Maryland Bishops Ask Gov. Ehrlich to Stay Planned Execution

November 29, 2005

The three Catholic bishops who head dioceses in Maryland have called upon Governor Robert Ehrlich to stay the execution of Wesley Baker, who is now on death row. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington; Cardinal William H. Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore; and Bishop Michael Saltarelli, Bishop of Wilmington, sent a letter to the Governor on November 28:

“Dear Governor Ehrlich:

Our Maryland Constitution bestows no greater authority upon the occupants of your office than the power to grant clemency to persons who offend the peace. We write to encourage the exercise of that authority in the case of Mr. Wesley Baker, who faces execution for the 1991 murder of Mrs. Jane Tyson. We write as believers, who know that God’s justice is seasoned by His mercy. Mercy is what we ask of you in the case of Mr. Baker.

Our Church’s teaching in the matter of the death penalty proceeds from Holy Scripture. In the Old Testament, God sets before us “life and death, the blessing and the curse”, and charges us, ‘Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.’ (Dt 30:19) When Cain killed Abel, God did not end Cain’s life. Instead, he sent Cain into exile, not only sparing his life but also protecting it by putting ‘a mark on Cain, lest anyone should kill him at sight.’ (Gn 4:15) In the New Testament, Jesus teaches that the heavenly reward of mercy shall be theirs who show mercy (Mt 5:7), and refuses to stone the woman accused of adultery (Jn 8:1-11), reminding us to be cautious in judging others and to have hope in the possibility of reform and redemption.

Our teaching acknowledges the right of legitimate government to resort to the death penalty, but it challenges the appropriateness of doing so in a society now capable of defending the public order and ensuring the public’s safety. Our Catechism instructs us that if non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from an aggressor, then public authority should limit itself to such means, because they are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good, and with the dignity of the human person. In the form of life-without-parole sentences, non-lethal means of protecting the public from a violent aggressor have been available in Maryland death-penalty proceedings since 1989. Under the statute that originated in the legislative committee on which you served at the time, parole after a life-without-parole sentence is not possible, not ever.

The mercy we ask you to extend to Wesley Baker was on the mind of one of your predecessors in office when, in 1959, he issued the last of his 15 commutations. This is what Republican Governor Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin had to say on January 10 of that year:


‘I have at all times endeavored to carry out the constitutional responsibility which is given to me, and I have a keen sense of justice, a standard which our society strives to maintain. However, there is no absolute justice, and I know that. No one can be sure exactly what justice is, but I do know what mercy is. When it comes to determining the fate of a human being, I would rather err on the side of mercy, than to mistake justice.’

As we commend Governor McKeldin’s example to you, we want you to know that the members of the Tyson family are on our minds and in our prayers. We know that this is the case for you, as well, for, surely, no decision of your gubernatorial service can be more momentous than the decision to extend, or to withhold the hand of mercy. Our prayers are for you also, in this matter and in all you and your administration endeavor to do for Maryland and its people.”

Susan Gibbs
Director of Communications
[email protected]