One of the Knights of Peter Claver’s newest councils is petitioning two governors to halt upcoming executions in Texas and Oklahoma, in support of similar calls from the Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN).
Dated August 9, the open letter from Sister Thea Bowman Council #406 in Orange County, California calls on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott—a Catholic—and Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt to “implement a fully Pro-Life position” concerning death row inmates Kosoul Chanthakoummane and James Coddington, scheduled to be killed on August 17 and 25, respectively.
“Our Lord asks us to defend life, therefore we ask you to do likewise.”
Signed by the council’s Grand Knight Gregory Herr, the letter was accompanied by a call on social media to support CMN’s petitions in support of both men, whose death sentences have long been regarded as products of a corrupt criminal justice system.
Chanthakoummane, a 41-year-old second-generation Laotian American, has been on death row since his 2007 conviction for the murder of Sarah Walker. He has maintained his innocence and unsuccessfully petitioned a heavily Catholic US Supreme Court as recently as December 2020 concerning discredited forensic science used against him at trial.
Additionally, the victim’s father has opposed the execution from the onset.
“[Joseph Walker did] not want Mr. Chanthakoummane put to death, because of his own Catholic faith,” wrote Council #406 in their letter, adding that Chanthakoummane himself converted to the faith due to Walker’s witness.
In Oklahoma, Coddington is on death row for the 1997 murder of Albert Hale, which occurred when Coddington was 24. He was a longtime victim of abuse dating back to infancy and suffered from severe mental illness thereafter. Coddington was recommended for parole by the state of Oklahoma on August 3, leaving the final decision to Gov. Stitt.
“Now, 50 years old, Mr. Coddington is described to be deeply and sincerely remorseful,” CMN notes in their petition for clemency.
The two governors, both Republicans, are hailed by many as pro-life heroes for their opposition to abortion, as both Texas and Oklahoma ban the procedure in cases that do not involve saving the life of the mother. The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade has bolstered the relevant legislation.
Even so, the two states are America’s most bloodthirsty in regard to capital punishment, topping the list of per capita state executions as of fall 2020. Texas alone has accounted for more than a third of all executions since 1976, when the Supreme Court lifted a ban on the practice in Gregg v. Georgia. Oklahoma plans to carry out 25 executions in the next two years, according to CMN.
The Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary—the oldest and largest Black Catholic organization in America—has emphasized the Whole Life Ethic as a major part of its social justice platform, opposing capital punishment in accord with Pope Francis’ change to the Catechism in 2018 which called it “inadmissible.”
Now Council #406, activated just this spring at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, is quickly showing its commitment to Claverism—and clemency—with this week’s letter to the governors.
“We implore and urge you to fully embrace life,” the council wrote.
“Take a courageous stand, with the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver, and with the Catholic Church, [and] stand on the side of life, even in these difficult moments.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).