This year, the two-hour hearing began with testimony from six victim panelists: Bob Curley and Milton Jones, each of whom had a son who was murdered in Massachusetts, Dick Nethercut, whose daughter was murdered in Seattle, Renny Cushing, whose father was murdered in New Hampshire, and Loretta Filipov and Terry Greene, whose husband and brother, respectively, were killed in the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.
An Associated Press story, published in the Boston Globe yesterday, had the headline “Death penalty bill faces a battle; Victims’ relatives added to chorus of opposition.” The story opened with these paragraphs:
The rape and murder of his 10-year-old son Jeffery Curley a decade ago brought Massachusetts to the brink of reinstating the death penalty, but on Tuesday Robert Curley led an impassioned opposition to a capital punishment bill.
After his son's killing in 1997, Curley had initially pushed for the death penalty and lawmakers came within a single vote of approving it. But since then, Curley has changed his mind and opposition has steadily grown in the Legislature.
"I started to see that there were people like me who had suffered the same loss that I had who were opposed to the death penalty and it kind of made me take a step back and take a look at the death penalty itself," he said. In the end, he said, he decided that the death penalty was disproportionately used against those without the means to hire expensive lawyers and "that with my background I'm closer to the innocent guy who gets executed then other way around."
The Real Needs
In his testimony, Milton Jones talked about the need for real efforts and preventing violence and helping victims in the aftermath of murder (Milton works at the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute; see our post about this from a few weeks ago). Renny Cushing talked about MVFHR and the state of the death penalty around the U.S., and likewise urged the lawmakers to focus on victim assistance laws.
What Kind of World Do We Want?
Here are excerpts from the September 11th family members’ testimony:
My husband was murdered by terrorists when the plane he was aboard, American Airlines Flight 11, was crashed into the World Trade Center towers. On September 11, 2001, my life changed forever. The worst thing that could have happened did happen to me and my family. My husband, Alexander Filipov, was a peaceful man. He was on the Human Rights Council in our town and we often talked about the death penalty. We didn’t think that the government should be in the business of killing people.
After Al was killed, some thought we would feel differently and want revenge. My family and I would have liked nothing better than to have Mohammed Atta and the other terrorists from Flight 11 brought to an open trial and given 92 life sentences; one sentence for each person aboard that flight. But they and the other terrorists also killed themselves on that day.
What kind of a world do we want for future generations? For our children and grandchildren? We must stop the cycle of violence. We can see from the present course we are following that violence only begets more violence and killing only leads to more killing. It is possible to have justice without revenge and hate. Revenge is not the answer. The death penalty is not the answer.
My brother was a passenger aboard United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers aborted attempts to reach Washington, D.C.. I am extremely proud of my brother. He was a kind, intelligent, strong, caring man. He was a hero to those of us in his family long before 9/11 in the way he lovingly took care of his children, wife, and the rest of his family. He spent his life as an engineer and Vice President of a company which promotes flight safety. He sat on the Board of the Corporate Angels Network (CAN), which flew cancer patients safely, free from infection risks, for free to treatment across the country using volunteered corporate flights.
My brother’s compassionate commitment to saving lives through aviation stands in sharp contrast to those who acted to hijack the planes on 9/11. We do more to honor his memory by acting as individuals, states, and a nation to emulate the model he set in his life. It is not difficult to kill; it takes skill and courage to save lives. My brother’s sacrifice was made for a country that is unique in the world not because of its military strength - although we certainly have that and could destroy the world many times over if we so chose - but because of its principles of ensuring human rights and commitment to protecting human life.
My obligation to my child and my brother’s children is to keep them safe. We cannot afford to enact measures that give the illusion of safety while doing nothing to deter killings as other experts have I’m sure attested today is the result of the death penalty. Instead the death penalty only promotes the acceptability of taking lives for what one perceives as a just cause.
It Lessens Us
Finally, from Richard Nethercut’s testimony:
As a murder victim family member, I oppose the reinstatement of the death penalty, which from my perspective will only add to the suffering of the victim’s family rather than lessen it. My daughter, Jaina Nethercut, was raped and murdered in a Seattle hotel on January 15, 1978 at age nineteen. … The rape and murder of a 19-year-old could carry the death penalty under this bill. This is the last thing my wife and I would have wanted because it would do violence to us and what we stand for to execute our daughter’s killer.
… As a retired Foreign Service Officer, I am sensitive to the adverse impact the widespread use of the death penalty has on U.S. foreign policy interests and on public opinion abroad. The attached reprint of an article from the Foreign Service Journal by two distinguished American diplomats makes the case eloquently and forcefully.
Dick read this excerpt from the article aloud at the hearing:
“Shortly before he retired, the late Justice Harry Blackmun argued that the death penalty should be abolished for the simple reason that the practice of capital punishment “lessens us.” By so saying, he meant that capital punishment diminishes America’s reputation as a human rights leader and its ability to lead internationally on the basis of moral principle. For a country that aspires to be a world leader on human rights, the death penalty has become our Achilles’ heel. As the U.S. Supreme Court has begun to acknowledge, in an increasingly globalized society, the opinions of other nations, and of the world community as a whole, are more relevant than ever.
And now, more than ever, we believe, it is time for those who have served this country as diplomats to be heard speaking out about how the rest of the world sees the aberrant practice of governments putting their own citizens to death.”