Thursday, April 30, 2009

We Want Action

The bill that would repeal Colorado's death penalty and use the funds for solving cold cases, which we have been following here over the past several weeks, passed out of the Senate Committee yesterday. Once again, victims' families were a crucial part of the day's testimony, including MVFHR Board President Bud Welch.

Here's a clip from the Colorado Springs Gazette:

A bill to abolish the death penalty in Colorado advanced Wednesday when the state Senate's State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee approved it on a 3-2 vote.

By abolishing the death penalty, HB1274 would save an estimated $1 million a year, mostly by ending death-penalty prosecutions. Because the money saved would be transferred to the state's cold-case homicide unit, many family members of murder victims support the bill.

Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, prime sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said $1 million, roughly a fifteenfold increase in funding for the cold-case unit, would make a difference in solving some of the state's 1,430-plus unsolved slayings.

"Our goal is to take these murderers off the streets," said Debra Meyer of Colorado Springs, whose brother, Ricky Espinoza, was murdered there in 2001 and is on the cold-case list. She testified in favor of the bill.

But Attorney General John Suthers testified that some crimes are so heinous that capital punishment is the only appropriate societal response. "That's not vengeance," he said. "It's justice."

Suthers and other prosecutors who testified asked that the issue be decided not by the Legislature, but by a statewide referendum.
The death penalty is used very sparingly in Colorado. The state has executed only one person in four decades, and its death row currently has only two residents.

But capital prosecutions aren't rare at all - the death penalty has been sought in 124 Colorado cases since 1980. And they are costly: Tamara Brady of the state public defender's office testified that its capital murder cases cost an average of $584,000 a year while first-degree murder cases cost $70,000 a year.

But supporters insisted money wasn't the central issue. They cited statistics indicating that the death penalty was no deterrent.
Others disputed the supposed healing benefits of the execution of their loved ones' murderers. Bud Welch's daughter Julie was one of 168 killed in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Six years later the bomber was executed - an outcome that Welch said he originally sought, only to change his mind.

"We took Tim McVeigh and we killed him," Welch said. "And there was nothing about that process that brought me any peace or any feel-good."

And from The Examiner:

A group of families of murder victims whose cases remain unsolved are the main force behind the bill, which passed the House by a single vote last week. They lined up to testify in front of the committee, some of them with framed photographs of their slain relatives. Some recounted how their loved ones were killed, offering details about how many times they were stabbed and how their bodies were disposed of.

Howard Morton said his eldest son was killed when he was 18, and it took 12 years to find his body.

"We don't want to hear that we're sorry for your loss. We want action for our murders. We want justice for our loved ones," said Morton, executive director of Families of Missing Homicide Victims and Missing Persons.

The bill has also gained support from national anti-death penalty advocates including Bud Welch, whose daughter was killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and Randy Steidl, a former death row inmate from Illinois who was later exonerated.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gone Boy

Yesterday's post announced the latest MVFHR newsletter. One of the pieces in that issue, by MVFHR member Gregory Gibson, is about confounding others' expectations about how he should feel or respond in the aftermath of his son's murder. This gives me a good excuse to publicize Greg's book Gone Boy. Here are the book's opening lines:

I always had a knack for making plans. Not long-range plans, but an endless supply of existential ones, in an ongoing calculus of strategy. Whenever the situation changed there'd be a new plan. Sometimes there were several in an hour.

So, it was not surprising that, when the dean of my son's college called, late on a Monday night in mid-December of 1992, and told me there'd been a terrible accident at the college, and that my son had been shot and killed, I soon had a plan.

At first I could not speak. I handed the telephone to Annie, my wife, and as I stood there, gasping for breath, the idea came to me. I was going to drive out to the college and bring Galen back. I was going to spread out his old sleeping bag in the back of the van and lay his body on it. I was going to get the body and bring it home so we could clean it up and bury it, so we could wash those bullet holes with our tears. Three hours out and three hours back. I'd be home by dawn. That was the level at which I was capable of planning.

