Idaho Catholics urged to support commutation of death sentence


BOISE, Idaho — Bishop Michael P. Driscoll of Boise has urged Catholics throughout the state to write to the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole and ask its members to reconsider their decision to deny a request for a commutation hearing for a death-row inmate.

Lawyers for Paul E. Rhoades, scheduled to be put to death early Nov. 18, asked for a hearing so they could request his sentence be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Bishop Driscoll said Nov. 7 he was disappointed at the commission’s decision, reached Nov. 4.

Rhoades was convicted in 1988 for murdering three people a year earlier in Idaho Falls and Blackfoot. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection for two of the murders.

For Rhoades to be spared, the commission must forward a recommendation to Gov. Butch Otter, who may then commute the death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“For the Catholic community, this issue — like all life issues — is more than public policy. It involves our faith and the central issue that all human life is sacred,” the bishop wrote in a Sept. 29 letter to Otter.

In his letter to the governor, the bishop wrote: “I do not condone Mr. Rhoades’ action and share the justified anger and revulsion at the terrible crimes that have been committed.”

“I do take seriously my obligation as bishop to share and uphold our Catholic faith and moral tradition, including teaching on the death penalty,” he added.

The church’s teaching, while complex, is clear: Executions should not take place when other means, including life in prison without parole, can protect society from criminals seeking to do harm.

Bishop Driscoll noted that “Catholic teaching on this issue is more than just how to respond to violent crime; it is about justice and about what kind of society we want to be. Ending the use of the death penalty would be one important step away from a culture of death toward building a culture of life.”

“I believe the obligation of the state to protect society can fully be met, not with execution but with life confinement. To that end, I am asking you to grant Mr. Rhoades clemency and allow him to live out the remainder of his natural life in prison,” the bishop added.

If his execution goes forward as scheduled, Rhoades would be the first person put to death in Idaho since 1994. His would be the state’s second execution since 1957. Fourteen people are currently on death row in Idaho, including a woman convicted of murdering her husband and their two children by burning the family’s house down.