The appeal noted the recent execution, in the United States, of Troy Anthony Davis, an African-American, on accusation of murder, in 1989, of a Savannah police officer, Mark MacPhail, in Texas. The appeal also referred to execution of Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist, for involvement in the gruesome hate motivated murder of James Byrd, an African-American, in 1998.
The appeal by the Catholic academics said,
As theologians, scholars, and social justice advocates who participate in the public discussion of Catholic theology, we protest the state-sanctioned killings of both of these men, and we call for the abolition of the death penalty in the US.
The catholic academics described as "particularly troubling" the execution of Troy Davis. They said that while they sympathized with the family of Mark MacPhail for their loss they could not but note that,
a grave miscarriage of justice took place with Davis’ execution. As many legal experts have pointed out, including former FBI Director and federal judge and prosecutor William S Sessions, serious doubt remains about Davis’ guilt. Until his last breath he maintained his innocence. The failure of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, a Federal Appeals Judge, the Georgia Supreme Court, and the US Supreme Court to grant Davis a new trial reveals a deeply flawed justice system. We therefore call upon lawmakers and President Obama to immediately repeal the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which created the legal conditions for executing a man whose guilt was not established beyond reasonable doubt.
The academics dug into the historical background to the death penalty in the United States linking it with the "horrific legacy of lynching" which "casts its evil shadow over current application of the death penalty." The appeal claimed that,
Studies have shown that black defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty. In many states with capital punishment, defendants are from three to five times more likely to be executed if their victim was white. In states that retain the death penalty, 98 percent of district attorneys are white and only one percent are black. Execution is also irrevocable, and innocent people have likely been victims of it. Since 1973, 138 persons have been exonerated from death row, most of whom were people of color and economically poor.
The appeal quoted the USA conference of Catholic Bishops:
the sanction of death, when it is not necessary to protect society, violates respect for human life and dignity…Its application is deeply flawed and can be irreversibly wrong, is prone to errors, and is biased by factors such as race, the quality of legal representation, and where the crime was committed. We have other ways to punish criminals and protect society.
The scholars frankly admitted that the church had, in the past, advocated the death penalty for certain categories of offenses, but noted that, in recent times, with more secure prison facilities, the church has shifted its position to an unconditionally "pro-life" stance.
The scholars, from a theological perspective of assessment, wondered why some Christians insist on the death penalty on biblical grounds. They quoted the theologian Karl Barth, who said:
Now that Jesus Christ has been nailed to the cross for the sins of the world, how can we still use the thought of expiation to establish the death penalty?
The scholars decried the death sentences of more than 3,200 inmates on death row and the 1,268 executions since the the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, and urged the nation to abolish the capital punishment, which they say, is a threat to the "human life and dignity."