*Mother of Eight Goes to Jail*
from Patrick O'Neill
My wife, Mary Rider, a mother of eight children, received a 15-day jail
sentence for praying during a North Carolina execution.
Mary, cofounder of the Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House in
Garner, N.C., was sentenced to 15 days in the Wake County Jail on August 7,
stemming from her August 18, 2006 arrest for trespass during a protest of
the execution of Sammy Flippen at Raleigh's Central Prison.
Mary and three others attempted to symbolically enter the prison to stop
the execution. At a police line, the four knelt in prayer in the driveway
where witnesses enter the prison.
Mary, 48, who has six children age 14 or less, 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. A social
worker, Mary told the judge she would agree to perform community service in
lieu of the fine and court costs.
The judge, a firm and cold man, who frequently undercut Mary's attempts to
defend herself based on Catholic Moral Teaching and the First Amendment,
seemed to take personally Mary's conviction that the "judicial system" is
racist and oppressive.
"Ms. Rider has stated that the judicial system is one too flawed and too
imperfect," Morgan said. "I am a member of this system."
By agreeing to give Mary community service, he was in a sense validating
her criticisms of the system, Morgan said.
"It's easy to open your wallet, pay that money and walk out of court,"
Mary's pro bono lawyer, Tim Vanderweert, told the judge. "It's much more
difficult to perform community service."
In the course of the three-day jury trial, Morgan did not allow expert
witness - renowned Constitutional law professor Dan Pollitt - to testify to
the jury as to why Mary's actions in trying to stop Sammy's execution were
legally valid under the Constitution. Doing so "would invade the providence
of the jury," Morgan said.
He also limited the testimony of Duke Divinity School professor of
Christian ethics Stanley Hauerwas, who tried to make the case that Mary's
actions in defense of life were justified by Papal decree and Church
"I am a Christian theologian, and the subject of theology is God," Hauerwas
told the court. "Catholic moral teaching is the longest tradition of Church
history. Since Christians are a people who worship a person who died at the
hands of the state, that being capital punishment, Christianity's
relationship to the state is at the heart of what Catholic ethics is about
... Christians are not allowed to give their ultimate loyalties to there
In her testimony, Mary shared a story about a time she was called to jury
duty at age 18 in Eastern North Carolina. Although she was not selected to
sit for the capital murder trial, Mary, who is also a mitigation
specialist, said she was surprised to learn that only jurors who supported
the death penalty could be seated.
"The only people in the jury are those who believe firmly in the death
penalty," Mary said. "It seems like you're stacking the cards against the
The judge instructed the jury to only consider the question of whether Mary
trespassed or not. Although the jurors were out more than an hour, those
initially opposed to conviction were won over. One juror told me after the
verdict that since they didn't get to hear Prof. Pollitt, they were unable
to acquit her.
In her sentencing, Mary read the story from Acts when Peter said he "must
obey God and not men."
"I am choosing to suffer for my faith and fidelity to Jesus," Mary told the
judge. "Spending time in jail for me would be an honor. Rather than a
deterrent, it would be a privilege to encourage others to do the same."
The judge said he had no choice but to sentence Mary to 15 days. The
jailers placed handcuffs on Mary as her children openly sobbed on the front
row of the gallery.
"You're lucky to have a wife like that, and you're lucky to have a mother
like that," Professor Pollitt told me and my daughter, Veronica.
Indeed we are.
Mary is expected to be in the Wake County Jail until Aug. 21. To write her:
Wake County Jail
P.O. Box 2419
Raleigh, NC 27602
or at her home address:
124 Perdue St.
Garner N.C. 27529
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