Thursday, September 30, 2010

1 of the 50 Best

Criminal Justice Degree, a site devoted to compiling and offering information about criminal justice programs in the U.S., has just included "For Victims, Against the Death Penalty" on its list of 50 Best Blogs Discussing Capital Punishment. The list includes blogs from local, national, and international organizations, and a few pro-death penalty sites as well.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Families of Law Enforcement

MVFHR's Fall/Winter newsletter is out, with a feature on "Families of Law Enforcement Opposing the Death Penalty." Here's an excerpt:

Kathy Dillon’s father, a New York State trooper, was killed in the line of duty when Kathy was just 14. Kathy says, “Some of my family members support the death penalty. This is hard. It can be a very divisive issue, and that is not what families need. We need to be able to support one another in regards to one of the most tragic occurrences in our lives.”

Only as an adult did Kathy learn that another close family member had shared her feelings about the death penalty. “It was only about five years ago that I learned, in a conversation with my godfather, that my paternal grandmother had not wanted the death penalty either. Though she and I were close, I did not know that she had opposed the death penalty because the subject was not discussed with us children. It was as if my father’s murder, and everything related to it, became a taboo subject. It was just too horrific.”

Survivors like these can feel out of place and wish for greater understanding from others in the law enforcement community. But Gail [Rice, whose brother, a Denver police officer, was killed in the line of duty] suggests that it would also be beneficial if death penalty abolitionists made an effort to imagine, more fully, the perspective of families of slain police officers. Gail remembers the experience of riding with her brother and his partner for part of a shift.

“I was amazed at what they saw and what they had to deal with. I think the abolition community needs to recognize the dangerous situation that police officers are in, to acknowledge how much violence they are exposed to and what it is like to be the first one there at the scene of a homicide.” This kind of understanding can help with any outreach or bridge-building efforts, Gail says. What would help, she suspects, is actually quite similar to what helps when reaching out to families of murder victims: recognition and acknowledgment of the horror and devastation of murder.

Read the entire article.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Gone Too Soon

Margaret Summers sent us the link to this piece she wrote for National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. The title is "Gone Too Soon: Honoring Homicide Victims."

It is beyond difficult to lose a loved one to murder. The horror of a spouse, child, sibling, parent or other relative’s life abruptly ended by a single, violent act is a trauma that lasts forever. I know; I’ve had friends who have lost loved ones in that manner. I lost an uncle and a cousin that way.

In the absence of loved ones, lost to homicide, what’s left are a constant pain, grief, heartache and trauma imposed upon the surviving family by the violent behavior of another human being. The yawning void threatens to swallow one up every day, the void that used to be filled by someone now gone forever. Sometimes one forgets, and picks up the phone to call that person with whom one shared a laugh, made plans to go out for “movie night,” or catch up on family news. Then suddenly, it all comes back; no one will answer the phone; the voice one always looked forward to hearing with joy and anticipation, is eternally stilled.

Everything one sees underscores that loss. Parents of murdered children remember them when they see parents with strollers in the park, or hear the happy shouts of little ones at play. The spouse left behind feels remorse when watching couples holding hands. Wherever one turns, there is the reminder that the son who dreamed of becoming an astronaut is forever denied the dream, or the murdered parent will never again attend PTA meetings or volunteer for school activities.

Murder decimates not only families and friends, but also entire communities. Murder rips away our teachers, our doctors and nurses, our police officers, our sanitation workers, everyone who once made a significant contribution to our neighborhoods. As the title of a song Stevie Wonder sings has it, they are “Gone Too Soon.”

The annual National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims on September 25 gives us all the opportunity to remember those lost to homicide, and honor their memories. Cities and states hold programs, workshops and other events focusing on the impact of murder on families and communities, the issues survivors of homicide victims face, and ways to better support and serve survivors.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has long had the participation of family members of murder victims on its Board of Directors and in its states’ Affiliates. They have insisted that their murdered loved ones would not have wanted their killers executed in their names. However, they recognized that in the national debate over capital punishment, the needs of homicide victims’ survivors are sometimes unintentionally overlooked. NCADP’s new program, Rachel’s Fund, is designed to strengthen the bonds between the abolition movement and families of murder victims and of death row prisoners, so that together we may help create effective policies that prevent violent crime, ensure our communities’ safety, and assist victims’ survivors.

This National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, let’s take the time to honor the memories of those lost to homicide, and embrace the theme of the day, “Remember; Remind; Respect”:

Remember: The happiness and joy the deceased loved ones brought to all of us;

Remind: Our memories of murder victims remind us of our loss;

Respect: For the lives of murdered loved ones, the rights of their survivors as co-victims, and for justice.

