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Service reflects on death penalty

Jen Rowling | Friday, February 25, 2005

The Community of Sant’Egidio held a special prayer service Thursday night at the Log Chapel to pray for and reflect upon those sentenced to the death penalty.

This group, which began in 1968 as a small group of high school students in Rome, now consists of over 60,000 members from over 70 countries. The community works for justice, including a global campaign opposing the death penalty.

Thursday’s service began with the attendees gathered in a circle participating in worship songs, gospel readings and the reading of a letter written by death row inmate Dominique Green. The prayer service then turned toward more personal encounters with the death penalty.

Notre Dame graduate student Melissa Broome reflected on the murder of her father when she was 11 years old. The murderer was a 23-year-old father and the son of a pastor. Broome’s family lived in what she described as a safe California town.

“We lived on the right side of the track,” she said.

Despite the perceived safe surroundings, Broome’s father was murdered during a robbery of his store.

Broome remembers, as a child, telling her mom she did not want the murderer to die at the time. However, she said she understood when her mother told her she was too young to grasp the situation.

As Broome aged, she realized her father’s murderer had become nameless and faceless to her. She said she felt this realization was “proof that the system strips away humanity.”

Broome said that one night she had a dream her father’s murderer had been executed. She described waking up panicked.

“There is a man in prison in L.A. who took my childhood one afternoon,” Broome said.

This belief, however, does not change her strong opposition to the death penalty.

“I know what life is and I know it is not in my power to demand it be taken away,” she said.

Broome said the murder of her father is not made any easier by the fact another man will die. She does not want the son of the murderer to feel her grief, and said she felt the execution of an individual affects innocent victims. Broome also said the execution of her father’s murderer could never fill the void left in her life.

“My heart is not full of hate,” she said. “It is full of grief.”

Father John Gilmarten, who came to Notre Dame this week to share his experiences with the death penalty, reflected on his friendship with death row prisoner Michael Ross. Ross requested the death penalty hoping it would bring peace to those victims affected by his actions.

Gilmarten spent time with Ross building a friendship and said Ross regarded him as a spiritual advisor. Prior to Gilmarten’s arrival at the jail, the death row inmate had only spoken with fellow inmates and guards.

Ross was scheduled to be executed Jan. 28. Gilmarten said newscasters and policemen surrounded the premises.

“It was a show, it was terrible,” he said.

Ross’s execution has once again been postponed, Gilmarten said, adding that the day Ross was to be executed, he said to Gilmarten, “When you hug me, remember for 13 years I never touched another person.” Gilmarten said that through their relationship, Ross learned that God had forgiven him for what he had done.

The prayer service was part of a series included in Death Penalty Awareness Week. Other activities include a March 1 speech by Madison Hobley, a former inmate found innocent of murder after 14 years on death row and a keynote address by former governor of Illinois George Ryan.

Ryan’s speech will entail his unprecedented 2003 decision to issue a moratorium against state executions, which freed Hobley and three other death row inmates while commuting the sentences of 163 others.

The speech will be followed by an open panel discussion titled “The Death Penalty in Indiana.”