Texas death row inmate to be executed in days as Catholics call for clemency

Catholic News Agency
(Feb 28, 2024) National-World

On Feb. 27, Bishop Olson tweeted a call for all to read an op-ed published on Feb. 26 on Statesman.com. The op-ed is written by Jeff Calhoun, who was summoned to sit on the jury for the trial of Ivan Cantu in 2001. Calhoun speaks on his time as a juror, what led to his conviction for corporal punishment, and his shock upon being presented with recently uncovered evidence. Calhoun recants his agreement to the jury's decision in 2001 and calls for a halt to the execution to allow for further investigation. (Twitter/Bishop Olson)

(CNA) — Catholics are continuing to call for clemency for a convicted murderer in Texas who is facing execution amid an ongoing dispute over his guilty verdict. 

Texas has scheduled the execution of Ivan Cantu for Wednesday, Feb. 28. Cantu was convicted for a double murder that took place in 2000. 

In November of that year, according to the state, Cantu shot and killed both his cousin and a 21-year-old woman. He also stole jewelry and a car, the state says. 

Cantu has been on the state’s death row since November 2001. He was previously scheduled to be executed in April 2023 but was granted a stay of execution based on new testimony that alleged a possible false witness in his murder trial.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals subsequently dismissed Cantu’s request for an evidentiary hearing. His attorneys have argued since then that he should be granted a new trial based on claims that the chief witness at his first trial was unreliable. 

Cantu has drawn support from a wide variety of Catholics as his execution has drawn nearer. The Catholic anti-death penalty group Catholics Mobilizing Network (CMN) urges readers on its website to “contact Gov. [Greg] Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles” to urge them to forgo the execution.

“Newly discovered evidence — which was not heard by the jury and has never been considered by any court — casts significant doubt on Ivan’s conviction,” the group says. 

“Some of the jurors who voted to sentence Ivan to death have since called for this evidence to be reviewed, declaring that they are disturbed by the prospect they heard false and misleading testimony during the trial,” CMN says.

Catholic religious Sister Helen Prejean, meanwhile, said on her website that she has “promised to be beside Ivan if his execution proceeds” but that “there is so much wrong with the case against him.”

Prejean, who has been a vocal opponent of the death penalty for decades, wrote on her website: “There’s no way I’m simply going to acquiesce, hold his hand, and pray him into eternity without doing every single thing I can to get the truth out so that Texas does not execute this man.”

Ivan Cantu is scheduled to be executed by the state of Texas on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Courtesy/ CNA/ Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

Cantu has also drawn support from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops. Last year after the delay in Cantu’s execution, the bishops said they were “grateful [that] a judge has shown mercy to Ivan Cantu” by scrapping the April execution date. 

The case against Cantu was “riddled with serious uncertainties including false testimony, withholding of evidence, and potential framing of Mr. Cantu,” the bishops said. 

Jennifer Allmon, the executive director of the TCCB, told CNA on Monday the conference has written the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott to request a stay of execution.

“We continue to advocate for a review of his case based on the new information and his claim of innocence,” Allmon said. 

“Taking another’s life who is potentially innocent of the crime for which he is being killed is not moral and should not be condoned by the state of Texas,” she argued. 

“The Church teaches it is ‘inadmissible’ for modern societies to use capital punishment because it is ‘an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person.’ We expect accountability for harm, legitimate discipline and reparation, and the protection of society, all of which can be realized without executions,” she said.

Cantu faces execution by lethal injection on Wednesday, the sole method allowed in Texas. 

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Texas has executed 586 people since 1976, more than any other state. Oklahoma is second, at 123. 

Texas claims the second-most number of executions per 100,000 residents in the country at roughly 1.9; only Oklahoma claims more, at 3.0 executions per 100,000. 

By Daniel Payne, a senior editor at Catholic News Agency. 

Catholic News, Death Penalty, Texas, Capital Punishment, trending-english