Curtis E. McCarty says he is not a religious man, but he admires people whose faith leads them to work for the abolition of the death penalty.
William Moore is an ordained Pentecostal minister, who knows that asking for and receiving forgiveness literally is liberating.
The two men, who were in Rome for a Nov. 29 international conference on abolishing the death penalty, are former death-row inmates.
The conference where they spoke was sponsored by the Sant'Egidio Community, a Rome-based lay group that has been actively involved in the campaign to promote a global moratorium on capital executions and the eventual abolition of the death penalty.
Before leaving Rome to continue a speaking tour around Italy, the 2 men spoke Dec. 1 to Catholic News Service. They were joined by David Atwood, the Catholic founder and president of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
McCarty was freed in May 2007 after DNA and other forensic evidence proved he was not guilty of the 1982 murder for which he was convicted and sentenced to die. He had been in prison for almost 22 years -- half his life -- and spent 19 years on death row.
Moore had pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to death in 1974. After Moore converted and apologized to the victim's family, the family began lobbying the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole to commute his sentence to life in prison. And the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a death-penalty opponent, spoke to the head of the board. The sentence was commuted in 1990 and he was paroled in 1991.
McCarty said that since February he has been traveling and speaking, "trying to change a few minds."
He believes the death penalty is always wrong.
"It is immoral, first and foremost," he said. "It sounds cliched because you hear it so often, but you don't teach people that killing people is wrong by killing people. It's illogical and it's immoral."
"There is just no justification for taking that man, who is now himself defenseless and caged, helpless, and killing him. It serves no purpose. None," McCarty said.
McCarty said he is proud of the religious people involved in the fight against the death penalty; "they are being true to their faith, not just paying lip service to their faith. I have respect for them, unlike the large portion of the religious community in America that speaks rather loudly about the right to life and the sanctity of life," but supports the execution "of caged men who pose no harm to anybody."
The unjustly convicted McCarty, the forgiven Moore and the activist Atwood know people want to believe the death penalty is a deterrent to crime, but none of them buys it.
"There's not a person alive who does not know what will happen to them if they get caught," McCarty said. "People who commit crimes don't think they are going to get caught. It's a universal mindset."
Moore said, "Getting caught is not part of their plan. Every criminal I've talked to didn't plan to get caught, so the punishment of the death penalty never comes into the equation."
Atwood, who started visiting death-row inmates in the late 1980s and has witnessed three executions, said that after talking to the prisoners, even those who were obviously guilty, "I had no problem seeing that all life is sacred. The sacredness of human life applies to everyone."
Texas has executed 18 prisoners this year and 423 since 1982, he said. "Has it helped anything? Has it made Texas any safer? Not at all."
After 423 executions, he said, "if the death penalty was a deterrent, we would not have any murders in Texas."
Atwood's wife, Priscilla, said, "All life is sacred; all life. That means that it is wrong that people should live in poverty. It is wrong that people should suffer from wars. The death penalty is wrong, just as abortion is. I don't think Jesus ever said, 'This life is more valuable than that life.'"
(source: Catholic News Service)