Continuing our series, here is the statement that Bill Babbitt delivered at the "Prevention, Not Execution" event in San Antonio on October 3. Other posts from that event began last week.
Execution of people with mental illness is an issue very close to my heart, so it means a lot to me to be part of a project that is lifting up this issue and asking others to pay attention. I have served on the board of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights since the organization’s founding in 2004. It’s always meant a lot to me to be part of an organization of victims’ families that welcomed me and others whose loved ones were killed by state execution. I’ve been proud of all the work we’ve done, but this is the project that really hits home for me.
My brother Manny served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the United States Marine Corps. He fought in five major battles. During the siege at Khe Sanh, Manny picked up severed arms, heads, and legs of his fellow Marines. Then he got wounded and medevacked out in a helicopter on a pile of dead bodies. Ever since he returned home, he suffered from post-traumatic symptoms. It was like he never really left Viet Nam. He would hallucinate; he would act as if he was still on the battlefield.
Manny was sent to a state hospital in Massachusetts, where he was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. After he was released, he came to live with my wife Linda and me in California. We gave him money and tried to help him get work. But I was worried. He was acting strange. I saw that his demons were coming to the surface.
Then something terrible happened. A 78-year-old woman died during an intrusion into her home. When I began to suspect that Manny was responsible for that woman’s death, I agonized over what to do. Finally I couldn’t live with the risk that there was someone else out there who might become a victim of my brother and his war-induced demons. I went to the police and told them what I suspected. They promised me that Manny would get the help he needed, and I agreed to help lead them to Manny. After they arrested Manny, an officer said to him, “You’re not going to go to the gas chamber or anything like that.’
I believed that. My mother believed it. We never really thought he would be executed, right up until the last half hour when I watched my brother be put to death at San Quentin Prison on May 4, 1999.
I wish we had been able to get Manny the help he needed. I wish that as a society we would devote our resources to treating people like Manny instead of imposing the death penalty and creating more funerals, more grief, more tears.
Today I am here with others whose loved ones suffered from mental illness and were executed. I am here with families whose loved ones were killed by people suffering from mental illness. As an MVFHR board member I want to thank the National Alliance on Mental Illness for joining with us and I want to thank all of you for showing that you care about the tragedies that all of assembled here today have gone through.