Death penalty activists gather at Schwarzeneggers church
Religious leaders and activists have rallied on the steps of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's parish church in an effort to halt the impending execution of convicted murderer Kevin Cooper, whose bid for clemency was turned down by the governor last week.
"Gov. Schwarzenegger, we're calling on your conscience and on your faith. Do not kill Kevin Cooper. The death penalty is wrong," Bishop Gabino Zavala, from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told a gathering of protesters outside St. Monica Parish.
Cooper, 46, is scheduled to die by lethal injection next week. He was convicted of murdering two children and two adults in a Chino Hills home shortly after escaping from the California Institution for Men in 1983.
"It is a personal appeal to a person of faith," said Eric DeBode, head of California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty and organiser of the rally at Schwarzenegger's parish.
"We want to reach out to him, he has the weight of this death on his shoulders," DeBode said in an interview.
Pope John Paul II has spoken strongly against the death penalty, and U.S. Catholic bishops have urged other governors not to impose it. Among them, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony has been a major voice on the issue and in 2000 called for a moratorium on California executions.
The interfaith rally began with prayers and teenagers holding up anti-death penalty signs. A banner declared "Boundless love, endless mercy."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and actor Mike Farrell told the group that evidence suggests there may have been another killer or killers.
Farrell said that an 8-year-old boy who survived the attack initially said the killings were carried out by three white people. Cooper is black.
Jackson said he became interested in the case because he feels "the overwhelming evidence points to Mr. Cooper's possible innocence."
Added Jackson, "We want an examination, not a termination."
"That's all we're asking for Governor Schwarzenegger to do here today: Allow that young boy to remain alive to prove his non-involvement in this crime," said Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, a boxer who was himself convicted of murder the same year as Cooper, but was exonerated and released 20 years later.
"Why is there such a clamour and ruckus to impose the death penalty, but no similar urgency in freeing someone who may be wrongly convicted?" asked Carter.