Monday, June 10, 2013

Lightening the Load

In our Spring/Summer newsletter, we wrote about MVFHR's participation in a workshop, sponsored by the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO), on children of parents sentenced to death or executed. Now as an outgrowth of that workshop QUNO has published a report titled "Lightening the Load of the Parental Death Sentence on Children." You'll see references to MVFHR's work in that report, as well as, of course, a great deal of important analysis and recommendation.

You can download the report at QUNO's website. Just scroll down to "Recent QUNO Resources."

QUNO will be releasing this report in Madrid this week at the 5th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, a tremendous gathering of people from all over the world. Some of us from MVFHR will be there and we look forward to seeing our colleagues who will also be participating and also to meeting many new allies and friends.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Walk for Peace

MVFHR was represented today at the annual Mother's Day Walk for Peace that the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute has organized for 17 years.  The LDB Peace Institute provides crucial support to families of homicide victims in the greater Boston area. Take a look at founder Tina Chery's page in MVFHR's Gallery of Victims' Stories. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Honoring Susan Herman

Susan Herman, author of the book Parallel Justice for Victims of Crime and long-time friend of MVFHR, was just honored with the National Crime Victims Service Award from the Department of Justice. Here is the department's press release, and here is the short video that was used at the awards ceremony to introduce Susan's work.

We interviewed Susan Herman for MVFHR's newsletter in 2009, and that interview is still available here, on page 4. Susan gets right to the heart of things with this question (from that interview), "While victims absolutely deserve a good and respectful experience within the criminal justice system, I think we need to go beyond that to ask, 'What do victims need, how can we as a society acknowledge that what happened to them was wrong, and how can we help them?'"

Friday, April 19, 2013

Spring newsletter is out!

We've just posted our Spring/Summer newsletter, with features on the United Nations Human Rights Council's consideration of children of parents sentenced to death or executed, an interview with Marilyn Armour about her recent research on victims and the ultimate penal sanction, Vicki Schieber's reflections on working for repeal in Maryland, and another powerful story about the impact of murder and mental illness within a family.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The impact on victims' families

Some of us from MVFHR were in Milwaukee this past weekend, at Marquette University Law School's conference on “The Death Penalty Versus Life Without Parole: Comparing the Healing Impact on Victims’ Families and the Community."  Here, you can view Dr. Marilyn Armour's keynote address about her recent study about the impact of the penal sanctions life without parole and the death penalty on family members of murder victims, and here you can view the other conference panels. The panels with victims' family members are at the beginning.

Watch for our interview with Dr. Marilyn Armour in the spring issue of MVFHR's newsletter.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hopeful and scared

More from Maryland! Last week's Washington Post headline was "Murder victim's mother continues push for repeal of Maryland's death penalty":

Schieber has made a similar pitch dozens of times over the past decade in Annapolis, as part of a cadre of activists pushing unsuccessfully for repeal of the state’s death penalty. On Thursday, she will be back once more, offering testimony to a pair of legislative panels.

... “I’m both hopeful and scared,” Schieber said in an interview this week when asked about what could happen in the coming weeks, as lawmakers start voting on the legislation.
Schieber has been effective over the years because she is not what lawmakers might expect from the family member of a murder victim, said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), who chairs the Senate committee that has jurisdiction over the legislation.
“When people meet Vicki, they meet a woman where the worst possible thing happened — she lost a child,” said Jane Henderson, the executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. “While Vicki would never say she speaks for all victims’ families, she makes a compelling case that goes to the heart of the matter.”

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fighting for Their Lives

From MVFHR Project Director and Staff Writer Susannah Sheffer:

I'm delighted to announce the publication of my book Fighting for Their Lives: Inside the Experience of Capital Defense Attorneys. The book is about the emotional experience of lawyers who work at the end stage of capital defense and have lost clients to execution. 

Law Professor Susan Bandes gives a glimpse of the book with this description: "This is a book I could have wished into existence. It offers a rare look at the emotionally rich questions surrounding capital defense lawyering, and its conversational format opens up a vein of insight that even memoir would not. Fascinating and entirely engaging!" 

And Publishers Weekly says, "Sheffer takes readers beyond the courtroom and execution chambers to explore how capital defense attorneys cope when they can’t save a client. ... The book is unexpectedly moving, as when an inmate consoles an attorney who has run out of options, and the author is especially adept at uncovering the ethical and professional nuances of these cases. ...  sobering and intimate ..."

The book is about law and the death penalty, but it's also about hope, failure, dignity, and all sorts of other matters that we might call psychological or just human questions. 

