The Virginia bishops said they “welcome with gratitude” the April 20 decision by Virginia Gov Terry McAuliffe to commute the death sentence of Ivan Teleguz.
“We are all children of the same merciful, loving God, and he alone has dominion over all life,” said Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Michael Burbidge of Arlington in an April 20 statement released by the Virginia Catholic Conference.
The bishops said they have a “profound respect for the sanctity of every human life, from its very beginning until natural death” and they “continue to express deep sorrow and pray for all victims of violence and their loved ones.”
They also said they would continue to “pray for a change of heart and a spirit of remorse and conversion for all those who commit acts of violence.”
Teleguz, found guilty in a 2001 murder for hire of his former girlfriend, was set to be executed on April 18. He petitioned the governor with a request for a pardon, which was not given; he will now serve life in prison without a chance of parole.
McAuliffe said he believes Teleguz is guilty, but he also said the sentencing phase of Teleguz’s trial was “terribly flawed and unfair.”
The same day Teleguz’s sentence was commuted, the state of Arkansas executed Ledell Lee after several legal challenges failed to spare his life, including a 5-4 vote by the US Supreme Court rejecting a last-minute appeal. The state initially wanted to put eight inmates to death during the last two weeks of April before its supply of midazolam, a sedative lethal injection drug, expired.
Three of the executions were cancelled by court decisions and another was given a stay. The state is scheduled to execute three other inmates during the last week of April.
On April 19, the Louisiana Supreme Court threw out the conviction and death sentence of Rodricus Crawford, citing racial discrimination for excluding some African-American jurors. The case now goes back to a lower court for a new trial.
Crawford was convicted of murdering his one-year-old son, but the defence argued that the boy had pneumonia and could have died from natural causes.
“In many respects, this case may reflect both the past and future of the death penalty in America,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in an April 19 statement. “A jurisdiction with a history of racial bias, prosecutorial misconduct and overuse of the death penalty chose to pursue a death sentence against a grieving father, despite evidence that his child had unexpectedly died of natural causes.”