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Day of Reckoning : Execution: Death penalty foes say they sense a new urgency as Harris' date in the gas chamber approaches.

April 03, 1992|BOB BAKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I went to a square dance and barbecue the other night, and someone I know came up and said, 'Was that you on TV . . . I don't believe it!' and walked away," Freres said. "Someone else came up and said, 'How would you feel if your daughter was raped and murdered?' . . . But we believe nobody is beyond being redeemed. We feel that only God has the right to judge."

Former Death Row inmate Magris, a murderer who was paroled in 1985 and is chairman of the Northern California Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said he is seeing more citizen activity than in 1990.

"Now that the appeals are gone, you sense the urgency. But it's a shame. You get down to the last few pages of the book and you know how it's going to end," said Magris, who spent three years on San Quentin's Death Row in the early 1970s before the state's death penalty law was overturned.

As in 1990, sympathetic clergymen are trying to arrange a telephone call to Wilson from Mother Teresa, the Nobel Prize-winning missionary, who phoned former Gov. George Deukmejian two years ago to urge clemency.

Some anti-death-penalty clergymen also are encouraging discussion of the issue in weekly religious services. But the Rev. Ben Fraticelli, director of the Northern California Ecumenical Council, said many will not raise the issue.

"Average clergymen don't take stands. The ones who take stands are the ones who have the strongest views or are willing to risk the conflict. That's not average," he said.

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