Protesters at Matheson Courthouse object to death penalty, warrant for Ronnie Lee Gardner
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Ruby Price is no stranger to murder and the anguish it brings: Her father was shot in the back years ago, and the killer committed suicide.
But the 94-year-old Layton woman joined others Friday in the lobby of the Matheson Courthouse to protest the death penalty. The gathering took place shortly before a hearing during which 3rd District Judge Robin Reese signed an execution warrant for convicted killer Ronnie Lee Gardner.
Some protesters in the group called Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty said they were motivated by religious reasons, others found it too costly and not effective and still others said society would be better served by finding different ways to punish those who commit the ultimate crime.
For Price, the issue was simple: Taking another person's life — for whatever reason — violates God's law and removes the chance for the murderer to repent and gain salvation.
"We believe 'Thou shalt not kill,' " Price said. "How can you believe nine commandments and leave out one?"
As a Pentecostal Christian, Price said the savior forgave his tormenters as he was being crucified. "Jesus Christ said, 'Father, forgive them.' He did not say, 'Kill them,' " she said, leaning heavily on a cane but speaking in a strong, clear voice.
Price acknowledged that some people are so dangerous they must be locked up forever. But she does not believe the death penalty is supported by holy scriptures — even for those who have killed another human being.
"You're no better than a murderer if you kill them. Let's have 'Thou shalt not kill' in the state of Utah," she said to rousing applause.
The Rev. David Henry, a Presbyterian pastor currently ministering to the First Baptist Church, agreed.
"Violence begets violence," the Rev. Henry said. "Christians are to seek the redemption of evildoers and not their deaths; the use of the death penalty tends to brutalize the society that condones it."
While leading worship services and Bible studies in the Utah State Prison for 17 years, the Rev. Henry said he has witnessed profound changes in a murderer.
"If his conviction to murder had led to his execution, he would never have had the opportunity to acknowledge his crime, experience remorse, repent and find redemption," the Rev. Henry said.
The Most Rev. John C. Wester, who leads the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake, said his church's opposition to the death penalty "is rooted in our belief that God is the author of life and we must respect human life from conception to death."
Bishop Wester later expounded on those comments, noting that one tenet of the Catholic faith is the concept of life as a "seamless garment," which values human life throughout the entire spectrum of its mortal existence.
"The seamless garment theory is rooted in the sanctity of life. If all human life is sacred, that is true in all cases. We're against abortion; we're against euthanasia; we're against the death penalty," he said. "I don't see how you can pick and choose."
To permit the death penalty is to assume a prerogative that belongs only to God, and it also engages society in a culture of death, Bishop Wester said.
"There is a 'just judge,' and there will come a time when we will all stand before our maker, and God will take it from there," Bishop Wester said.
Ralph Dellapiana, a local defense attorney and death penalty project director for High Road for Human Rights, acknowledged it would be "an uphill battle" to persuade Utahns to eliminate capital punishment, since many polls show most people here support it.
"But we believe what we're doing is right and reflects the values of the majority of Utahns," he said. Polls can vary depending on how questions are worded and asked, he said.
Among other things, Dellapiana said it is far more costly to carry a death penalty case to conclusion than put someone in prison for life with no parole.
Dee Rowland, of the Catholic Peace and Justice Commission, urged all citizens, especially those who support the death penalty but have some misgivings, to contact UADP to explore different ways of punishing criminals and still keeping society safe. The organization's website is www.utadp.org.
UADP has drawn a broad-based coalition of religious and secular groups, attorneys and individuals.
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