Saturday, February 28, 2009

"I Don't Think the Death Penalty Serves Victims"

From the February 24th edition of The Maneater, the student newspaper of the University of Missouri, "Murder Victims' Relatives Speak Out Against the Death Penalty":

When Ginger Masters speaks about the justice system, it's with a lot of emotion.
"I learned early on that my healing had to come from outside the justice system", she said.
Masters, whose husband was murdered in 2005, traveled across the state last week for the Road Trip For Justice, a speaking tour sponsored by Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty. She spoke alongside Bess Klassen Landis, who also has family members who were murdered, at the First Christian Church in Columbia.
They told the personal stories that led them to be against the death penalty to a crowd of 30 people.
After Masters' husband David was murdered, her struggle with grief and loss took a much different course than she imagined. When she first met with the prosecuting attorney, she said that he told her, "I don't represent your family, or David. I represent the state of Missouri."
She said the attorney explained to her that, despite her family's wishes, he was going to seek the death penalty.
"He didn't respect what David's wishes would have been," she said.

For Landis, the process was a much different one.
"You don't know what victims and their families need unless you ask," she said.
Landis' mother was murdered in March 1969, when Bess was just 13.
"I don't think the death penalty serves victims," she said. "How do you fill the absence murder creates in your heart with vengeance and hate?"
Both Masters and Landis discussed how they struggled with the wounds the murders inflicted.
"The first thing victims need is to feel safe," Landis said. "Make the murderers into humans, not monsters. You'll never feel safe if you're living in fear of a monster which could be lurking everywhere, which can't even be contained behind bars."
Speaking out against the death penalty has helped bring healing to both Masters' and Landis' lives, but it hasn't been entirely pain-free.
"I've been told that since I don't want the death penalty, that I don't love my husband enough," Masters said.
Masters said the death penalty for her husband's murderer would not help her achieve closure.
"Closure will come, for me, when my husband walks through that door," she said. "And that's not going to happen."
In Missouri, 66 people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1989, and another 49 still sit on death row.
Masters argued that the death penalty is unfairly practiced in Missouri.
"If the murderer is homeless, or if it's a color-on-color murder they won't pursue the death penalty, unless it's really grievous," Masters said. "But for whites, they'll seek it a lot more often."
Of the 49 inmates on death row in Missouri, 28 are white and 21 are African American.

As of last October, Masters said she and her family have withdrawn themselves from the justice system.
Masters and her seven children have stopped going to the trials, and said she will only appear if subpoenaed. She said the way the prosecuting attorney used the death penalty for political means, and the lack of respect he showed, caused too much harm to her family.
Since she won't be going to the trials, Masters said this was her chance to speak out.
"This is my time to give my victim impact statement," she said.

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