ALABAMA – Prison chaplain questions death penalty value

June 14, 2012 Source :

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — In 1981, Philip Workman walked into a Wendy’s restaurant in Memphis, brandished a gun, and had the employees hand him the money out of the cash drawer.
Cornered moments later by police officers in a corner of the parking lot, Workman fired the gun. A police officer fell.

In 2007, Workman was executed for that homicide.

Trouble is, says the Rev. Joseph Ingle, who will speak in Huntsville Tuesday, Workman’s gun is not the one that killed that police officer.

The officer, according to forensic evidence analyzed after Workman’s ‘82 trial, was killed by the kind of bullet that is in police pistols, not Workman’s. The officer, in short, appears to have been killed by another officer’s shot.

Ingle’s latest book, “The Inferno: A Southern Morality Tale,” chronicles what happened between that moment in the parking lot and Workman’s execution by lethal injection 26 years later.

“It was pretty much a nightmare,” Ingle said this week from his home office in Nashville. “If you ever think the issue of capital punishment and our criminal justice system aren’t politically fraught, you need to take another look. It is beyond appalling.”

Ingle himself never had taken a look until his senior year in seminary. That’s when, to satisfy a requirement, he began volunteering in a jail in Harlem for 20 hours a week for a year.

“Meeting those men just changed my life,” Ingle said.

It also changed his ministry. Rather than take a United Church of Christcongregation, Ingle chose to become a self-supporting prison chaplain. He volunteers in Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville. From 1974 until 1983, he was the executive director of the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons, a multi-state organization that sought to abolish the death penalty.

Abolishing the penalty makes sense not only to avoid executing people for crimes they didn’t commit, but also in simple dollars and cents.

“Nationally, there is a move away from capital punishment,” Ingle said, “but you don’t see that in the South. Since 1977, more than 93 percent of the executions in the U.S. have been in the South.”

And patterns for those executions follow disturbingly familiar paths of racial discrimination.

“If you kill a white person, you are 11 times more likely to die for that crime than if you kill a black person,” Ingle said. “And it’s even worse if you’re a black person and you kill a white person. Then you are 22 times more likely to die.”

Ingle said that the current mood in the U.S. of distrusting government should extend to this issue.

“Think about it,” Ingle said. “We don’t trust the state with our taxes, and we’re going to trust the state to say who lives or dies?”


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