Wrongly convicted of murder, Joe Amrine to lead workshop with jury member during MCC Annual Assembly, Oct. 6 at Helias


Deacon Larry Hildebrand carried a guilt-laden heart to confession during a Cursillo weekend.

“I helped kill a man who isn’t dead yet,” he told the priest.

Over 15 years later, the man Deacon Hildebrand was referring to is still very much alive.

Together, they’ll lead a break-out session titled “To Live or Die: A Jury Decides,” during this year’s Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC) Annual Assembly.

It will be on Saturday, Oct. 6, at Helias Catholic High School, 1305 Swifts Highway in Jefferson City.

The theme will be: “Five Years of Pope Francis: The Church at the Peripheries.”

Catholics from throughout the state are invited and encouraged to attend this free event, which will include lunch.

Bishop Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago and co-postulator for the sainthood cause of Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton (1854-97), will give the keynote address on Pope Francis’ papacy to date.


Guilty as sin?

The Annual Assembly will include an impressive array of workshops, each relating to the Church’s role in helping to bring the Gospel to life for some of society’s most vulnerable and marginalized people.

Among these are people who are sentenced to death.

Pope Francis made worldwide headlines in July when he updated the Catechism of the Catholic Church to state that ““the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and to direct Catholics throughout the world to work toward its abolition. 

Key points of debate among people of faith regarding capital punishment in the United States include whether it’s fairly and justly applied, and whether an innocent person can be put to death.

Joe Amrine was serving a sentence in the old Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City when a fellow inmate was stabbed to death nearby.

Mr. Amrine was charged with first-degree murder.

Deacon Hildebrand was appointed to the sequestered jury that wound up convicting Mr. Amrine and sentenced him to death.

He’s angry that relevant information was kept from him and his fellow jurors.

“Let’s put it this way, when I got home, I told my wife, ‘This guy is either guilty as sin or had the absolute worst lawyer in the world,’” said Deacon Hildebrand, who assists the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Loose Creek and St. Louis of France parish in Bonnots Mill.

Having been represented at trial by utterly ineffective counsel, Mr. Amrine spent 16 years on death row before in 2003 becoming the 111th person exonerated nationally from death row. He now lives in Kansas City.

The more Deacon Hildebrand found out about the facts of the case in the years following the trial, the more eager he became to help get the conviction overturned.

Both men will talk about the tangled web of personal and societal circumstances that led to Mr. Amrine’s conviction and death sentence, as well as his exoneration.

Mr. Amrine will talk about how his relationship with God has helped him through this ordeal and his integration back into society.

Deacon Hildebrand will talk about how his own spiritual awakening drew him into ministry to the incarcerated and eventually motivated him to help make things right.

Both will share candid stories of regret, fear and redemption and discuss why capital punishment is wrong for the United States. 

“The death penalty doesn’t do any good whatsoever except to snuff out another human life,” said Deacon Hildebrand. “And what if the system gets it wrong? There’s no going back. It’s final.”

Deacon Hildebrand said he and Mr. Amrine are eager to answer people’s questions about the reality of the death penalty and how it’s applied.


Many topics to choose from

Other workshops slated for the MCC Annual Assembly include:

•the missionary work of Catholic campus ministry;

•how Catholic Charities agencies serve people who are poor and vulnerable;

•legislative victories in protecting the unborn;

•combatting human trafficking;

•the complexities of U.S. immigration law;

•ways for the Church to welcome and accompany people with same-sex attraction or who have confusion about their gender identity;

•a Catholic response to the opioid crisis;

•a Catholic approach to national security, mercy and immigration policy; and

•Pope Francis’ vision of the Church serving people on the peripheries.


Why and when

The MCC, the public-policy agency of Missouri’s four Roman Catholic dioceses, sponsors the Annual Assembly to promote camaraderie, knowledge and action among Catholics statewide.

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight requests that every parish in the Jefferson City diocese send at least two representatives to the assembly.

Registration will begin at 9 a.m. in the Helias Commons the day of the assembly, followed by the opening session and keynote in the Rackers Fieldhouse at 10 a.m.

Activities will continue throughout the day, concluding with Mass with Missouri’s Catholic bishops at 3:15 p.m.

Advance registration for the Assembly isn’t mandatory but is helpful for planning.

The first 400 people who register will receive a free copy of the devotional, Pope Francis Celebrates Faith and Family.

Childcare, including activities for children ages 4 to 12, will be available during the Annual Assembly. Sign up for this service by Sept. 23.

Visit www.mocatholic.org for more information about the MCC Annual Assembly and to register online, or call 1-800-456-1679.