Saturday, October 31, 2009

Don't Execute, Son Says

From yesterday's Contra Costa (CA) Times, "Don't Execute Killer, Slain El Cerrito couple's son says":

The 20-year-old son of a slain El Cerrito couple is fighting to speak against imposing the death penalty on the uncle who killed his parents, testing for the first time a state law that gave crime victims a greater voice in legal proceedings.

Eric Rogers is scheduled to testify for the prosecution next week during the penalty phase of the murder trial of Edward Wycoff, a 40-year-old Sacramento County truck driver convicted Monday of two counts of first-degree murder for killing his sister and brother-in-law, Paul and Julie Rogers, on Jan. 31, 2006.

While legal precedent limits Eric Rogers to testifying only to the impact the murders have had on his life, Rogers said he wants to tell jurors that he doesn't want Wycoff executed. His parents were strongly opposed to the death penalty, as is he, he said.
"I think revenge would bring me closer to the status of my uncle and further from the status of my parents," Eric Rogers told the Times. "To be vengeful in their name would be disrespectful."

Rogers hired Berkeley attorney Ted Cassman to argue that he has a right to voice his opposition to capital punishment under Marsy's Law, also known as Proposition 9 or the Victim's Rights and Protection Act of 2008, which voters approved last November. Marsy's Law gives victims the right to be heard at any legal proceeding.

Beyond Rogers' belief that the death penalty is wrong, such a sentence would cause Rogers more pain by subjecting him to 10 to 20 years of appeals on Wycoff's behalf, Cassman said.

Read the rest.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It Only Brought the Same Pain

The Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing reported earlier this week on their "Voices on the Death Penalty" evening, which included a powerful story from a victim's family member:

Nearly 120 people turned out on a rainy Memphis evening to attend Voices on the Death Penalty: A Dialogue from the Front Lines. For over an hour, attendees heard the powerful stories of those who have been directly affected by the death penalty and why they now are working to end this public policy.

Kathy Kent, a public defender in Memphis, shared her gut-wrenching journey of loss and continued healing since the murder of her brother, Kenny, in the Oklahoma City bombing. She shared her anger and pain but also her conviction that Timothy McVeigh's execution did nothing to bring her peace. In fact, she stated that it only brought the same pain she was experiencing to McVeigh's family--a family who had done nothing wrong.

Read the rest of the post.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

If We Are Serious

This letter to the editor was published in today's Gazette.Net, a Maryland online news site:

Repeal the Death Penalty
What a relief to hear that Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger has settled his most recent death penalty prosecution with a sentence of life without parole, thereby securing a speedy resolution for the victim's family.

The sad reality is that the death penalty handcuffs the surviving families of homicide victims to decades of legal procedures. In the end, the vast majority are resentenced to life without parole, which could have been sought at trial.

The new death penalty law that went into effect recently will likely narrow the risk of our state executing an innocent person. But the General Assembly, in passing the law, ignored another compelling finding of the 2008 Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment: "the effects of capital cases are more detrimental to (murder victims') families than are life without the possibility of parole cases." As a member of the commission, Shellenberger agreed with this finding, although he voted to maintain the death penalty.

The new law makes Maryland's death penalty ever more complex, which means a longer process.

As a mother who lost a son to murder, my heart goes out the family of [Correctional] Officer [David] McGuinn, whose alleged killers [are] still facing death for killing this correctional officer in 2006. It has been over three years and this case has yet to go to trial — precisely because it is a death penalty case.

If we are serious about helping victims' families, we should go ahead and repeal the death penalty, sparing them the agonizing wait for cases to come to an end. Eliminating the death penalty will also save the state money that could be reinvested to provide more meaningful care for the families of murder victims, something I know from personal experience is lacking now.

Vivian Penda, Silver Spring

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Study Commission in New Hampshire

Yesterday New Hampshire's new Death Penalty Study Commission met for the first time. Like similar commissions in Tennessee and Maryland, this one has an MVFHR member serving on it; New Hampshire's has MVFHR Executive Director Renny Cushing, who is also a State Representative.

Today's article in the Nashua Telegraph notes that the Commission will consider the following questions about the death penalty:

• Does it serve a legitimate public interest such as general deterrence, specific deterrence, punishment or instilling confidence in the criminal justice system?

• Is it consistent with evolving societal standards of decency?

• Is the use of a penalty phase to determine the death penalty’s use after conviction at trial arbitrary, unfair or discriminatory?

• Should the narrow application of the death penalty in this state be expanded, narrowed, or otherwise altered?

