Sant’Egidio: ‘Save the life of Kenneth Smith'

The Sant’Egidio Community launches an appeal to say “no to the death penalty” and save the life of Kenneth Smith, a man condemned to die in the US state of Alabama. The appeal is part of a 2-day “Cities for Life – Cities Against the Death Penalty” event.

By Devin Watkins

Kenneth Smith has been sentenced to death for the murder of a pastor’s wife. His execution is at the centre of a legal controversy. He has already endured a botched execution, and Alabama is seeking to use nitrogen hypoxia, a gas not even allowed for the slaughter of animals.

It would be the first time that this cruel method would be used on a human being without testing it beforehand.

The Rome-based Sant’Egidio Community seeks to respond to Pope Francis’ appeal for Christians to work toward the abolition of the death penalty across the globe.

Its appeal to save Mr. Smith is part of a two-day “Cities for Life—Cities Against the Death Penalty” event promoted by the Community on 29-30 November that included an international Conference and the lighting up of the Colosseum against the death penalty worldwide.

In an interview with Vatican News, Gary Drinkard, a former death row inmate, said he is now campaigning, together with Sant'Egidio, against the death penalty.

In telling his story, he spoke about how prayers and human interactions allowed him to endure his eight years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Mr. Drinkard he reflected upon how the death penalty is really punishment for the families of the victims, because “the prosecutor breathes hate” into them.

Gary's story

It was in the mid-1990s that Drinkard was condemned to death in Alabama for the robbery and murder of a man.

“I was appointed some incompetent attorneys who had never handled a capital case. I was found guilty after about three days, and was sentenced to death in the electric chair,” Mr. Drinkard said.

He appealed his conviction, and was represented by several lawyers who took his case pro bono

“This time,” he said, “I had been writing to everybody that I could get an address for and begging for help."

Ahead of his appeal, local newspapers in Alabama bore the headline "Drinkard’s Got A Dream Team", because that time around he had some good attorneys who proved his innocence.

Faith and friendship

Faith and pen pals, Mr. Drinkard continued, were the things that helped him during his time on death row. Also, the fact that so many people were praying for him, including entire church congregations.

“I honestly believe that prayers were a big help in getting me out,” Gary Drinkard affirmed.

“Prayers were a big help in getting me out.”

Appeal for Kenneth Smith

As mentioned, Drinkard was in Rome to join Sant’Egidio’s fight against the death penalty and to launch, with the Community, an appeal for someone he personally knows: Kenneth Smith.

“On the occasion of 30 November, this year, we are launching an appeal to save the life of Kenneth Smith, who was sentenced to death in Alabama,” explained Carlo Santoro, who leads Sant'Egidio's campaign to abolish the death penalty in the United States.

Mr. Santoro told of how, one year ago, Mr. Smith underwent a botched execution that lasted over 6 hours and survived the ordeal.

Last month, he continued, the Supreme Court of Alabama decided to go ahead with another execution, “this time with nitrogen hypoxia, which is a gas which is not allowed even for the slaughter of animals, because it's inhumane."

Reiterating Sant'Egidio's commitment to eliminate capital punishment, starting with that of Kenneth Smith, Mr. Santoro said: “We invite all people to join us and to send a petition to the governor of Alabama.”

“Let us stop together the death penalty all over the world!”

Stop punishing the families

Reflecting on how the death penalty is a barbaric practice that no “civilized” country should allow, Mr. Drinkard described capital punishment as vengeance, not punishment.

“They don't punish the prisoner. The prisoner, when he gets sentenced to die, accepts his death, and he is no longer punished, especially if he's made his peace with God,” he said, noting that those who are punished are the families of the victims and of the prisoners.

Repeating his appeal to abolish the death penalty, Mr. Drinkard reiterated his belief that it’s the families that suffer punishment because, he said, “the prosecutor breathes hate into the victim’s families; the prisoner’s families are punished, so the family members are punished, not the prisoner.”

“We would pray that everybody would help us abolish the death penalty,” he concluded, “not just in the United States, but in every country that still has it.”

“We would pray that everybody would help us abolish the death penalty.”

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30 November 2023, 08:00