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State Faith Leaders Expressing Strong Opposition to Death Penalty

December 12, 2006

Sioux Falls, SD - The Association of Christian Churches of South Dakota opposes the death penalty law, and its members are hopeful state policy makers will revisit the issue when they convene next month in Pierre.

Bishop Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America says the Governor's stay of execution for death row inmate Elijah Page in August offers a new opportunity for a broader discussion of the issue.

"I would hope that we would work toward abolishing the death penalty as a state. These are not crimes that should go unaddressed, because we're people of law and order. However, what we are saying is we need to carefully review and rethink whether the death penalty actually is the best witness to who we are, as a people, in responding to horrendous crimes."

She believes the death penalty discussion has been amplified in South Dakota because there are inmates on death row awaiting execution.

"I think it's appropriate to review something of that magnitude, especially when we get to the point where we have a number of people who could be executed now, according to the law."

Calling it "the ultimate sentence," Bishop DeGroot-Nesdahl is hopeful policymakers will engage in serious discussions to end capital punishment.

"I take this law very seriously and would actively advocate that we not continue to keep it in South Dakota. It just does not speak well of who we are. It doesn't put our values and our best face forward."

Governor Rounds issued the stay for death row inmate Elijah Page despite Page's efforts to waive his rights to an appeal. The stay was granted so that problems with the state law allowing for lethal injections could be cleared up. The last person executed in South Dakota was George Sitts, who was electrocuted in 1947 on murder charges.

David Law/Eric Mack, Public News Service - SD