Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Stop This in Memory of Me

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Stop This in Memory of Me

Article excerpt

The inmate seated at the head of the table in the small counseling room at the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Allenwood, Pennsylvania wore chains about his torso and feet. The tears that splattered his manacled hands resting on the table before him were a sign of his remorse for the crime that had placed him on death row.

"If only I knew why I killed Andrew," he said over and over again. "He was no threat to me. Why did I do that? Why did I take his life? I know God has forgiven me, but I can't forgive myself."

My friend Edward Doherty and I had made the four-hour trip from New York in response to a letter addressed to our Cherish Life Circle--a group of sisters, priests, and laypeople who circulate the Declaration of Life, which expresses the signer's absolute opposition to capital punishment.

The inmate requested two things of our circle: prayers--for himself, for his victim Andrew Marti, and for the Marti family--and a spiritual guide to accompany him during the final phase of his life.

David Paul Hammer has spent 21 of his 40 years on earth behind bars. He was in solitary confinement when he strangled the prisoner assigned to his cell.

He asked us: "Why did you decide to take this long trip to visit me?"

"It was the tone of your letter, David," I replied. "You took full responsibility for Andrew's murder and the other crimes you've committed before that. It was your deep remorse that brought us to you."

Ed explained that remorse is the first step on the road to repentance. Repentance paves the way for forgiveness and the possibility of reconciliation and inner peace so needed by this tortured killer.

David's first letter expressed his desire to die as a way of bringing peace to Marti's family. Ed suggested that living a converted life, rather than surrendering it to the state, would provide him with a better avenue for reconciliation with Marti's family.

"I can't believe God wills your execution," he said. Ed reminded David of the story of the prodigal son, assuring him that God's capacity to forgive is far greater than any evil anyone is capable of committing. As graced as this day was, it never seemed more so than when David expressed a desire for Confession. …

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