I'm grateful to all who might take an interest in the book and help to spread the word about it. If you're moved to order a copy, you can do that through your local bookstore or through any of the usual channels.  More information is here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Speaking Out in Maryland

The Eldersburg Patch has this news video of supporters of repeal speaking in front of the Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis. MVFHR member Vicki Schieber talks about the murder of her daughter Shannon and why she opposes the death penalty.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Relatives oppose it

It's helpful when news headlines recognize that not all victims' family members support the death penalty -- like this recent headline on the news site, "Relatives of murder victims oppose death penalty":

Relatives of murder victims in Washington hope their voices carry some extra weight in the debate over the death penalty.
Retiring State Senator Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, was among a group of death penalty critics speaking out in Olympia Thursday. The six-term state lawmaker has a personal story to share.

"In 1980, my brother-in-law was murdered and his body was dumped in a park in Seattle," Regala told KIRO Radio. His killer was never prosecuted.

Still, she favors abolishing the death penalty. "We spend six to ten times as much money pursuing a death penalty as we would if we went for life without the possibility of parole," claimed Regala.

"When we look at the high cost, the staggering amount of money that gets spent on this, that money could be so much better used in giving police officers better tools to prevent crime, tools for helping solve some of these cold cases."

Other relatives of murder victims share Regala's viewpoint, including Karil Klingbill, the sister of Candy Hemmig, a bank teller murdered by Mitchell Rupe in Olympia in 1981.

Those who support the death penalty often cite closure for victims as an argument for keeping the law. But death penalty appeals can last for 10 years or longer.

"That prolonged process means that there is no closure for a long period of time and for many people, it re-opens the wound over and over and over again," Regala countered.

Washington is among 33 states, as well as the military and the federal government, that allow the death penalty.

Legislative opponents plan to re-introduce a measure in Olympia next session to abolish the death penalty and they are planning a rally on the steps of the Capitol building in January.

KIRO Radio host Dave Ross said he appreciates hearing from people like Regala. It's a different perspective that isn't always considered. It stops him from wanting to totally abolish the death penalty.
Dave says he knows it's hard for family members to relive the horror every time there's an appeal, but he suggests setting limits and not dragging out the process might be a solution.

One benefit of the death penalty is it gives prosecutors a bargaining chip. They cut a deal with the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, to avoid trial and he plead guilty. He would have been up for the death penalty, but those trials never happened and the victims got closure. He's not on death row, but in prison in Walla Walla for the rest of his life.

However, Regala doesn't believe it's appropriate to use it as a bargaining tool.

"We have people like Gary Ridgway who committed multiple multiple murders and they have life without the possibility of parole. And someone who committed one murder is on death row and may be executed." 

Monday, December 10, 2012

64 years later, 8 years later

Today is International Human Rights Day marking the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDR) in 1948. 

In her book The Death of Innocents, Sister Helen Prejean writes that initially there was some debate about whether abolition of the death penalty fell within the scope of the ideal that the Universal Declaration represented:

It was to be expected when Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was debated back in the 1940s that such a declaration, which granted everyone the right to life without qualification, would provoke debate, and one of the first proposed amendments was that an exception ought to be made in the case of criminals lawfully sentenced to death. Eleanor Roosevelt urged the committee to resist this amendment, arguing that their task was to draw up a truly universal charter of human rights toward which societies could strive. She foresaw a day when no government could kill its citizens for any reason.

We are, of course, still working toward that day, and although there is a great deal left to do, we can also appreciate that 64 years after Eleanor Roosevelt made her argument, the majority of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty.

Today is also the 8th anniversary of the founding of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. Eight years ago, the founding group gathered at the UN Church Plaza in New York City, offered public testimony, and signed a document stating, "In the name of victims, we pledge to end the death penalty around the world."

In MVFHR's first public statement shortly thereafter, we said:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that sets forth the most basic principles regarding the value of human life and the way human beings ought to treat one another, was inspired by victims, demanded by victims. It grew out of the suffering of millions of civilians murdered under the brutal regimes of the Second World War, and its adoption on December 10, 1948 was a way to honor the loss of these lives, and an attempt to give meaning to the loss, by asserting that such violations are neither moral nor permissible under any nation or regime.

Now is the time to raise our voices again and insist that violations of human life in the form of the death penalty or other state killings are not permissible under any nation or regime. It is time to call for the abolition of the death penalty because the only way to uphold human rights is to uphold them in all cases, universally.

We believe that survivors of homicide victims have a recognized stake in the debate over how societies respond to murder and have the moral authority to call for a consistent human rights ethic as part of that response. Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights is the answer to that call.

Our deepest thanks today to all MVFHR's members and supporters who have helped answer that call and who have accomplished so much in these past eight years.