Annie put the telephone down and walked to one end of the hall, then back, a wild, distracted look about her. This was not one of those revelatory moments in which husbands and wives learn deep truths about one another. Shock had driven us down inside us. The truth was more physical. Annie was standing beside me, as she had been for eighteen years.

She picked up the phone again and called her mother, who gently pointed out to me that my proper place during this time of crisis was at home with my family, not at the other end of the state trying to haul the corpse out of a murder investigation. So I stayed home that night, with Annie and our son Brooks and our daughter, Celia.

Initially, the news of Galen's death was so enormous that we could not assimilate it in any meaningful way. We stumbled woodenly around the house, trying to make the necessary phone calls to relatives and friends. Brooks, a sophomore in high school, went out for a long drive with another boy. We let Celia, our baby, have one last night of untroubled sleep. She was nine years old, the special pet of eighteen-year-old Galen.

We could not cry. We kept telling ourselves that it was a mistake, that it had happened to someone else. We kept thinking, throughout that long and terrible night, that in the morning we'd wake and it would all have been a dream. But when the morning came, it brought a deluge of news reports. Our waking nightmare became common knowledge -- an absurd violation and an inescapable fact. Galen was dead. The radio said so.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Listening to Those Affected

I haven't yet posted an announcement of our spring/summer newsletter, which is now available both online and in hard copies. If you can make good use of hard copies, please let us know and we'll be happy to make some available to you.

The theme of this newsletter is "Listening to those affected by murder and the death penalty," and in it you'll find several powerful stories that serve as a good introduction to the issue and that offer new and deeper understandings for those who have already been thinking about these things for a while.

The material on the effect of homicide includes detailed and reflective stories about the invisibility that a child felt after her mother’s murder and the way that a father of a murder victim confounds others’ expectations about how he should feel.

Then there's material on how the death penalty affects those who are closely involved with it – from families of the executed to, perhaps surprisingly, prosecuting attorneys. Running as a unifying theme throughout the stories is the power of listening as a way to achieve real and sustained change, and there's an interview with the Texas After Violence Project that speaks directly to this idea.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sending a Strong Message

Victims' families have been the driving force behind Colorado's death penalty repeal bill, which passed the House in a very close vote yesterday. Today's Denver Daily News has this article

The House yesterday gave final approval to a bill that would repeal the death penalty.
House Bill 1274, sponsored by Rep. Paul Weissman, D-Louisville, would shift funds used to prosecute and maintain death penalty cases to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for closing unsolved murder cases. Proponents believe the state would save close to $4 million by repealing the death penalty. The legislation narrowly passed the House after a 33-32 vote.

Vigil casts deciding vote
Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, cast the deciding vote after hesitating for almost a full minute before voting in favor of the bill.
Similar legislation was killed in 2007. The bill now heads to the Senate for debate. Gov. Bill Ritter, a former prosecutor, has not yet taken a stand on the legislation, which makes it unclear whether he would sign the bill into law if it made its way to his desk.
Opposition to the bill comes mostly from Republicans, who convinced six Democrats to vote against the measure along with them. One Republican — Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland — voted for the bill. Marostica has voted outside his party line several times this year.
Critics — including prosecutors and Republican Attorney General John Suthers — say the death penalty is a vital tool to discouraging violent crimes, especially inside prison walls. They also argue that the savings would be closer to $1.3 million, not $4 million.
Opponents such as Rhonda Fields, who is still mourning the loss of her son, Javad Marshall-Fields, who was killed with his fiance before he could testify against a suspect, lined up earlier to testify against the measure. Sir Mario Owens was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to death. He is one of only two inmates sitting on death row in Colorado.
He sits there with Nathan Dunlap, who murdered four people in 1996 at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant.
Family of victims of the Chuck E. Cheese murders also testified against the bill, arguing that the death penalty helps bring justice.

Death penalty rarely used
But the earlier tearful testimony of dozens of family and friends of unsolved-murder victims prevailed. Proponents point out that the death penalty has been used only once in the past 40 years.
There are 1,435 unsolved murder mysteries across the state.
“This is a very heartening development, not only for the families of these victims whose killers have never been prosecuted, but also for all the Coloradans who live in the communities that have been terrorized by the realization that we have killers walking among us and murderers living in our neighborhoods,” said Howard Morton, executive director of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons. “This vote by the House sends the strong message that we will no longer take a passive approach to old, unsolved murders. Colorado now intends to be proactive in going after these killers.”

Our previous posts about MVFHR member testimony at the Colorado hearings are here and here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

There is No Closure

Today is the 10th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and this morning we are thinking of the many victims of that tragedy, and their families. The internet is full of articles and commemorations; one blog that I particularly want to direct you to is this one, by the mother of 15-year-old Daniel Mauser, who was one of the students killed ten years ago.

Several years ago, Daniel Mauser's father, Tom, spoke out against the death penalty with these words:

“Prior to Columbine, I considered myself a mild supporter of the death penalty. Now I am opposed. I have come to learn that, even with the death of my son’s killer, even with the pressure of those in society who rush us to ‘reach closure,’ there is no closure when you lose a child. I believe that a death sentence is merely an attempt to gain revenge, not closure. I believe that a barbaric, violent act of revenge is not a way to honor the life of our loved one.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Our society errs

At yesterday's New Hampshire Senate hearing, a group of four victims' family members testified in support of the death penalty repeal bill that passed in the House not long ago. Those victims' family members were Arnie Alpert, Carol Stamatakis, Rep. Steve Vallencourt, and Bess Klassen-Landis. Here's an excerpt from Bess's testimony:

Although I was not proud of my feelings, and I didn’t voice them out loud, when I would hear about awful crimes, murders of young children, and the murderer had been convicted and given the death penalty, something very smug inside of me said, "Good. He deserves it. I don’t care about you at all.” In my mind, I imagined my mother’s murderer could be no less than someone damaged beyond control, a monster. Someone who was so sick that they were unredeemable.

It took me 37 years to be able to overcome my fears enough to recognize that my repressed hateful feelings only worked to extend indefinitely my feelings of grief, trauma, and fear.

We all know individuals who have lost someone to cancer, or to a tragic accident. Never in our wildest dreams would we go up to that person and tell them to hold onto hate and anger. To fill the deep void within them with hate, that hate would bring them peace and closure. Why do we do this to murder victim family members, who have already suffered so much?

When a horrible crime is committed, society is left with two big jobs: First, to find a way to help lesson the pain, fear, and loss of the victim family members, to help them regain a sense of safety, normalcy and peace in their lives. To provide them counseling, support groups, financial support, whatever it is that they need.
And second, to figure out what to do with the murderer/how to keep society safe.

Our society errs when we try to address both of these issues with one action, the death penalty.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Reasons Are Compelling

Retired Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper has a piece in the Huffington Post today that has some good mentions of victim opposition to the death penalty:

Today, if I stare off into the middle distance and let it happen, images of homicide victims queue up, most of them cops I knew, and children. It's been a bad month for both.

"Bam, bam, bam," begins New York Times reporter Timothy Egan's April 8 must-read blog, "The Guns of Spring." Each interjection represents a dead cop: the three Pittsburgh officers recently lured to a residence and gunned down by a man with an AK-47 and several handguns. The second of Egan's paragraph starts with four bams (the Oakland cops slain on March 21), the third with five bams (for each child murdered by their own father here in Washington State), the fourth with 13 bams (the Binghampton, N.Y., immigrants and their teachers).

Fifty-seven people gunned down in mass murders in less than a month.

I'll always have a visceral reaction to the killing of a police officer, especially in ambush; how many times during my career did I stop a car or knock on a door not knowing whether there was a bullet waiting for me? Too many of my own colleagues met precisely that fate. And I have a special, dreaded place in my memory for all the dead kids I saw in my former line of work, many of those young lives taken by a parent.

All this carnage over the past month raises once again the question of what to do with cold-blooded killers. In the logic of 36 states, the answer: kill them.

I have no trouble understanding the urge to kill a killer. He has it coming, doesn't he? Take a man, for example, who kidnaps, rapes, tortures, and kills a child -- how can we possibly justify punishment other than the death? His execution provides closure to loved ones, it sends a message to other would-be killers, right? The rationale for capital punishment is essentially reducible to these two reasons. An eye for an eye, and death as deterrent.

But pressure to end the death penalty is mounting, and reasons for it are compelling.

More and more loved ones of homicide victims are speaking out against executions. As Azim Khamisa told a reporter following the shooting death of his son, Tariq, "I know the pain of losing a child. It's like having a nuclear bomb detonate inside your body, breaking you into small pieces that can never be found. This violence scars the soul forever." But he also had this to say: "...forgiveness is a surer way to peace than an eye for an eye. The more we role-model the death penalty, the more violence and revenge there will be." A similar argument was made by Matthew Shepard's parents in Wyoming, Matthew's father adding that he wanted the men who tortured and killed their son to think each and every day, for the rest of their lives, about what they had done.

Read the rest of the article.

Monday, April 13, 2009

What I Can Do

From Sunday's Seacoast online, "For state Rep. Renny Cushing, repeal of death penalty is inevitable":

State Rep. Renny Cushing is once again at the forefront of a drive to abolish capital punishment in the state of New Hampshire.

The Hampton Democrat's emotional testimony two weeks ago on the House floor was credited by some with swaying enough votes — 193-174 — to send a bill repealing the death penalty to the Senate.

On the floor, Cushing shared his own tragic story. His father was shot to death in the doorway of his Hampton home in 1988 by a neighbor who was a town police officer.

"There was a knock on the front door ... my dad got up to open it and two shotgun blasts rang out, turned his chest into hamburger and he died in front of my mother in the home they lived in for 35 years and raised seven children."

And while his family wanted justice, Cushing testified that killing the man who killed his Dad wasn't the answer.

"The death penalty would not have brought my father back, it would only further victimize another family," Cushing said. If we make those who kill, make us into killers, then evil triumphs. And we all lose."

For Cushing, the speech that left some lawmakers in tears was 20 years in the making.

Since his father's death, Cushing has turned his loss into something positive by becoming a leading voice in victim's rights and an advocate against the death penalty.

"I didn't choose this path, it chose me," Cushing said in a recent interview. "It wasn't my choice to be a survivor of a murder victim. But I can't change the past. What I can do is take from life experiences and try to make good of it."

Brought up with what he recalls a religious background and a strong morality instilled into him by his parents, he always opposed the death penalty.

Cushing said he did not waver from that stance even after his father was killed by the neighbor with a grudge against the Cushing family.

The two people who were convicted of the murder — Robert McLaughlin Sr. and his wife, Susan — are now serving sentences of life without parole.

"If I changed my opinion it would have given my father's murderer more power," Cushing said. "Not only would my father be taken from me but so would my values."

But his public fight for the repeal of the death penalty, Cushing said, didn't begin until 11 years ago.

At the time, he was a state representative and the issue of expanding the grounds of death penalty came to the forefront in 1998 after a number of grisly murders.

Cushing said he reluctantly became a stakeholder in the discussion on what to do with killers in the aftermath of homicide because his father was murdered.

"Most people presume those who have someone murdered support the death penalty," Cushing said. "I felt that I had the moral obligation to honor my father's memory and myself by speaking out publicly in opposition of filling another coffin."

Cushing did so by fighting against the bill and sponsoring another to abolish the death penalty.

While his bill failed, so did the one to expand the death penalty.

The debate, however, spurred Cushing to take the debate nationwide.

"I met other people who were just like me," Cushing said. "They had family members who were murdered but opposed the death penalty. They needed a voice."

As a result, in 2004 he founded Murder Victim Families for Human Rights — an organization against the death penalty — and since then has given numerous speeches across the country.

"For me this is way that I honor my father's memory," Cushing said.

Cushing admitted that he was surprised the bill to repeal the death penalty passed the House.

The vote came three months after Michael Addison was sentenced to death in December for killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006.

Cushing said possibly hearing from a victim who didn't support retribution flipped some votes.

But whatever the reason, Cushing is glad the bill will now be debated in the Senate.

"Justice has nothing to do with the death penalty," Cushing said. "There is nobody that wants killers caught, prosecuted and held accountable more than I do," Cushing said. "But capital punishment is nothing more than a state-sanctioned, ritualized murder."

Cushing said all the death penalty does is make people focus on the killer rather than the real needs of the victims.

The last time the state executed someone was in 1939 and to carry out future executions it will need to spend a million dollars to construct an execution chamber.

While the bill's fate in the Senate is uncertain, Gov. John Lynch has already vowed a veto if it reaches his desk.

Cushing said he plans to keep working.

His speech on the House floor was very emotional for him.

"Just as the abolition of slavery, women suffrage and the right of workers to organize have all come part of our society so too will the death penalty be repealed," Cushing said. "It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

They Were Remembered

Today's Northwest (Illinois) Herald has an article about two victims' family members speaking against the death penalty: Gary Gauger, who was exonerated after having been sentenced to death for the murder of his parents, and Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, whose sister was murdered in 1990:

Gary Gauger, a Richmond man exonerated from death row after being convicted of murder, spoke publicly for the first time in McHenry County on Wednesday about his experiences.

Gauger has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “60 Minutes,” “20/20” and other TV programs. He also has written a book, “In Spite of the System,” about his ordeal. However, his speech Wednesday at a forum about the death penalty at McHenry County College was the first in McHenry County since he was convicted in 1994 by a local jury of murdering his parents on April 8, 1993.

“There was never any interest – I was never asked to speak here before,” Gauger said.

He also said he still felt that some people in McHenry County still were trying to connect him to the murder, despite his exoneration.

At the forum, sponsored by the Student Peace Action Network, Gauger spoke alongside Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, a member of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights.

Gauger recounted how on April 8, 1993, he found his father dead and called for an ambulance. He talked about his long interrogation with McHenry County Sheriff’s detectives.

“I was in a state of emotional shock. When I found my father’s body it was just like stepping into a dream,” he said. “I was doing everything I could do to be helpful, I was very vulnerable.”

He said the interrogation “took a bizarre turn” and he soon found himself offering to take a polygraph test. Later still, Gauger said the police “had me believing I had killed my parents.” He referred to the interrogation as “brainwashing.”

“I had a mental image of the trail of the real killers getting colder and colder,” Gauger said.

Gauger was convicted of the murders in 1994 and sentenced to death. He talked about his trial and about his exoneration and eventual pardon after James Schneider and Randy Miller, two members of the Outlaws motorcycle gang, were convicted of the murders in a botched robbery attempt.

Schroeder, of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, also spoke at the forum. He focused on the costly nature of death penalty cases and the need for abolition. Schroeder said a moratorium put in place by former Gov. George Ryan has created “a unique situation in Illinois,” where politicians can say they support both the moratorium and the death penalty.

Bishop-Jenkins, a member of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, talked about the 1990 murder of her sister, Nancy Bishop Langert and husband Richard Langert, and their unborn child. During her speech, Bishop-Jenkins did not once mention the name of the New Trier High School student convicted of the slayings.

“I don’t use his name – I don’t want to give that to him,” she said.

She said her sister would not have wanted the death penalty and that not having a death penalty case made it easier on her and her family. Bishop-Jenkins said “he was forgotten and they were remembered.”

More than 100 people attended the forum, which had by far the most collegial atmosphere of any of the programs hosted by SPAN.

“I feel very good about this,” said SPAN coordinator Molly McQueen. “We had a lot of students attend, and there were no fights.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Willing to Give Up the Death Penalty

From today's Denver Daily News article headlined "Death penalty foes rally, Back bill that would abolish death penalty in Colorado":

A coalition of organizations gathered at the Capitol yesterday to support legislation that would abolish the death penalty and reallocate those funds to focus on solving cold cases.

Yesterday’s gathering included a number of organizations representing family members of unsolved murder victims, civil rights, criminal justice and religious groups.

House Bill 1274, sponsored by House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, passed out of the House Appropriations Committee last Friday by a vote of 8-4 and is scheduled to be debated in the full House on April 15.

The money saved by the repeal of the death penalty, which proponents of the bill estimate at $4 million per year, would be spent on Colorado’s approximately 1,400 unsolved cold cases, some of which date back to 1970. Those funds would go towards the creation of a “Cold Case Team” at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

“We are in this to trade vengeance for justice,” said Howard Morton, executive director of the non-profit Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons. “We are willing to give up the death penalty to get more specialized investigation of our loved ones. When a murder is not solved in a reasonable amount of time at the local level, then the state must step in. Murder is a crime against the state.”

An earlier post about an MVFHR member testifying at the Colorado hearings is here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Each and every one of us

The New York bureau of The Mainichi Newspapers, Japan's oldest news organization, has been running a series on the death penalty; we posted an article featuring MVFHR member Aba Gayle a few weeks ago. Here's another story in the series, this time an opinion piece in the March 22 Mainichi Daily News:

Since I arrived in New York two years ago and began reporting continuously on the issue of the death penalty, I have asked myself every day what I ought to think about the state taking human lives.

With the start of the lay judge system in Japan this May, regular citizens will have to confront the death penalty directly, which I think is a chance for us to begin thinking about the death penalty as our problem. In Japan, however, there is a dearth of information citizens need to engage in such discussions. Is not the death penalty an issue concerning the public, and not solely the Ministry of Justice?

I recently went to Dallas, Texas, to visit Kerry Cook, a former death row inmate with a broad, easy smile that showed his gentle nature.

In 1977, Cook was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a 21-year-old woman he did not commit. It wasn't until 1997 that the dubious nature of the investigation was recognized and Cook's innocence proven beyond a doubt by DNA evidence, by which time Cook had already spent 20 years on death row. In those 20 years, Cook saw 141 of his fellow inmates head to the execution chamber. It was a trip that Cook, too, faced, as his execution date was set in May 1988. Cook was only spared, and given time for his innocence to emerge, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a deferment just 11 days before he was to be executed.

Cook's own impending death was not the only one on his mind in those days before his scheduled execution, for his elder brother had been murdered in 1987. The shock of losing his brother was so great that Cook tried to commit suicide in prison twice.

Although Cook well knows the pain of a victim's family, he is firmly against the death penalty, "because there remains a possibility of killing innocent people like me, even if a trial proceeds cautiously. My brother was shot to death, but I am still opposed to the murderer being killed in prison," he says.

A 12-member jury handed down Cook's death sentence by a unanimous vote. During a retrial in 1994, the jury affirmed that he deserved to die. Why did two juries, which should have felt the common bonds of citizenship with Cook, make such a mistake?

"In an American courtroom the prosecutor and the judge control the trial," explains Cook. "The jury is not left with any doubt about the accusation as it comes from the prosecutor. And the jury may not have enough information to form their own questions."

Cook believes the essential problem with the death penalty is that regular citizens are out of touch with the issue. People just don't know about the lives of death row inmates, what they think about as they count out their final days, or how a person can be "murdered by the state."

"I didn't understand anything about the death penalty before being arrested," says Cook. "If someone had asked me then, I would have said, yes, the suspect committed a murder, so they deserve the death penalty."

A trend of increasingly harsh penalties based simply on the rationale that "the person did something bad," couldn't have been the original goal of citizen participation in criminal trials.

Regarding the disclosure of information about executions, the United States is far ahead of Japan. At present, 36 of the 50 American states have death penalty statutes on the books. By law, the execution date must be set 30 days or more before the actual deed, and that date is released to the public. It's possible to find execution dates on the Internet, and even meet the condemned prisoner, should he or she approve. In Missouri, such meetings are kept private, with no prison guards or officials present.

As a basic rule, both the families of the prisoners and their victims are allowed to attend executions, and the admission of journalists is also common. The state of Oklahoma even encourages journalists to come to executions. Coverage is so thorough as to include a detailed menu of the condemned's last meal, while just before the execution is carried out the prisoner is always asked for his or her final words. So as to make sure these are heard, a microphone is directed at the prisoner.

It appears that in the United States, no effort is spared in ensuring transparency and the absolute elimination of doubt, so as to enforce the death sentence "properly."

The situation in Japan is very different indeed. Meetings with death row inmates are severely restricted, the families of both the victims and the condemned are not informed of the execution date, and of course cannot attend. What death row inmates think, how they live and how they die we do not know. In the end, is it right for citizens with no real knowledge of the death penalty to hand down such sentences?

While doing research for the Mainichi's February series on the death penalty in Japan and the United States, the words of one woman I met in Oregon stuck in my mind. Aba Gayle, 72, who has forgiven and even now lends moral support to her daughter's murderer, said she believes the Japanese are committing murder by continuing the death penalty. Neither the government nor the minister of justice, nor even the executioner is taking the lives of Japan's condemned. Each and every one of us is doing the killing.

After Kerry Cook was released he got married and had a son, naming him Kerry Justice Cook, as he wanted to believe in justice again. However, his anguish continues. Cook was recently forced to transfer his son to a new school, as Justice was being bullied by his classmates for being the son of a death row prisoner.

"Once someone is sentenced to death, the family of the criminal is also sentenced to death," says Cook.

The decision to take someone's life is a heavy one. If the public is not sufficiently informed about the death penalty, then there is the danger we will make mistakes that cannot be taken back. There is a dire need for information about the death penalty to be disclosed to the public before our citizens take such a heavy responsibility on their shoulders. (By Takayasu Ogura, New York Bureau)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What do we do for the victims?

Yesterday the Connecticut Judiciary Committee voted 24-13 to endorse a bill that would replace the state's death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole, and it's interesting to see that awareness of victim opposition to the death penalty comes up in the coverage of this vote.

The Hartford Courant has this:

"What results do we get? What are the outcomes? What do we do for the victims? They never get retribution -- the system doesn't work," said state Rep. Joseph Taborsak, D-Danbury, who voted in favor of the bill.

An here's an excerpt from an opinion piece in the News-Times, by Professor of Justice and Law Administration George F. Kain:

Not surprisingly, there is a growing trend away from the death penalty as New Mexico has joined New York and New Jersey as the third state in two years to abolish it.
The death penalty puts innocent lives at risk, which is the main reason given by Governor Richardson for signing the repeal legislation.
Equally as important, repeal of the death penalty is a victory for murder victims' families. Now they can avoid the added pain of going through the seemingly endless legal process associated with the death penalty.
The sponsor of New Mexico's repeal legislation also sponsored legislation to provide restitution to victims' families. Any abolition bill must include this provision for the benefit and healing of surviving family members.
Connecticut continues to spend at least $4 million a year on this wasteful practice, according to an estimate by the General Assembly's Office of Fiscal Analysis. Experts arrived at a similar estimate for the cost of New Mexico's death penalty.
It is time for Connecticut to join those states that have legislatively abolished the death penalty.
Murder victims' family members urge Connecticut lawmakers to follow New Mexico's lead. The Rev. Walter Everett, who lost his son to murder in 1987, recently stated: "The money saved by abolishing the death penalty could be well used for programs to meet the needs of victims' families."