Thursday, May 31, 2007



Last night, a small group gathered at Holy Name Catholic Church here in Nashville for a memorial for Philip Workman, three weeks after his execution. In the service, we remembered Workman's life and the lives he touched, as well as the life of Ronald Oliver and his family.

Reverend Joe Ingle, Workman's spiritual advisor for 12 years, told the story of Philip's last hours, of their crying and praying together, and of Workman calling as many of the people in his life as possible to say goodbye. Joe shared Workman's faith that they would see each other again, and his own hurt, the hole in his life on Tuesday or Thursday afternoons when he had previously visited his friend.
Kelley Henry, Workman's attorney, shared her disbelief that the execution had occurred. I can remember feeling the same way, simply not believing that we were actually killing Philip Workman on that night. Kelley spoke of the power of one. Workman lost at each level of appeal by only one vote. But the power of his one gesture on his last night on earth, asking to have his last meal delivered to a homeless person in Nashville, touched people across the world (it was's top story for two days running) and resulted in thousands of hungry people being fed in Nashville in the following nights.

I remember, as I was praying in the church, looking up at the crucifix and observing my Lord and savior suffering through another execution. Now I certainly do not equate Philip Workman, or any other human being, with Jesus Christ, and Workman was not sinless in his life (then again, neither am I), but gazing at the image of Christ killed by human hatred, looking around the room at people mourning Philip Workman, killed in vengeance for another life, thinking of Ronald Oliver and all victims of violence, I found myself wondering when we will take seriously Isaiah's reminder that vengeance is the Lord's and Ghandi's words that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Comments :
Of course, Ghandi's method for dealing with the Nazis wasn't entirely kosher.
You know, let's execute a bunch more criminals, and we can have pizza for the homeless.

Sorry for the scoffing, Traveling Jesuit, but I just cannot help but chuckle at your earnestness. Tears for a killer? I know all that "it tolls for thee" stuff, but come on. Is it really that big of a deal that Workman was executed?

I guess I do feel a little sorry for Kelley Henry. It must suck to have a client killed. Oh well, one less murderer in the world.

I just don't get it.
To the person who "doesn't get" why it was wrong to execute Philip Workman -- May I direct you to the facts of Philip Workman's case? There was evidence that the bullet sustained by the man who was killed could not have been fired by Workman, and also there was admitted perjured testimony against Workman at his original trial. The victim's own daughter recognized these facts, and others, and was petitioning alongside Workman's family to try to prevent his execution.

Thank you for your comment that has allowed clarification, which is obviously needed in such complex circumstances, to be repeated. (I mean that sincerely, not sarcastically.)

Ahna Phillips
"I just don't get it." - that, anonymous, we do agree on. When Philip Workman was executed, the one battle that he did win was the most important one of all - his gift to be with God. All the earthly battles were insignificant compared to this one.
So in a large sense Philip Workman "got it". Hopefully you'll "get it" too and then your heart will temper your intellect more effectively. Sure hope so.
It's the heart that has to change as smart as we may be (or think we are ;-)
Apologize for the preaching but it needed to be said.
Let me clarify my words--I understand that there is some controversy about whether Workman was technically guilty of first degree murder. But that's not what I am getting at--he had a ton of appeals on that issue, and the courts resolved that issue.

My point is why would anyone get all that worked up about putting down a killer like Workman (yes, he is a killer, as no matter what, he deliberated set in motion the actions that killed Lt. Oliver). That's my question. There are a lot of things to get worked up about--executing killers seems pretty low on the totem pole, if you ask me. And I'll admit that Workman is nowhere near the animal that Sedley Alley was, but come on--don't you guys have better things to do with your lives? And don't you guys see how your "oh gee, can't everyone be as enlightened as we are and read Isaiah or Ghandi (who, by the way, preached non-violence to Jews to be exterminated by Nazis)" really is risible. I mean, for Pete's sake, you're making the execution of a murderer into this huge cathartic moment for Tennessee--guys, it ain't. We have a war on for christ's sake. Workman ain't to high up the list.

I am glad that Workman died a better man than his worst action. I am glad he found redemption.
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