- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Prosecutors will consider the Roman Catholic Church's stand against capital punishment when they decide whether to seek the death penalty against a man accused of stabbing to death a Germantown, Md. priest, the Montgomery County State's Attorney said yesterday.

State's Attorney Douglas Gansler said his office could ask for the death penalty in the case against Robert Paul Lucas, charged with killing Monsignor Thomas Martin Wells because the crime occurred during a burglary. But he added the church's position will be "heavily weighed" during the decision-making process.

"In every case, you weigh the victim's wishes, and in this case we actually know the victim's views on the death penalty," Mr. Gansler said.

"Here's a man who dedicated his professional and personal life to the Catholic church. Not only will we consider the views of his family, but of the Catholic Church because that's his family as well."

Monsignor Wells, 56, was a vocal opponent of the death penalty during the past 19 years he served as pastor in the area. Before his death, the monsignor had been a pastor at Mother Seton Parish in Germantown for 18 months.

Mr. Gansler's remark has drawn some criticism from other local prosecutors, including Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who said a prosecutor should consider how he or she would treat other defendants who may be in similar situations.

"You've got to be fair," said Mr. Horan, who has been the county's top prosecutor since the late 1960s.

"The buck always stops with the prosecutor. You can't just base your decision on whether to pursue the death penalty just because some member of a group opposes it," Mr. Horan added.

"You certainly can consider the attitude of the victims and families of the victims. And in this case, you certainly can consider the monsignor's attitude. But you've got to consider the entire picture."

But Mr. Gansler said each case is different. "No two defendants are alike and no two crimes are alike," he said.

"You want to be fair in every case."

He said there are other factors that need to considered, including whether a defendant has a criminal record.

Mr. Gansler added that his office has 30 days before the start of a trial to decide whether to seek the death penalty. As of yesterday, he had not decided in Mr. Lucas' case.

Monsignor Wells was repeatedly stabbed and found dead June 8 inside the rectory at Mother Seton. Montgomery County police charged Mr. Lucas, 25, with first-degree murder last Saturday. On Monday, Mr. Lucas, who has previous burglary, drug- and alcohol-related arrests, was ordered held without bond until a July 14 preliminary hearing.

Officials with the Archdiocese of Washington, comprised of 510,000 Catholics in the District and several counties in Maryland, said they believe the death penalty cannot be "justly" administered, even in a case that involves the slaying of one of their own.

"We have been consistent in our position with the death penalty," said Bishop William Lori, auxiliary bishop of Washington.

"We would not tailor a special position even when a tragedy like this happens in our own back yard."

They believe the monsignor wouldn't want it any other way.

"What better way to serve him best by following his own principle," Bishop Lori said.

"While the parishioners are deeply saddened, there is also a remarkable willingness to forgive."

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