Judges block Texas executions in day hailed by Catholic leaders as victory for life

by Kate Scanlon

(OSV News) — Texas was without any scheduled executions April 21 after judges intervened in capital punishment cases to allow two men on death row a new opportunity to clear their names.

A Texas judge April 19 canceled the scheduled execution of a death-row inmate Ivan Cantu after a new appeal in the case claimed he was wrongfully convicted on false testimony from two key witnesses in his 2001 trial.

The same day, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of another Texas death-row inmate, Rodney Reed, in his efforts to seek DNA testing that his appeal argues may prove his innocence.

“It’s the first time in my life and in my career that we have had a day in Texas where abortion is illegal and there are no scheduled executions on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website,” Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, told OSV News.

“So we had a really exciting day, it felt like life was winning, which was really encouraging,” Allmon said.

The Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is incompatible with the sanctity of human life. In his 2020 encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” Pope Francis cited the writings of St. John Paul II, explaining his predecessor “stated clearly and firmly that the death penalty is inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice.”

“There can be no stepping back from this position,” Pope Francis wrote. “Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.” Pope Francis also revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2267) in 2018 to reflect that position.

The Texas Tribune reported that on April 19, state district Judge Benjamin Smith, a Republican in Collin County, withdrew his previous court order scheduling Cantu’s April 26 execution date, finding the new claims in Cantu’s appeal require further review.

Two of Cantu’s original jurors have said they no longer support his execution after seeing the new details, the Tribune report said. Cantu, 49, has been on death row since his 2001 convictions for the murders of James Mosqueda and Amy Kitchen, his cousin and his cousin’s fiancee, respectively.

Reed was sentenced to death for the 1996 rape and murder of Stacey Stites. Reed has argued he was in a relationship with Stites and did not kill her. He claimed Stites’ fiance, a white police officer, found out about her relationship with Reed, who is Black, and killed her in retaliation. Reed’s legal representatives have sought DNA testing conducted on items found at the crime scene.

“The mood, the position of everyday Texans is shifting” on the issue of capital punishment, Allmon said, which she hopes will bring about an end to the practice, even in a state that has a reputation for being one of the biggest death penalty states.

“That’s giving legislators the courage to vote their conscience on this, because many legislators we talked to have grave concerns about the use of a death penalty,” she said.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, told OSV News, “We give thanks to God every time an execution is called off because all executions attack the sanctity of life.”

“Sixteen innocent people have been exonerated from Texas’ death row since 1973, and over the years there have been many other high-profile innocence cases that have yet to result in exonerations,” Vaillancourt Murphy said. “One example is Melissa Lucio, who received a dramatic stay of execution just two days before she was scheduled to be executed last year.”

While “Texas is notorious for executing people,” Vaillancourt Murphy said, the cases should be “a wake-up call to all of us.”

“Our death penalty system is deeply, irreparably broken because of its inherent disregard for the sanctity of life,” she said, “regardless of whether that life is innocent or guilty.”

About the author

OSV News

Leave a Comment