NEW YORK – After the 200th death row exoneration in the United States since 1973 earlier this week, a Catholic organization that advocates against the death penalty is calling for an end to the “broken system of capital punishment” to ensure innocent people aren’t executed in the future.

“Because of the tireless efforts of faithful advocates and committed lawyers, 200 people have now been saved from the threat of execution after being sentenced to death,” Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, the executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said in a July 3 statement.

“And while we praise God that these lives have been spared, we also remember the many individuals – both innocent and guilty – who did not, and will not receive the same grace, whose lives are discarded by a system determined to throw them away,” Vaillancourt Murphy continued.

Larry Roberts was exonerated on July 1 after he was wrongfully convicted in the 1983 murder of a fellow prisoner and a prison guard at the California Medical Center in Vacaville, California. After 41 years, the California Attorney General’s office has agreed with a U.S. district judge who granted Roberts a new trial and has said it will not retry him.

Roberts’ exoneration is the third of 2024.

Kerry Max Cook was exonerated in June for the 1977 murder of Linda Jo Edwards, who was found dead in her apartment in Tyler, Texas. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declared Cook innocent of the crime for which he has spent nearly 20 years on death row.

In February, meanwhile, Daniel Gwynn had charges of first-degree murder, arson, and aggravated assault that resulted in a death sentence dismissed. His sentence was related to the 1994 death of Marsha Smith, who was killed in a fire in west Philadelphia.

The tracking of exonerations dates back to 1973 because that was the year after the Supreme Court’s Furman v. Georgia ruling, which ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional when it is imposed in an arbitrary and capricious manner that leads to discriminatory results.

The 200 exonerations that have taken place since are across 30 states. Florida has the most exonerations of any state with 30, followed by Illinois with 22, and Texas with 18. Six other states – Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Arizona – have more than 10 exonerations.

Vaillancourt Murphy argues the number of exonerations shows just how flawed the system is.

“The only way to ensure that we do not execute innocent people is to end the irreparably broken system of capital punishment in our country,” Vaillancourt Murphy said.

There are currently 2,244 prisoners on death row in the United States. California has the highest number of those, with 641. Although, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has had a moratorium on the death penalty in place since 2019. The other states with the highest number of death row inmates are Florida and Texas, with 294 and 181, respectively.

“As Catholics, we know that every person is sacred, endowed with an inherent dignity that can never be lost, regardless of the harm one may have suffered or caused,” Vaillancourt Murphy said. “It’s time to end the death penalty, once and for all.”

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