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Nun expresses concern for Death Row prisoners

Following the execution of Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh on Monday, human rights campaigners have been expressing concerns for 19 more men currently on Death Row at Terre Haute federal prison in Indiana, USA.

McVeigh's execution was the first federal capital punishment since 1963. Since then executions have been mainly carried out by individual state authorities. Several commentators have said they fear yesterday's execution, combined with the new atmosphere under the Bush administration, could open the floodgates to many more deaths.

Sr Rita Gerardot, who took part in a prayer vigil outside the prison, and regularly visits men condemned to death, said they told her they planned to sing Amazing Grace during the execution.

She told reporters: "It's a very sombre mood. There is a lot of tension among the men, because they know it is their fate. They are like sitting ducks now."

Next week, another prisoner at Terre Haute, Juan Raul Garcia is scheduled to die.

Meanwhile the Sant'Egidio Community, an Italian Catholic peace group called the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh a "useless barbarity", saying it diminished America's democratic society.

"The execution of Timothy McVeigh has made the death penalty fashionable once again and jeopardizes more than ever the minimum threshold for civilization in our democracies," the Sant'Egidio Community said in a statement.

Melbourne Jesuit Fr Peter Norden of Jesuit Social Services commented on the McVeigh execution, suggesting it does not represent "true justice", but instead satisfies a primitive need for revenge for the American people.  He said it , according to one of the largest non-government agencies working in the criminal justice system. 

"McVeigh represented one of the most hated people in the US and the message sent out by his execution is that you can kill people whom you hate".  His execution provided him with international notoriety and has taken away the real punishment of spending his life behind bars" Fr Norden said.

Back in the US, the President of the Bishops' Conference said the resumption of federally sanctioned executions marks a "sad day for the country".

Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza said: "In an age where respect for life is threatened in so many ways, we believe it is important to emphasize that human life is a gift from God, and no one or any government should presume to kill God's gift," the bishop said in a statement released after the execution.

The statement is available on the US Bishops' website.

ICN/CWN/Jesuit Social Services/CNS