembered the critical facts two years after the crime. Her sudden improvement in memory just happened to coincide with the need to get a deal from the prosecutors in the case of her boyfriend who was being held on unrelated charges.
There was physical evidence in the case, evidence that could have been subjected to DNA testing. But that evidence has disappeared from the court’s evidence lock up. The very police officer whose name and badge number are on the log for removing the evidence in June 1990 claims he was not the person who signed it out. Thank God that this execution has been halted by a judge for other reasons.
For all our technological sophistication, we moderns appear to have lost the insights of the Ancient Hebrews into the fundamental problems of human weakness. Sometimes people lie, especially when there is something to gain from it. This reality paints a devastating backdrop to my brother’s plight.
“I would love to give you a tour of the chapel. If your evidence of innocence ever finally gets heard by a court, maybe you can come as a visitor and be a guest speaker.”
As he laughs robustly, I guess at the thoughts behind the twinkle in his eye.
“What would you speak about if you had the podium at the chapel or in the churches of Florida?”
“That’s easy.” he smiles. “Oppression. The oppression of lies and deceit in the hands of power. And the murder of the truth.”
First published: The Florida Catholic, April 19, 2001
© 2001 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
I Was In Prison
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This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.
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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