The first woman in decades was executed on Wednesday at the U.S. federal level. The protests were big until the last minute. The community of Sant’Egidio sees a bigger problem behind this – and is hoping for the new president Biden.
DOMRADIO.DE: It was the first federal execution of a woman in nearly 70 years. Now the death sentence against 52-year-old Lisa Montgomery has been carried out by lethal injection in Indiana. Various groups tried to the very end to prevent the execution. Among other things, because there was an application to stay the execution. Lisa Montgomery suffered from severe mental illness. Sant’Egidio has long fought against the death penalty. Why is this enforcement in particular the focus now?
Matthias Leineweber (Catholic Community Sant’Egidio): It’s just a tragic story about Lisa Montgomery, a woman who has had a very difficult life story. Of course, that doesn’t excuse the cruel crime she committed. But her general situation is really tragic. There were so many people who stood up for her and her health was really bad too. A judge made the decision this week that it should be checked again. And the fact that we don’t at least wait until it’s resolved makes us really angry. It is a tragic decision.
DOMRADIO.DE: How did you try to turn the wheel at the last minute and save Lisa Montgomery?
Leineweber: We had various contacts with the government. There was a visit from the US Secretary of State to Sant’Egidio last year. We had personally appealed to Trump that he would not carry out the death sentences that were imposed at the federal level. Then we started a signature campaign in the last few days. Thousands of signatures have been collected around the world and we sent that as an appeal. But in the end it didn’t work.
DOMRADIO.DE: The US federal justice system had not executed anyone for 17 years, and then Trump came along. How far has Trump’s tenure set back the fight against the death penalty in the US?
Leineweber: So this decision to reinstate executions at the federal level is really a sad decision. Also because it actually only came in the last few months. That is a sad development, also a sad farewell from an office, with such judgments to then execute people.
Basically, the US campaign to abolish the death penalty is well on its way. States have also abolished the death penalty in recent years. For example Colorado and New Hampshire for the past two years. In other words, there are more and more states that no longer use the death penalty.
There are also far fewer state-level death sentences and executions. This is a very positive trend, but one that still makes us optimistic. We hope that we can make further progress with Joe Biden’s new leadership.
DOMRADIO.DE: In the United States, many states have long since abolished the death penalty and others continue to adhere to it. How does federal justice play in?
Leineweber: There are some particularly dramatic cases that are then decided at the federal level and where the president is the contact person, so to speak. That’s about 50 people left on death row who are being treated for their offenses at the federal level, i.e. at the national level. Usually the judiciary is divided between the individual US states.
DOMRADIO.DE: Are you hoping that the death penalty debate will take a positive turn with Joe Biden taking office? Is he taking back Trump’s decision on federal justice?
Leineweber: There is hope. He has spoken out in this regard and is also a Catholic. He also wants to move in the direction of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has removed the death penalty from the catechism and Pope Francis has spoken out strongly against the death penalty. He still knows Pope Francis from his time as Vice President and has said that he would like to move in this direction as well. That makes us very positive and we hope that if possible, the lives of those people who now have an appointment until January 20th will at least be spared.
The interview was conducted by Hilde Regeniter.