Lousiana: Catholic bishops rebuffed on clemency for murderer

Christopher Sepulvado beat his son with a screwdriver and then scalded the six-year-old in a bathtub. He is scheduled for execution on Ash Wednesday.

The Catholic bishops of Louisiana have asked state governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, to issue a stay of the coming execution of a man convicted of brutally slaying his 6-year-old step-son. Christopher Sepulvado is to die by lethal injection at Lousiana lock-up on February 13, which coincides with the Catholic observance of Lent known as Ash Wednesday.

The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops represents all seven Catholic dioceses of Louisiana. The bishops said in a statement that carrying out the execution of capital punishment at the beginning of the season marking Christians' preparations for the coming of Easter  “would be inconsistent with the Lenten call for reconciliation and redemption and an unnecessary tragic irony.”  The bishops also stated that Sepulvado's actions were evil. The bishops' statement also said of Sepulvado, "He has expressed remorse for his actions while at the same time embracing his faith and ministering to his fellow inmates. Executing Christopher will not bring Wesley back to life, nor will it provide healing, reconciliation or peace to those involved."
 
Gov. Jindal, a convert to the Catholic faith, issued a statement on February 5 that rejected the request. "The trial was handled appropriately, and the punishment decided on by a jury of Mr. Sepulvado's peers is proportional to the crime he committed. The governor sees no reason to intervene in this case," Jindal spokesman Sean Lansing said in a statement.
 
(Gov. Bobby Jindal)
 
Legal counsel for Sepulvado have asked a judge to stop the execution, having claimed that they lack of information about what drug combination the state will use to end his life. Sepulvado was convicted of first-degree murder for the 1992 killing at his Mansfield LA home. Records indicate that Sepulvado repeatedly hit his step-son on the head with a screwdriver handle and then plunged him into a bathtub filled with scalding water that burned 60 percent of the child's body. Apparently, Sepulvado was angered that the tyke had come home from school with soiled pants.
 
A hearing for an injunction of the execution will be heard in a Baton Rouge court on February 8.
 
A recent study published by the Jesuit Social Research Institute of Loyola University pointed to numerous problems with Louisiana’s death penalty.  In particular, the study found:
 
- Per capita, Louisiana has one of the highest wrongful-conviction rates in the country. More people have been exonerated in Louisiana in the last ten years than executed.
- Within Louisiana’s most aggressive death penalty districts, white victims are disproportionately targeted for the death penalty by district attorneys.
- The death penalty is applied in only 1% of murder cases; of the other 99% of cases, many go unsolved.
- The death penalty in Louisiana has not been reserved for “the worst of the worst” defendants. Louisiana’s death row is overrepresented by individuals with childhood    trauma, intellectual disabilities, and mental illnesses.
- Reforms are needed to better assist families of murder victims, including allocating more resources to address unsolved murders and improving access to counseling and mental health services.


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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