Monday, March 17, 2008

"We're Willing to Trade Vengeance for Justice"

In our newsletter last year, we wrote about a Colorado bill that would have repealed the state's death penalty and directed those funds toward the solving of unsolved murders. In that newsletter article, we quoted Colorado victim's family member Howard Morton, whose group, Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons (FOHVAMP), has been working for several years to draw attention to the problem of unsolved murders. The death penalty repeal bill didn't pass, but it did highlight the issue of unsolved murders and demonstrated that even families who support the death penalty were willing to testify in favor of a repeal bill because the solving of their loved one's murder was a greater priority for them.

Last year's bill also paved the way for the recent bill, which did pass, creating a cold case homicide team. We were pleased to see an article in Saturday's Montrose Daily Press describing Howard Morton's and FOHVAMP's efforts. Here's an excerpt:

Prior to HB 1272 was a bill that would have moved millions of dollars spent on death penalty cases to cold cases. Morton, FOHVAMP and the bill’s sponsor argued the resources were basically being wasted in a state where only one person is on death row.

“We wound up saying we’re willing to trade vengeance for justice,” Morton said. “There’s a lot of us who’d like to see the killers of our loved ones get death. But the problem is, we can’t find out who it is, get them convicted or even arrested. The question for us was, which is more important: Keep a death penalty hardly ever used, or take these resources and try to effectively address our unsolved murders?”

Though the bill failed, it paved the way for HB 1272, which Morton said then passed handily.

Morton’s stake in all of this is personal — and tragic.

In 1975, Morton’s son was stabbed and left under a pile of rocks in the Arizona desert. For 12 years, Morton and his wife thought the young man was missing, because his remains were misidentified and cremated by Maricopa County.

The Mortons searched for him for years, using the media and other means. He said a newspaper story eventually jogged the memory of a retired deputy. But though they know what happened to their son, the Mortons do not yet know who is responsible.

“Just sitting around telling our story over and over again didn’t get us what we wanted,” he said.

In 2001, Morton and about 10 other families formed FOHVAMP. He cited the help of a University of Colorado professor, whose students volunteered to help canvas law enforcement agencies throughout the state to see which ones had unsolved murders.

“We now have the names, dates of birth and death and other data on 1,250 victims of unsolved murders in Colorado, except for 28 who are John Does, Jane Does and Baby Does,” Morton said.

In the next MVFHR newsletter, we'll run an article about how unsolved murders affect victims' families, drawing on interviews with six MVFHR members who are relatives of victims of unsolved murders. Watch for that article -- and several others on a variety of subjects -- in April.

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