The death penalty is a provocative action that I have agonized over for most of my seventy-four years.
So how could someone like me, who had never before given serious thought to the detailed pros and cons of capital punishment, ever become an advocate for its elimination from Ohio Law? Actually, my recent conversion involved a three-step process: first I was blessed to spend two hours listening to Sister Helen Prejean speak of her life's work to bring justice to our justice system, second I read Sister Prejean's book "Dead Man Walking", and finally, I was personally touched by the incredible story of one innocent man, Mr. Joe D'Ambrosio; whose wrongful conviction, death sentence and incarceration on Ohio's Death Row robbed him of 22 years of his personal freedom. Grace did all the rest.
While on Death Row, Joe D'Ambrosio spent his first nine years making attempt, after attempt, after attempt to convince someone on the outside that he had been wrongly convicted. His valiant efforts to get at least one person to believe in his innocence all came up void until he met Father Neil Kookoothe in 1998. Father Neil is a Catholic priest who had previously been a practicing nurse, and who, subsequent to his ordination, became an attorney. At long last Joe had an advocate that not only believed in his innocence, but was ready, willing and able to help wage a fourteen-year legal war to overturn the injustices within our justice system that would ultimately free this innocent man.
Once I heard the real-life stories told by this "convicted felon" and the person most responsible for saving his life, I became absolutely convinced that others must also have an opportunity to listen to these compelling witnesses tell the truth. I was prepared to do whatever I could to help Joe and Father Neil share their stories. And now, I also had a new-found passion to eliminate state-sponsored killing that motivated me. Then it struck me – there are other people out there who are just as passionate about continuing to use the death penalty to mete out justice. Might they too have a change-of-heart?
I now understand and accept that killing for the sake of justice is always wrong; that “the antidote to violence is not more violence”. We will all be better served by putting a stop to the executions; regardless of our feelings to the contrary. Unfortunately, overcoming our personal hurdles to accept such a change is so much easier said than done. The foundation on which I have had to reconcile my own internal conflicts is to realize that my most crucial calling is to show true compassion for everyone concerned: for the victims, for every one who feels the anger, the pain and the suffering related to capital crimes against their loved ones, and for the perpetrators as well.
Two honorable men will be offering their personal stories that just might help all of us (including our youth –seventh grade and above) to think seriously about the honorable alternative. This will take place at: Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Port Clinton, Ohio, on Sunday evening, Oct. 28, starting at 6:30 p.m.
Please join us.
John A. “Jack” Resetar