Catholic leaders decry executions in Idaho, Florida


BOISE, Idaho — After a last-minute delay, Paul E. Rhoades was executed by the state of Idaho Nov. 18 at the maximum security prison in south Boise.

Bishop Michael P. Driscoll of Boise said it was “with sadness and disappointment” that he learned the state carried out the death penalty for Rhoades.

“While Mr. Rhoades’ crimes were heinous, and his trial and sentencing met the standards of justice required by our state, the Catholic Church continues to believe that the sanction of death, when it is not necessary to protect society, violates respect for human life and dignity,” the bishop said in a statement released shortly after the coroner announced at 9:15 a.m. that Rhoades was dead.

“Today I pray for the victims of Mr. Rhoades and for their families. I pray for the soul of Mr. Rhoades and for his family. I also pray that this will be the last execution ever to take place, in our state or anywhere else. In union with Catholic bishops throughout the country, I believe it is time for our nation to abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life. Ending the use of the death penalty would be one important step away from a culture of death toward building a culture of life,” he said.

Three days earlier, the state of Florida executed 65-year-old Oba Chandler by lethal injection. He was convicted of killing an Ohio woman and her two teenage daughters in Florida as they were returning home from a Disney World vacation in 1989.

The Florida Catholic bishops had issued a plea Nov. 10 to Gov. Rick Scott to “stop the cycle of violence that is fueled by the desire for vengeance” and commute Chandler’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Some crimes are so serious and heinous that many would consider it unjust for the perpetrator to receive any sentence other than death as the ultimate punishment,” they said. “We join all citizens in crying for justice. But justice can be done without inflicting more killing.”

“The death penalty,” they added, “contributes to the devaluation of human life and promotes the culture of death.”

In Idaho, death by lethal injection for Rhoades was scheduled initially for 8:10 a.m., but minutes before, prison officials announced that there would be a delay.

Later it was learned a last-minute motion had been filed on behalf of Rhoades that had to be reviewed by a state judge. The judge dismissed the motion and the administration of the lethal dose was rescheduled for 9:05 a.m.

However, at 9:15 a.m., the state coroner announced that Rhoades had been pronounced dead.

At a news conference following the execution, reporters from The Associated Press, two Idaho newspapers and a local television station — the latter three chosen in a name draw to witness the execution — answered questions from the press pool.

Also answering questions were state Attorney General Lawrence G. Wasden, coroner Erwin Sonnenberg and Tom Moss, a prosecutor for two of Rhoades’ trials in 1987.

AP reporter Rebecca Boone told the media that in his final statement, Rhoades apologized to the family of Susan Michelbacher, a third victim. To the families of two other victims, he said he “can’t help you.” He concluded his brief statement by telling his mother good-bye, Boone said.

All the witnesses reported that the process of lethal injection had gone as expected, with the first dose administered at 8:53 a.m.

Media reported that as many as 100 death penalty opponents gathered outside the prison to protest Rhoades’ execution. About five supporters of the death penalty gathered as well.