• Are there alternatives to capital punishment that ensure public safety and address the interests of society, the penal system and the families of victims of crime?

• Is there a significant difference in the cost of prosecution and incarceration between capital punishment and life without parole for the convicted capital murderer?

And from another article published in the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago:

The murder of 42-year-old Kimberly Cates in Mont Vernon over the weekend comes two weeks before state and local officials are scheduled to meet in Concord to begin work examining New Hampshire’s death penalty law, whether it should be abolished, expanded or left as it is.

Cates was killed in her home early Sunday morning while her husband was away on a business trip. Their 11-year-old daughter was also attacked, but is in a Boston hospital and expected to live.

Four teenagers appeared Tuesday in Milford District Court in connection with the slaying. Steven Spader, 17, and Christopher Gribble, 19, both of Brookline, were charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder. William Marks, 18, and Quinn Glover, 17, both of Amherst, were charged with burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary and robbery.

According to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, the crime does not fit within the state’s definition of a capital murder. The current statute restricts issuing the death penalty to cases when a law enforcement or judicial officer is killed in the line of duty, in the case of murder-for-hire, if the accused is currently serving a life sentence or when the murder occurs in connection with a kidnapping, drug crime or sexual assault.

With the state’s Death Penalty Task Force Study Commission set to meet Oct. 21, so soon after this brutal and shocking murder, public outcry over the crime could push some commission members into taking a more serious look at expanding the capital murder law.

Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth, an outspoken death penalty opponent who sponsored the bill that created the death penalty study commission, said it is a natural emotional reaction after a horrible murder for people to want to put the accused to death.

“I can understand that. I have a similar reaction when I see these things” despite being opposed to the death penalty, he said. “I think you always have to look at the big picture and the death penalty, what it symbolizes, has created an atmosphere of killing. Most industrialized nations of the world say we should not allow the death penalty for that reason.”

State Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing, D-Hampton, is a well-known death penalty opponent who was appointed to the study commission. He said he doesn’t think Cates’ murder will influence commission members and expects they will come to the table with an open mind.

“I don’t know if any one particular murder will have an influence,” Cushing said. “I think there are still people who support the death penalty but who have concerns [about] how it’s administered and who selects it.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Its Unlikeliest Legacy

This story from the British Telegraph features MVFHR member Jo Berry, whose father, a member of Parliament, was killed in 1984 by a bomb planted by the IRA. In 2000, Jo met with Pat Magee, the man responsible for the bombing.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

'My first impression of him was that he was very polite, very quietly spoken, small, with a beard and glasses. He didn't conform to my idea of what a terrorist should look like at all. He seemed almost academic."

Jo Berry's memory of coming face to face with Patrick Magee, the Provisional IRA bomber who killed her father, Sir Anthony Berry, is delivered in a low, trance-like voice as though she is back, apprehensive and amazed, in the secret location near Dublin where they met nine years ago. She'd repeatedly been told that Magee didn't want to meet her: he wasn't interested in being understood by the middle-class daughter of a Tory toff. Then, one day when she was in the middle of making vegetable soup, there was a call from a go-between with instructions for a rendezvous. She took the ferry to Ireland and launched into a strange, unorthodox friendship.

Sir Anthony, MP for Southgate, was one of the five people who died when the Grand Hotel, Brighton, was ripped apart on October 12, 1984, the last day of the Conservative Party conference. He was 59 and had six children. Magee, who had planted the bomb behind the bath panel in Room 629 three weeks earlier, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 35 years' imprisonment. But his co-criminals in the plot to wipe out Margaret Thatcher and most of her Cabinet were never traced. With no warning to the victims' relatives, Magee was released under the Good Friday Agreement in 1999, after 14 years.

Jo, 52, a first cousin of Diana, Princess of Wales, says she knew early on that if she was going to overcome bitterness it might mean confronting the bomber. She started to make regular trips to Ireland to try to understand the conflict from both sides – without telling family or friends. Meeting Magee seemed the logical, if extreme, extension of her need to make sense of it. "It was much more than me and my father. I felt I was part of a war." As the 25th anniversary of the bomb approaches, the permanency of the bond forged between victim and bomber is its unlikeliest legacy.

"My expectation on that day," she says, "was that he would explain his political position – which I was used to hearing – and I would talk about what it meant to lose my wonderful father. And that would be that. There would be no point in meeting again. It couldn't go anywhere. Once would have been enough."

