Discovering Mercy for All

(Fr. Rausch is a Glenmary priest who lives, writes and organizes in Appalachia. This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

Still, capital punishment remained remote, involving nobody she knew.

Then in her later 60s a death penalty case grabbed her attention. Volunteering for office work at St. Agnes Parish in Springfield, Miss., she learned that a 20-year-old former parishioner, Jessica Clark, murdered another woman. Jessica had graduated from the parish grade school and attended the Catholic high school for some time. Although Rose did not personally know Jessica or her family, she learned about Jessica's background and identified with her.

“This girl was very large and had never been accepted by the kids at either school,” she remarked. “This hit closer to home because I grew up a big girl. I know how things could hurt and take away your self-esteem.”

Pentecost began attending the trial with her friend, Doris, who knew firsthand the many hurts these cases bring with her own son in prison on a DUI that involved someone's death. Faithfully Pentecost sat in the Greene County Courthouse each day for over two weeks praying with Doris and other parishioners for life without parole instead of the death penalty. Finally the verdict came like an answer to her prayers: second degree murder with the possibility of parole.

Over the next several years Rose joined Doris and other parishioners in prayer vigils before executions in Missouri. They prayed for the victims and their families, the condemned and his family and the abolition of the death penalty.

Then, in 1998 a horrific crime shocked Springfield. A mother, her three children and her unborn child were murdered by an estranged boyfriend and father of the unborn.

“Now I had to really decide if my feelings were always against the death penalty or just case by case,” Pentecost reflected.

The case contained the complexity of knotted twine. Drugs, lack of education, low self-esteem, abuse as a child, HIV and AIDS all wound themselves through the story of Richard DeLong, the confessed killer.

For nearly three weeks Rose attended court, even on Saturdays.

“Someone asked me why I wanted to attend these trials,” she said. “I was still trying to understand how these things could happen.”

One day as she sat alone in the courtroom without Doris or other parishioners, a Southern Baptist minister took the stand. Rev. Ron Houston, a local pastor, had visited DeLong in jail nearly every week for two and a half years.

“Forgiveness and grace were the epithets of my visits,” Houston said. He appealed to the jury not for exoneration but mercy. “If this defendant cannot receive grace, then grace will not be available to any of us because God's grace is for all.”

Though addressed to the jury, the logic of the minister's words pierced Rose's soul. “I then thought of grace as forgiveness, and I knew I had what I was looking for,” she said. “I am now against the death penalty in all cases.”

Richard DeLong is now serving life in prison without possibility of parole in a maximum security prison in Missouri.

Murderers cannot go free. Yet Rose insists, “If they are guilty, they need all of their natural life to make peace with God and others. This can only be done with life in prison without parole.”

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