Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Testimony in Maryland

New MVFHR member Marty Price sent us the testimony he is delivering today at Maryland's hearing on a bill that would repeal the state's death penalty:

In April of 1974, I was 12 years old. I was sitting on the back porch of my home, when all of a sudden my mother ran out the back door and screamed, “Come on Marty!” Seconds later, a flash of light lit up the sky. The flash was followed by a loud crack and a simultaneous rattle of the tree branches dangling just over my head. In an unexpected and unprovoked rage, my father had just fired his 22 caliber rifle at my mother and me. My memories of my father define him as an abusive man, a man whose violent episodes put a fear into anyone who crossed his path.

Years later, my parents had divorced and both were now remarried. My father’s violent tendencies, however, stayed with him. On a hot July evening in 1988 my father fired that 22 caliber rifle again; this time the consequences were far more devastating. The shots were directed at my stepmother and stepsister. This round of shots did not hit a tree. At point blank range, my stepmother and stepsister had both been shot three times in the head and my father was charged with two counts of second-degree murder. Following the emotional torment of a public trial, which required me to testify against my own father; he now remains in the custody of Maryland State prison system, where I know he belongs.

My mother’s marriage formed a new blended family. However, violence has now found its way into this family, too. This time, my family was categorized as “on the victim’s side” of violence. In the cold days of December 2007, my stepfather’s grandson was slain in the line of duty. He was a 25-year-old police officer in a small town in Western Maryland.

Over the years, I unconsciously suppressed the memories of my father’s violent episodes. I lashed out with anger on people and events moving in and out of my life. The anger I was choosing to hold onto brought with it a “wet-blanket” effect. For me, it was dealing with confusion and the lack of trust. At night I would secretly pray this man would be put to death. I thought his death would make life easier for me and my family. There were times when my own anger got the best of me and I felt like I, myself, could have delivered the lethal injection into the man who caused so much pain in my life. But that man is my father and I love him.

The power of education and years of counseling have given me the framework to transform myself from what I was conditioned to be. I recognize that every situation is unique. As strange as it sounds, my father’s relentless fury taught me perseverance; his lack of self-control taught me the value of self discipline; his alcoholism taught me to take care of and respect my body; his hatred taught me to love.

Hopelessness, embarrassment, guilt, asking “what can I do?” are the emotions I felt in being the son of a convicted murderer. Remorse, deep sadness, and asking, “Why?” was the emotional toll I felt as a member of the victim’s family.

And so I bring to your attention another chapter of this latest tragedy. Consider the nine-year-old son of the suspect who allegedly murdered my stepfather’s grandson. If this boy’s father is executed. are we contributing to the cycle of violence? Can we definitively say that the State’s participation in more violence will guide this boy into a happy, well-adjusted, and productive adulthood?

“What about the victims’ families?” I am a part of that group as well. And I have this to offer: if we let anger and hatred be our beacon, it will continue to create an ever-thirsty legacy of horror, violence, rage, and revenge. In my experience, the only true antidote to neutralizing anger is found in one of the most difficult acts in times of grief -- forgiveness. I know first-hand when our minds and hearts give and receive forgiveness, we uncover great healing powers and we find new, healthier perspectives on which to create a legacy of love, understanding, compassion, and change.

I am opposed to capital punishment and I urge you to repeal the death penalty in the state of Maryland. Our judicial system has many perspectives to consider when rendering a verdict…and yet it still cannot fully capture the residual effects. More violence is more violence, no matter who or what issues it. What we are capable of is making the proper adjustments to meet those challenges. Part of that adjustment is ongoing assessments that examine our values and principles which in turn advance policies and laws that should be cultivating a society that demonstrates us being civil.

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