But it wasn't. They spent three highly-charged hours together. "After an hour and a half, he stopped talking," she recalls. "There was a moment of silence. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. 'I don't know who I am any more', he said. 'I don't know what to say. I've never met anyone like you, with so much dignity. What can I do to help? I want to hear your anger. I want to hear your pain.'

"His face got softer. At that point, I wanted to run. It was so much more than I'd bargained for. I didn't know where it would take me. A voice inside me was saying: you should not be talking to the man who killed your father. It's wrong. wrong, wrong. There was a feeling of betrayal. But part of me wanted this to make a difference. It seemed to be positive. I stayed. As soon as I got home, I wanted to go back for more. It was part of my healing to hear his story and reach an understanding of why he chose violence."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Two Links

Friends of Dick Nethercut's have started a blog in his memory, which contains some good articles and links to more information about Dick's work against the death penalty and his extensive involvement with the Alternatives to Violence Project.

Also, as a follow-up to our posts on World Day Against the Death Penalty, here's a link to the European Union's declaration calling for worldwide abolition of the death penalty; there you can see that the EU also posted several other related documents on the occasion of World Day, including MVFHR's joint statement with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Two Calls to Action

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty has designated October 10th “World Day Against the Death Penalty,” and the World Federation for Mental Health has designated October 10th “World Mental Health Day.”

Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights and NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, have taken the occasion of these two intersecting “World Days” to issue the following statement:

Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights
National Alliance on Mental Illness

Statement on World Day Against the Death Penalty
and World Mental Health Day
October 10, 2009

Today is a day of two calls to action: a call to end the death penalty and a call to make mental health treatment a global priority. As organizations who have come together to form the “Prevention, Not Execution” project, we bring these two calls together and declare that it is time to end the death penalty for people with mental illness.

This past year, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights and NAMI released a report called Double Tragedies: Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty for People with Severe Mental Illness, giving voice to families throughout the United States whose lives have been forever changed by the intersection of murder, mental illness, and the death penalty. Two months later, Amnesty International issued a report titled Hanging by a thread: mental health and the death penalty in Japan, highlighting the Japanese government’s continued executions of mentally ill prisoners.

The death penalty is inappropriate for people with severe mental disorders. On this day of two intersecting worldwide calls for change, we urge prevention of violence, through effective and accessible mental health treatment, rather than executions.

World Day Against the Death Penalty

October 10th is World Day Against the Death Penalty. Here is MVFHR's statement; do check out the link above for efforts and activities around the world.

Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
Statement on World Day Against the Death Penalty
October 10, 2009

Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights is an organization of family members of homicide victims and family members of people who have been executed. As survivors with a direct stake in the death penalty debate, and as people who believe in the value of basic human rights principles, we join today in the call for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

The most basic of human rights, the right to life, is violated both by homicide and by execution. We call today for a consistent human rights ethic in response to violence: let us not respond to one human rights violation with another human rights violation. Let us recognize that justice for victims is not achieved by taking another life.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was inspired by victims, demanded by victims. It grew out of the suffering of millions of civilians murdered under the brutal regimes of the Second World War, and its adoption on December 10, 1948 was a way to honor the loss of those lives by asserting that such violations are neither moral nor permissible under any nation or regime.

Now, over sixty years later, let us recognize that violations of human life in the form of the death penalty should not be permissible under any nation or regime. We call for abolition of the death penalty because the only way to uphold human rights is to uphold them in all cases, universally.

Death Penalty Push in New Hampshire

From today's Nashua (NH) Telegraph:

Murder pushes death penalty to fore

The random, shocking murder of Kimberly Cates in Mont Vernon already has some lawmakers working on a renewed push to expand the state’s death penalty.

Rep. Bill O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, said he intends to propose legislation in early 2010 to have capital punishment apply to certain, heinous murders beyond ones the state law covers.

“I am sensitive to the argument of the other side about brutalizing society, but I think there are killings right now that call for the death penalty where that ultimate punishment is not an option,” said O’Brien whose House district also includes Lyndeborough, Wilton, Temple and New Boston.

The New Hampshire death penalty currently applies in the premeditated murder of a police officer, judge or court officer or for any victim when the act occurs in a prison or includes kidnapping, murder for hire, rape or major drug deal.

O’Brien said he’ll wait a few months before fine turning his proposal.

“You can’t say you surely would have prevented this, but there are some murders in which society should be able to say to a would-be offender that if you consider taking a life that way, you could forfeit your own,” O’Brien said.

Death penalty opponent Rep. Robert Cushing, D-Hampton, heads Cambridge, Mass., group Murder Victims Families for Human Rights. Cushing's father was shot to death in [1988] by an off-duty police officer.

“The death penalty will not bring that poor woman back, and it would not have prevented the murder from taking place,” Cushing said.

The slaying of Cates and the serious wounds inflicted on 11-year-old Jaimie Cates is of an inexplicable nature that has many in the public seeking to bring more punishment to bear on the actors, Cushing said.

“There are certain emblematic murders that take place that touch everyone’s heart and in this case reverberate far beyond Mont Vernon,” Cushing said. “People in small towns all over America wake up, learn of this and are traumatized by it, too.

“At times like these, we try to apply rational thought to an irrational world. There are still some things about my dad’s death that I can’t to this day get my mind around like what was going through the killer’s mind when he did this.”

The state has not executed anyone since 1939.

Read the rest of the article.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In Memoriam: Richard Nethercut

We are saddened to learn of the death of MVFHR member Richard Nethercut, who had been reported missing a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday we got the news of his death, and we want to take a few moments to remember him here.

Dick's daughter, Jaina, had been murdered in 1978, and Dick became an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. Here is part of the testimony he gave as part of an MVFHR panel speaking against reinstatement of the death penalty in Massachusetts in 2007:

As a murder victim family member, I oppose the reinstatement of the death penalty, which from my perspective will only add to the suffering of the victim’s family rather than lessen it. My daughter, Jaina Nethercut, was raped and murdered in a Seattle hotel on January 15, 1978 at age nineteen. … The rape and murder of a 19-year-old could carry the death penalty under this bill. This is the last thing my wife and I would have wanted because it would do violence to us and what we stand for to execute our daughter’s killer.

And here is an excerpt from the book Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge, by Ellis Cose:

A thin, angular man in his seventies with dark, mostly receded hair and a gentle, earnest manner, Nethercut spends much of his time these days working with prisoners. It was a path he could not have foreseen while growing up in Wisconsin during the 1930s. After serving two years in the army during World War II, he earned a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and eventually ended up in Hong Kong, as a foreign service officer. In Shanghai in 1960, Nethercut and his wife, Lorraine, adopted a two-year-old girl of Russian descent.

Eight years later, Nethercut was assigned to the State Department's Washington headquarters. Their daughter, Eugenia-or Jaina, as they called her-had trouble adjusting to America. Nonetheless, she made it through high school and decided to go to Washington State University. But instead of focusing on her studies, Jaina began hanging out with a sleazy crowd. And in January 1978, she ended up in a welfare hotel in Seattle, apparently looking for marijuana.

She went to the room of a man she reportedly had met the previous night. The man, stoned out of his head, attacked her. She struggled. She managed to get out of the door; but she was dragged back in, raped, and strangled with a pair of stockings. It was Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Jaina was nineteen years old.

The news left Nethercut angry, shocked, and struggling with feelings of powerlessness. He also felt a great deal of guilt. For Jaina's move out west seemed, at least in part, an attempt to distance herself from her family. She wasn't even using the family name, which, for Nethercut, was a source of shame.

Police captured the assailant immediately. And though Nethercut couldn't bear to go to the trial, he was happy the man was sentenced to life in prison. Still, Nethercut was unable to put the tragedy behind him. He was depressed, and his State Department career seemed stalled. Though only in his midfifties, he took early retirement two years after Jaina's death and moved to Concord, his wife's hometown, the place where his daughter was buried.

Shortly after the move, Nethercut felt an inexplicable desire to contact the man who had murdered his daughter. He wrote to the chaplain at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington. Weeks later the chaplain called as the murderer waited to get on the line. The conversation lasted roughly ten minutes. Nethercut scarcely remembers what was said. He does recall that the conversation was awkward. "We both danced around the issue. We were quite polite with each other. I wanted to learn more and I didn't learn more. . . . I couldn't understand what had happened." The man expressed regret and yet never acknowledged his crime, and certainly didn't provide the explanation and apology Nethercut so desperately craved. Nevertheless, Nethercut muttered words - insincere though they were - of forgiveness.

The men exchanged Christmas cards a few times; but there was no real relationship to maintain-and no release from the confusion and impotence Nethercut felt. For years, he bottled up his emotions: "I kept my daughter's death to myself. I suppressed it. I didn't go through an authentic grieving process." He blamed himself for being a bad father and wallowed in anger and guilt. Finally, he got psychiatric help for his depression; and he got more involved in the activities of his Congregationalist church.

At a religious retreat in 1986 Nethercut had an encounter that radically changed his life. A Catholic bishop suggested that he become part of a prison Bible fellowship program. The idea strongly appealed to Nethercut, who was searching for a way to fill "the hole in my soul . . . I really wanted to do something positive." Several years later, he got involved in the Alternatives to Violence Program, a two-and-a-half-day immersion experience that brings together prisoners and outsiders to role-play, confess, confide, empathize, and explore ideas about the causes-and cures-for violence. In one of those sessions Nethercut got a chance to role-play the part of the man who had murdered Jaina.

In the exercise, he went before the pretend parole board to make his case for freedom; and for the first time, he felt he understood some part of the man who had killed his daughter. It was unexpectedly empowering.

In 2001, at a national conference of the Alternatives to Violence Program, Nethercut met another man who had murdered a woman. That man, who was no longer in prison, had reached out to the family of the women he had killed; and the family had refused his apology. As the killer and Nethercut talked of their respective experiences, they realized they could help each other. Shortly thereafter they went through a ceremony with a victim-offender mediator. His new friend apologized for the murder and Nethercut accepted. The ritual served its purpose: "I no longer feel the need to hear directly from the man himself."

Nethercut's life has come to revolve around his volunteer work in prison-and in promoting prison reform and nonviolence. It is his way of honoring his daughter, of "giving a gift of significance to my daughter's life." He sees in many of the young prisoners and ex-offenders something of his daughter. "They are angry, alienated, at the same time . . . looking for love, acceptance." And he has come to realize, he says, voicing John Lewis's precise words, that everyone has "a spark of the divine."

Thoughts of the murderer-given parole after seventeen years despite his life sentence-no longer torment Nethercut, who has finally and totally forgiven the man. "Forgiveness is something you do for yourself," said Nethercut. "It releases you from a prison of your own making. You forgive the individual and move on. . . . Reconciliation is a step further. . . . That takes both sides."

Nethercut feels that he is a man transformed, and he is no longer depressed. "I feel more whole, more kind of at peace." Through his work, his faith, determination, and grace, he has turned a tragedy in his past into something about which he feels unequivocally positive.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Essence of Human Rights

Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe, issued this statement yesterday, "Abolition of Death Penalty is Necessary for Protecting Human Rights." Here's an excerpt:

Step by step the death penalty is being abolished. Most countries of the world have now stopped using this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment: 94 states have decided on total abolition, 10 have abolished the penalty for all ordinary crimes and 35 others have not executed anyone for more than ten years. Europe is nowadays close to being a death penalty free zone. However, the abolitionist cause is not yet won.

The most populated countries in the world retain the death penalty: China, India, the United States and Indonesia. This means that the majority of the world’s people live in countries which continue to practice execution as punishment. In election campaigns in the United States, this is a taboo issue, and even the more progressive candidates refrain from raising it for fear of a backlash.

Politicians have problems in relating to public opinion on this issue also in other countries. The Russian Federation gave an undertaking when joining the Council of Europe 13 years ago to do away with the penalty. A moratorium was introduced but the Duma does not appear to be ready yet for a de jure abolition.

After the monstrous terrorist attack against the school in Beslan in September 2004, there were strong emotions in favour of executing the sole attacker who survived the disaster. However, the judicial authorities in Russia were loyal to the moratorium decision also in this extreme situation; the death sentence was transformed into life imprisonment.

Surveys of public opinion about the death penalty have usually shown a majority to be in favour of retaining this punishment. This has been the case particularly when a brutal and widely publicised murder has taken place.

However, opinion polls on this issue are not easy to interpret. There is a wide difference between asking for a gut reaction to brutal crime and soliciting a considered opinion about the ethics and principles relating to legalised State killing.

It is significant that there have been no widely-based demands for the re-introduction of the death penalty in European countries. Any such proposals are not coming from larger political parties.


... it is not only a question of effective crime prevention, judicial certainty or prevention of discrimination; it is about the essence of human rights.

The Universal Declaration states that no one shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. There have been attempts to find means of executing with little pain in order to make the process more “humane”. This has failed; there have been recent examples of prolonged suffering in the electric chair or when a person is injected with poison. Even if this could be avoided, it does not reduce the psychological pain when waiting for the execution. The death penalty is cruel, inhuman and degrading – and will always be so.

The key argument against the death penalty is that it violates the right to life. State killing is indeed the ultimate denial of human rights. That is why it is so essential that we continue to act for abolition.

The Council of Europe has been in the forefront in this effort. All member states have ratified Protocol 6 of the European Convention concerning abolition in peace time and the majority has also agreed to be bound by Protocol 13 regarding abolition in all circumstances (including in situations of war). Those remaining states should join.1

It should also be made clear that Belarus can only aspire to membership or even status as observer after it has abolished the death penalty. Governments in the United States and Japan should be reminded that their status as observer is questioned because of their position on this issue.

In the meantime the successful diplomatic initiatives in the United Nations should continue. A resolution was adopted with broad majority in the General Assembly in 2007 which recommended a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty. A similar resolution was agreed in 2008, again stressing that the moratorium should be established “with a view to abolishing the death penalty”.2

Our position on the death penalty indicates the kind of society we want to build. When the State itself kills a human being under its jurisdiction, it sends a message: it legitimises extreme violence. I am convinced that the death penalty has a brutalising effect in society. There is an element of “an eye for an eye” in each execution.

A civilised society should expose the fallacy behind the idea that the State can kill someone to make the point that killing is wrong.

Monday, October 5, 2009

One Mind at a Time

From a Connecticut news story, "Advocates Rally to Abolish the Death Penalty":

Not only is it not a deterrent, advocates like Rev. Walter Everett said it hinders the healing process.

“I realized that I could not heal as long as I sought vengeance,” Everett whose son was murdered in Bridgeport in 1987 said. He said telling his son’s killer “I forgive you” was the only thing that led to his healing.

“I’ve got to be honest. I didn’t feel good about it,” Everett said. “I didn’t like him at all.”

Now Everett and his son’s killer often speak together about the difference God made in both of their lives.

“To kill somebody to prove that its wrong to kill somebody doesn’t make any sense,” Everett said.

He said one of the most effective ways to change minds is to speak individually to legislators, changing one mind at a time.

Friday, October 2, 2009

She needed to start talking

From a news article, "Speakers Share Why They Oppose the Death Penalty":

Change the hearts and minds of everyday citizens about the death penalty and chances improve that Nebraska's legislators will eventually change their minds and vote to repeal the state's death penalty.

Jill Francke, state coordinator for Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty, said her organization is trying to talk to as many people as possible about the realities of the death penalty.

As part of that strategy, Francke accompanied two death penalty opponents, Miriam (Thimm) Kelle and Thomas Winslow, to Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island Thursday evening to tell people why they oppose the death penalty.

Francke said it is her theory that most people don't like to think at any length of time about the death penalty because the subject makes them uncomfortable. She said most people will say to themselves, "I support the death penalty," or "I'm against the death penalty," and then quickly get back to their everyday lives.

Francke said Kelle and Winslow have never had that option.

Kelle is the sister of James Thimm, who was brutally tortured and murdered by death row inmate Michael Ryan as part of the Rulo cult murders. Winslow is one of the "Beatrice 6," who spent 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Kelle and Winslow each talked separately about their own experiences, then answered questions from a small group of people who had gathered at the church to hear their presentations.

Kelle said Ryan's conviction and time on death row have split the family. She said she is in the minority who do not want to see Ryan executed, even though there is no doubt that he committed what she considers to be the most heinous murder in Nebraska history.

Kelle said that for a long time, she kept that minority opinion to herself. But she said she never felt comfortable with Ryan's death sentence and, for her own sake, she needed to start talking about her feelings.

She said she prayed over her decision.

After her talk, Kelle told The Independent that one thing that finally tipped her toward making her opposition to the death penalty known is when she learned how much money has been spent on trying to put Ryan to death.

"It's $2.43 million and it's not over with yet," she said. Kelle said that is more than enough money to have imprisoned Ryan for life without parole.

As a nurse, Kelle said, she thinks about the good that the remainder of that $2.43 million could have done, whether it be in the areas of violence prevention programs or other programs that could have beneficial effects for the state's residents.

Kelle said she believes the ongoing appeals process to put Ryan to death has created an open wound for many family members. She said she believes some family members may think their grief will be relieved when Ryan is put to death.

However, she said no execution date has ever been set for Ryan, who still has appeals pending. Kelle said she did not believe family members' grief will necessarily end even if Ryan is executed. She noted that her brother, James, will still be dead.

Kelle said she believes family members could start working on their grief issues earlier if Ryan was convicted and sentenced to life without parole. Now, family members are waiting for some climactic event to happen with Ryan's execution. She said some may not live to see that happen.