Newspaper Archive of
Arkansas Catholic
Little Rock, Arkansas
June 24, 1990     Arkansas Catholic
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June 24, 1990

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PAGE 7 ARKANSAS CATHOLIC JUNE 24, 1990 execution: er says sorry in pain and photos by Deborah Hilliard !Telling Msgr. John O'Donnell that "sorry for any pain I caused any- 46-year-old John Edward Swin- was put to death at 9:02 PM miles down the road, a small of Catholics gathered under trees to pray for Swindler, his ms, all the families involved and all in the State of Arkansas. the other side of a row of state cars, lined up bumper-to-bumper supporters from opponents, young women danced in glee at news that Swindler was dead. They I a placard showing an electric chair the words "Burn, Baby, Burn." An estimated 50 persons, including police officers wearing "Turn the Lights, the Party's Over" T- turned out to show support for execution. Supporters out- opponents by about two to highly-publicized death-by-elec- brought to an end the 14-year- i i ! i !il: i !i ii: i i ....... : ~ ..... John Edward Swindler to the execution chamber for sentenced to death for the slaying of Fort Smith police offi- Basnett. The execution was in Arkansas since 1964. The Supreme Court had denied plea for a stay of execution, C v. Bill Clinton had refused to his sentence. spent his last hours with pastor of Immaculate parish in North Little Rock, routinely ministered to death-row when he was stationed at St. in Pine Bluff. I first saw John Edward 13 ago, he had a great big beard," Msgr. John O'Donnell arrives at the execution site. O'Donnell said, recalling that Swindler had been beaten about the mouth and face with the butt of a rifle prior to being imprisoned. Thirteen years later, he said, Swindler was "a changed man." "He was very fastidious about his per- son" said O'Donnell, who often called Swindler "an enigma." The condemned man expressed concern for other death row inmates, and the effect his death would have upon them, O'Donnell said, adding that Swindler also expressed regret for the pain the victim's family had suffered. Although he refused to personally makea statement, Swindler dictated a message to O'Donnell, who read it to the media representatives following the execution: "[I have] no animosity toward any- one. I hold no grudge. I appreciate [the] care and love others have [shown] me and others on death row. I hope this brings to light the injustice of capital punishment and the need to abolish it. I thank the Diocese of Little Rock for my arrangements and my last requests for burial and services. Encour- age people to help the people on death row because there are a lot of guys in need of love and attention and religious guidance. I'm sorry for any pain I caused anybody." O'Donnell stressed how far Swiodyer had come in the years since his co Jfic- tion. "I believe in change and in conver- sion, that the grace of God works somehow," O'Donnell said in an inter- view after the execution. At Swindler's request, O'Donnell had stayed with him from 5:45 PM until just before 9 PM when Swindler was taken to the execu- tion chamber. O'DonneU said he had administered the Sacrament of the Sick to Swindler, a baptized Presbyterian whose first fel- ony conviction came at age 14. "Sacraments are itrr0pter h0m/nem, 'for mankind'," the priest said. ' When in doubt, you use pastoral discretion" to determine whether a person, including an other-than-Catholic baptized Chris- tian, is disposed, after instruction, to receive a sacrament. "I asked him if he would like to be anointed," O'DonneU said. "He readily agreed." At that point, the priest administered the Sacrament of the Sick. "I felt he needed comfort, the calm- ing power of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of the Sick to meet his death," O'Donnell explained, adding that Swindler said a number of times how much he appreciated the priest's presence. "He was calm," O'Donnell said. "In fact, John Edward was surprised at his own calmness." He said that in the I felt he needed comfort, the calming power of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of the Sick to meet his death. three-feet-wide, 40-feet-long hallway con- necting Swindler's isolation cell to the execution chamber there were 15 guards in full riot gear. O'Donnell said that Swindler went quietly into the exe- cution chamber where he was strapped into the electric chair to die in full view of ten pre-selected witnesses. Swindler's body was placed in a black hearse and driven away at 9:40 PM. Swindler had asked O'Donnell to claim the body, preside at the funeral and arrange for cremation. "He told me who he wanted at the funeral, and that he wanted the service to be held at the funeral home," O'Don- nell said. "He also asked to be buried in a Catholic cemetery." Current Canon Law allows for the burial of non-Catholics in Catholic cemeteries. O'Donnell was scheduled to claim the body after the state-required post mortem. He said the funeral was planned for 7 PM Thursday, June 21, at a Little Rock funeral home, with interment of ashes scheduled for Noon Friday at Calvary Cemetery. Tradition of ministry to the condemned For John Edward Swindler, exe- cuted for murder on June 18, 1990, and Charles Fields, sentenced at age 15 to life in prison and then at age 30 to death for the crime of rape, the Catholic Church has cared when nobody else did. Fields, who was executed in 1964 and the last man to be put to death before Swindler, had spent all his adult life in jail, as had the man who followed him to the electric chair 26 years later. Five days before his execution in 1964, Fields was baptized by Msgr. Joseph A. Gallagher of Pine Bluff. When execution day came, Fields A quarter-century later, another Irish monsignor blessed a man headed for execution. announced he held no grudges against anyone and went calmly to his death. Gallagher claimed Fields' body and presided over the burial at Bellwood Cemetery in Pine Bluff. A quarter-century later, another Irish monsignor with ties to St. Jo- seph in Pine Bluff blessed a mar headed for execution. Msgr. John O'Donnell, stationed at St. Joseph's during the 1970s, took dictation as Swindler articulated a statement, one which he insisted be delivered by the priest after the execution. Swindler then went quietly to the death chamber. O'Donnell was to ] preside over the funeral Thursday [ night and then the burial Friday in [ Calvary Cemetery. [ "On All Souls' Day, Msgr. Gal- i lagher showed me Fields' grave and asked that I bless it every All Souls' Day, which I did," recalled O'Don- nell, who served at St.Joseph parish.| after GaUagher. He said Fields' body | was buried in a grave-site donated [1 by St. Joseph Church. II John Edward Swindler will be in-II terred in a plot donated by the dio-I] cese. II "If the leading objea of incarceration were punishment --- that is, injury to the indi- vidual n most of our prisons are admira- bly adapted to their end. For the worst pun- ishment that can be infliaed upon a person is to confirm him in evil ways, and to make him worse than he is. In doing this, society takes the place of the ingenious Satan. Our machinery which catches held of an offender and draws him into the circuit of its educa- tion is calculated to confirm him in his ten- dencies, and make him a professional crimi- nal It is rare that the jail and penitentiary influences are such as to improve him in any way..." Harper's M qpzlne, 1894