Death Penalty Opponent to Speak at Pinehurst Church
An outspoken opponent of the death penalty will speak Tuesday night in Pinehurst.
Mary Rider went to jail six years ago after being arrested during a protest outside a prison during an execution. She served a 15-day jail sentence for trespassing — when she and others knelt to pray outside the prison entrance — during the last execution in North Carolina.
Rider will speak about her experiences and the issue of capital punishment at Congregational Church of Pinehurst, United Church of Christ, at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The church is at 895 Linden Road across from Elliott’s, and the public is invited to attend.
Rider and her husband, Patrick O’Neill, founded and run the Father Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House in Garner, which house ministers to women and children. Her sentence in the Wake County Jail stemmed from her August 18, 2006, arrest for trespass during a protest of the execution of Sammy Flippen at Raleigh’s Central Prison.
She and three others attempted to enter the prison “symbolically to stop the execution,” her husband said. Met at a police line, the four knelt to pray in the driveway where witnesses enter the prison to view executions.
“Mary was sentenced to jail after telling Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan that her conscience would not allow her to pay a $100 fine and $130 court costs into a system that oppressed the poor and carried out executions in her name,” O’Neill said. “She would agree to perform community service in lieu of the fine and court costs, an offer which Morgan rejected.”
Rider had tried to defend herself using Roman Catholic moral teaching and the First Amendment, but those arguments were not allowed to be made to the jury. The judge instructed the jury to consider only whether she trespassed or not. Although the jurors were out more than an hour, those initially opposed to conviction were won over.
“The funny thing is that I met one of the jurors later,” Rider said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening. “I’d gone into a store, and I thought the man behind the counter looked familiar.”
She realized he had been one of her jurors. He recognized her as well and told her he had been against convicting her to start with, but the judge’s strict instructions left him little choice.
Rider said she fights executions by a government — even as punishment for terrible crimes — because of her faith and Catholic teaching of reverence for life.
“I have always been a person concerned with justice,” Rider said. “Even as a child I was concerned with being just and fair. When I was a teenager, I started to become interested in the question of abortion. Then, when I was 18 or 19, I was called to jury duty.”
It was a capital case, and Rider sat through a morning during a process called “death qualification,” which prevents people opposed to capital punishment from sitting on capital cases.
“That seemed unfair,” she said. “What that means is, the cards are already stacked. It just seemed unfair. I got involved in peace and justice movements and supporting life, and when executions started to happen here, I came over to Raleigh to vigil.”
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or jfchappell@ gmail.com.
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