Anti-death penalty activist says she wrestled with issue and 'God won'

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Marietta Jaeger-Lane has faced the death
penalty issue head-on.

In 1973,
when her 7-year-old daughter was kidnapped during a family camping trip in
Montana and murdered by her captor, the mother of five said she would have killed the person who did it with
her “bare hands.”

my Catholic faith calls me to something different,” she said, explaining
how she came to a change her opinion on the death penalty, which she likened to
a “wrestling match where God won.”

speaking to reporters in a May 11 press call officially launching the National Catholic
Pledge to End the Death Penalty, said most people have “a gut level
response to acts of extreme violence, but when they are educated on the reality
of the death penalty, they begin to rethink their position.”

told reporters that her daughter’s kidnapper called her a year to the day of
the kidnapping and was arrested soon after, but she asked the prosecutor for the
alternative sentence of mandatory life without parole. Only when the kidnapper was
offered that, she said, was he willing to confess to the murders of three children,
including her daughter Susie, and a 19-year-old.

decades, Jaeger-Lane, who forgave her daughter’s killer, has spoken out against the death penalty, urging people to see that capital punishment does not bring the
closure or healing that victims’ families are seeking. She said it also denies
the criminals the chance for the “mercy of God working in their lives.”

said she signed the anti-death penalty pledge, sponsored by Catholic Mobilizing
Network, because she believes “the Catholic community can be the one to
end the death penalty.”

She also is convinced there is more Catholics can do, stressing that she would like to
hear priests speak out against the death penalty as they do against abortion as
a pro-life issue. She also pointed out that many parishes have prison
ministries — noting that she is part of a ministry that visits a prison every
week — but she thinks there needs to be more of an outreach of support for
victims’ families.

need to be listened to in their desire for revenge, she said.

Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on
Domestic Justice and Human Development, who also took part in the press call, similarly
urged the church to take up the “ministry of accompaniment” to
support victims’ families.

bishop, who signed the pledge May 9, stressed that its key components call people to be
educated on the death penalty, advocate against it and pray for it to end.

He said
Catholic bishops have spoken out for decades against the death penalty,
stressing that the “human dignity in every human being must be

The idea for the pledge campaign began in January, said Catholic Mobilizing Network executive director Karen Clifton. She said Arkansas’ bid to execute eight death-row prisoners in a 10-day span in April — four were ultimately put to death — “exacerbated the situation and showed it as a very live example of who we are executing and the reasons why the system is so broken.”

The pledge campaign is supported in part by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Communication Campaign. It can be signed here:

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Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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