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Faith and the Death Penalty

The author of a book about faith and the death penalty, Mark Osler, will speak on the topic tonight in Lexington. Credit: University of St. Thomas.
The author of a book about faith and the death penalty, Mark Osler, will speak on the topic tonight in Lexington. Credit: University of St. Thomas.
September 8, 2015

LEXINGTON, Ky. - How people of faith square their religious beliefs with the death penalty - or not.

Former prosecutor Mark Osler says that's one part of the debate over capital punishment that's too often discounted.

He's bringing that message to Kentucky for tonight's Newman Foundation "Distinguished Speakers Program." Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, is author of "Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment."

"What I have found is many people don't connect their faith to the way they feel about capital punishment," he says. "There's a deep irony there, given that at the center of the faith is an unjust execution."

Kentucky is one of 31 states where the death penalty remains legal. There hasn't been an execution here since 2008.

Osler admits he gets push back from some about his message that elements of Jesus' trial mirror the most common components in capital cases today.

"My answer's always the same, yes, I am comparing Jesus to a prisoner, but I do that at Jesus' invitation when he says when you visit the prisoner you visit me," says Osler.

Seven states have abolished the death penalty since 2007 and Osler says the reasons vary, noting cost was a huge factor in Connecticut while faith played a larger role in Nebraska.

"No part of our criminal justice system should be all justice or all mercy," says Osler. "There at least has to be some of each aspect. And, when we have a death penalty the finality of that takes the chance of mercy away. It takes the chance of redemption away."

Lawmakers again this year rejected two bills that would have made life without parole the maximum sentence; legislators often citing the death penalty as a deterrent to crime.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY