A judge in Brevard County may decide today whether convicted murderer Margaret Allen should be sentenced to death for killing her housekeeper in 2005. In September of 2010, the jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of 12-0. This because Allen tortured her housekeeper, Wenda Wright, (whom she thought was stealing from her) by tying her to a chair so she could beat her and pouring liquids on her face. Allen eventually forced Wright to drink acid, which was the ultimate cause of death.
Much has been made of this case because Allen would become only the 2nd woman to be on death row in Florida. Why the gender of the convicted is important is uncertain. What is certain is that both the victim and the killer are children of God, and as such, their lives (and their eternal souls) are to be respected for the dignity with which God created them. After God punished Cain for killing his brother Abel (forcing him into exile in the land East of Eden), He still protected Cain, pronouncing that no one should take vengeance upon him, lest they be punished sevenfold (Gen 4:15).
Catholic moral teaching is that, while the state reserves the right to use capital punishment, it should only be exercised in extreme situations. The death penalty needs to be an instrument of justice, not vengeance. As a nation, our penal system is supposed to be more concerned with rehabilitation, not just retribution. As Catholics, we need to see beyond the feelings of the victim or the cold reaction of the convicted murderer to her sentence being pronounced.
Today, the judge is hearing from the family of the victim and Allen is expected to make a personal plea for clemency. Let us pray that justice, and not mere vengeance, will be served and upheld by the judge.