Friday, October 5, 2007

Voices of Families of the Executed - Part 3

We continue our series of excerpts from the MVFHR panel of families of the executed at the Third International Women's Peace Conference in Dallas this past July. See the original post announcing this series, the current issue of our newsletter with more about the peace conference panel, and MVFHR's report about families of the executed.

Remarks from Melanie Hebert:

My uncle Spencer Corey Goodman was executed here in Texas in 2000. He had been adopted by my paternal grandparents, and he was much younger than their natural children. He and I had a very close relationship and he felt much more like a brother to me than an uncle. We were just seven years apart in age and we spent a lot of time together during my childhood. He became estranged from the family when I was in elementary school and the next thing I heard about him was after he had committed a murder and my grandfather was called to testify at the trial.

My family wanted us to have nothing to do with him, and they didn’t speak about him much. I kind of just put it out of my mind and went about my life until shortly before he was executed. My sister had been visiting him and he requested that I come and visit before his execution. She asked me if I would, and I agreed. When I went to visit him, I was really surprised that he wasn’t the monster that I had been led to believe he was. My heart was really changed as I spent the next couple of days with him before his execution.

I was reluctant to get involved with any kind of political activity regarding the death penalty. I wasn’t sure where I stood and I was so young, I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with it. But I woke up the next morning and I had such a hollow feeling. I felt compelled at that point to speak out against the atrocity that is the death penalty and let people know what my family went through.

We didn’t have a lot of support from our friends or from our church; people didn’t know what to do or say, so they left us to deal with it on our own. In any other circumstance when you know someone who has had a loss, the neighbors and friends and church pull together to support that person.

A surreal aspect of it was that while we were mourning the loss of our loved one, people were cheering about it and saying that justice had been served, and that’s something I don’t think people experience with any other death.

It would have helped if we had been treated with more compassion by the judicial system. One of the most difficult parts of dealing with Spencer’s execution was that we had to learn the information from the television. That’s a really difficult way to learn about your loved one’s fate. We learned about the death sentence from the TV on a night that happened to be my father’s birthday. It was very hard. Later, I asked every single person at the prison to please call our family to let us know when the execution was complete. No one called us. Finally we turned on the television and learned that he had died. It’s a really cruel way for families to be treated.

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