*by Brian Niebrugge*
**What is all of this about?**
Chris Simmons is a young man who was convicted of the abduction/drowning murder of Shirley Crook when he was seventeen. Chris's case is special because he was under the age of eighteen at the time he committed his crime. Because of this, there is a real chance that, with a worldwide effort and a special show of support from Missourians, he may be granted clemency from the Governor. Clemency would mean that his sentence would be changed from Death to "Life without the possibility of parole," which is still, of course, an extremely harsh sentence, especially for a juvenile offender.
**What about the victim?**
The murder of Shirley Crook is a tragedy. I pray for the repose of her soul frequently. I have the deepest sympathy for Steven Crook, her husband, and all of her family. I cannot begin to imagine the pain I would feel at the loss of my wife. I pray that Mrs. Crook's family experiences daily the transforming, healing power of Christ and His Divine Mercy.
**So, tell me a little about this guy Chris?**
First and foremost, he is a Christian. In the prison, and through the ministry of other inmates and outside volunteers, Chris has come to believe in the Gospel. He now expends energies sharing this Love with other inmates.
Chris is currently 25 years old. He has been on death row since he was 17. Under these conditions, a person either gets angry and hateful, depressed and jaded, or grounds himself firmly in the Gospel. Chris has chosen the latter, and he has come to know the forgiveness and healing of Christ, even in his difficult and painful situation.
Chris and I have become good friends. When I have issues, I talk to him and he is often able to provide a different perspective, one that always helps me to appreciate the gifts I have been given. He has brought me into a deeper appreciation for the situation I was born into, and the gifts God has given me along the way to who I am now.
**If he is such a great guy, why is he on death row? How did he end up there?**
He is on death row because he was convicted of murder. That is the direct answer to that question. You can say "he made a mistake," or "he did something stupid," but neither of those statements really sums up a murder.
Chris grew up in an abusive environment. His stepfather was physically and psychologically abusive. Chris often would run away from home for a period of time to escape the abuse. He relied on drugs and magical thinking to escape reality. None of the circumstances of Chris's life, however, can excuse this crime. Chris is aware of this, and he has stated that he would sacrifice his life in order to bring Shirley Crook back.
**What does the church have to say about capital punishment?**
For the most authoritative answer, please refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2267. In short, the cases where the death penalty should be used are, "are very rare, if not practically non-existent." (John Paul II Evangelium Vitae 56 "Gospel of Life")
**What can I do?**
Pray! The most important thing you can do for this whole situation is pray. Pray for Chris and his family, but also pray for Shirley Crook and her family, for the men at Potosi Correctional who will carry out the execution, the Governor and the judges who have the power to stop this but decide to let it happen, and for the people of the State of Missouri who allow this to occur in their state.
You can also write a letter to Governor Holden, and mobilize others to do so as well. For Youth Ministers, this is an excellent opportunity to show your teens how the Church responds with love and peace to violent and painful situations and show that the Church is a "change agent" in the world, ministering to and defending the outcast. Teens can take to their classmates a passion for the defense of human life.
*This article appeared in the Spring 2002 issue of the OYM Update.*