By George P. Matysek Jr. 10/6/2006
EMMITSBURG, Md. (The Catholic Review) – When Shannon Schieber was 18 months old, she already knew the alphabet. By the time she was 3, she was reading better than most 6-year-olds.
With perfect grades in school, Shannon was the president of her high school and president of her freshmen class at Duke University, where she graduated in three years with a triple major in mathematics, economics and philosophy.
Vicki Schieber, Shannon’s proud mother, described her daughter as “a gift beyond anything you could possibly believe,” a young woman who lived her Catholic faith in every way.
That’s what made May 7, 1998, such a terrible day in the Schieber family.
It was on that day when Shannon was raped and murdered in her apartment near the end of her first year of graduate school on a full scholarship at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa..
Despite Schieber’s overwhelming loss, the devout Catholic mother, who lives in the Archdiocese of Washington, said she has forgiven the man who took her daughter’s life. Not only that, she asked that he not be put to death for his crimes and that the death penalty itself be abolished.
Schieber was one of several death penalty opponents who spoke Sept. 30 at Mount St. Mary’s University here for a conference called “Witness and Action: Christian Responses to the Death Penalty in Maryland.” About 100 people attended the daylong event, which was designed to raise awareness within the religious community about the death penalty.
Schieber said she believes all life is sacred. When the state has the ability to protect other lives by applying life sentences without parole, it must do so, she said. “Throughout Shannon’s life, we taught her that we could not hate and have revenge,” said Schieber. “Taking another life is not going to honor her.”
Many conference speakers said there are inherent flaws in the way the death penalty is applied. Ray Krone, the 100th exonerated death row inmate, and Kirk Bloodsworth, a Maryland Eastern Shore native who was the first death-row inmate exonerated with DNA, told of the pain they endured as innocent men on death row.
Since 1973, more than 120 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence, according to a House of Representatives report.
“The death penalty cannot be applied in a situation where innocent people can die,” said Bloodsworth, who converted to Catholicism while serving on death row at Baltimore’s Supermax prison.
In heinous cases, there is pressure to find someone guilty, Bloodsworth said. That can lead to innocent people like him getting trapped in the system.
“If it can happen to an honorably discharged Marine like me with no criminal record, it can happen to anyone,” he said. Dale Recinella, a Catholic lay chaplain for Florida’s death row and solitary confinement, said there is a growing need for Christians to take action against capital punishment on moral grounds.
“We’re not talking in the abstract about a death-penalty system that works perfectly,” he said. “It’s a system that is fraught with imperfections.”
Conference speakers noted that Maryland State’s attorneys are 1.6 times more likely to ask for a death sentence for the murder of a white victim than for a black victim. Death is sought twice as often when the defendant is black and the victim is white than when both are black, according to Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. The system is unfairly applied on the basis of race and geography and must be scrapped, they said.
“We hope to broaden the abolition movement in Maryland,” said Dr. Trudy Conway, a philosophy professor at Mount St. Mary’s who served as moderator of the conference.
Conway said she hoped participants will return to their parishes and educate members of their faith community about the “injustice” of capital punishment.