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Austrian church urges Schwarzenegger to spare convicted killer

California State Capitol
Protestant leaders in Austria are urging the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to suspend the death penalty and spare the life of an elderly convict on death row.

"A country which uses the death penalty violates its citizens’ human dignity," the Evangelical Church in Austria said in advance of the scheduled execution of 76-year-old Clarence Ray Allen, blind and wheelchair-bound. "Biblical and theological arguments point only to a clear and unambiguous No to the death penalty."

Barring a last-minute stay of execution, Allen was to be executed in the early hours of 17 January at San Quentin prison. Austrian-born Schwarzenegger has refused to grant clemency.

Allen was jailed for life for murder in 1977. Five years later he was sentenced to death for arranging from his prison cell the further killing by paid hitmen of three male witnesses.

"The death penalty does not act as a deterrent, it is not possible to correct judicial errors – which are unavoidable – and the penalty is particularly cruel punishment which is incompatible with human rights," the Austrian church stated.

The 10 January statement noted that the 46-member state Strasbourg-based Council of Europe had described the death penalty as a "brutal and vindictive travesty of justice".

The council’s secretary general, Terry Davis, said that Allen had been found guilty of a "particularly gruesome crime". But, Davis added, "in executing him at his advanced age and decades after the crime had been committed, the authorities are coming close to winning the contest in cruelty and vengeance."

Schwarzenegger, a practising Roman Catholic who became a US citizen in 1983, has faced other protests in his native Austria, because of his support for capital punishment.

In December 2005, Schwarzenegger demanded his name be removed from the soccer stadium in his hometown of Graz after politicians in the Austrian city criticised his failure to grant clemency to another death row inmate, Stanley "Tookie" Williams and said they would name the stadium after the convict.

(c) Ecumenical News International

Photo : California State Capitol