For more information about NCADP's Rachel's Fund Program, please visit

Friday, September 24, 2010

Day of Remembrance

Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
Statement on National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims
September 25, 2010

Today is a National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. It is a day to hold the victims of murder in our hearts and minds not as statistics but as distinct individuals, each unlike any other. It is a day to acknowledge each homicide as a singular, incomparable tragedy and to recognize that each homicide is a theft of a unique, irreplaceable, deeply loved human life, representing a world of devastation for the victim’s surviving family and friends.

Today Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights joins with other victims’ groups across the United States in honoring our loved ones’ lives and renewing our commitment to working toward a better world.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Prevention, Not Execution in Charlotte

I'm traveling to Charlotte, North Carolina today and will be giving a presentation to the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI-Charlotte, at St. John's Baptist Church this evening. I'll be talking about MVFHR's Prevention, Not Execution project, which aims to end the death penalty for people with severe mental illness.

Activists in both the mental health and anti-death penalty arenas have come together on this issue in North Carolina, and during the last legislative session the state came close to passing a bill that would exempt people with severe mental illness from the death penalty. At MVFHR we continue to value our collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and we appreciate opportunities to work together toward our shared goal. I'll report on the Charlotte event later this week.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Conference on the death penalty in the Middle East and North Africa

Renny Cushing was invited to represent MVFHR at the second Regional Conference on the Death Penalty in the Middle East and North Africa, titled "Death Penalty: Risks, Opportunities, Proposed Tools and Strategies" and taking place today and tomorrow in Alexandria, Egypt. The conference is sponsored by Penal Reform International, the Swedish Institute Alexandria, and the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession.

The conference organizers give this description:

This conference will bring together international and regional experts from the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) and build upon the recommendations of the first Alexandria Conference (held in May 2008) which called on Arab states to halt the use of the death penalty.

This second Alexandria Conference aims to generate in-depth discussion among human rights experts, and decision and policy makers, on the risks of and opportunities for engaging in the death penalty debate in the MENA region, participants will assess progress made towards abolition, lessons learnt since 2008, and what tools and strategies are likely to be most effective in achieving this ultimate goal.

The conference will also focus on the coming UN General Assembly moratorium resolution; contributing to an action plan for increasing the number of Arab countries prepared to vote in favour of the resolution.

Another expected outcome of the conference will be a tool-kit that will support the work of human rights activists in MENA towards abolition.

We are honored to be invited to participate and welcome the opportunity to contribute victims' perspective to these discussions.

No more death

From Friday's Keene (NH) Sentinel, "Punishment debated: State death penalty commission hears from public":

A retired police chief, an ex-convict and the mother of a murder victim all came together Thursday to speak against capital punishment at a public hearing at Keene State College.

The forum — one of several to be held around the state — was sponsored by the N.H. Commission to Study the Death Penalty, a group appointed by the Legislature to review the fairness and efficacy of New Hampshire’s death-penalty law.

The 22-member commission is made up of representatives of groups with an interest in the issue, including lawyers, politicians and law enforcement professionals, as well as others who have had professional or personal experience with murder.

Bradley R. Whitney, whose father, Robert “Eli” Whitney, was strangled to death by Gary Lee Sampson in Meredith in 2001, is a member of the commission. He said the hearing had a good turnout — more than 100 people attended.

“People came and spoke their mind,” he said. “I don’t think anybody held back.”

There were a few tears but no raised voices, and most speakers stuck to the topic throughout the two-hour forum.

About 30 people addressed the commission. Of those, only three said they support the practice of capital punishment in some cases.

People who wanted to share their views without speaking publicly had the option of writing their comments on a sheet that circulated around the room.

Margaret Hawthorn, whose daughter Molly Hawthorn-MacDougall was murdered in Henniker in April, was one of the many speakers who told the commission the N.H. death penalty should be repealed.

While MacDougall’s accused killer is not facing the death penalty, Hawthorn said she wouldn’t want him put to death.

“The best possible outcome for me would be for there to be no more death,” she said. “One was enough.”

There were several arguments voiced by many of the death-penalty opponents.

Some appealed to Christian teachings of forgiveness and salvation. Others pointed to statistics that show that poor, non-white criminals are more likely than their affluent, white peers to be sentenced to death. And several expressed their belief that premeditated killing is always wrong — whether the killer is an individual or the state.

But others said that there are extreme circumstances, and that the option of the death sentence shouldn’t be taken off the table entirely.

“I believe the death penalty is right in some cases,” Keene High School student Celeste Thibault told the commission.

But Mark A. Edgington, who served nine years in a Florida prison on a charge of second-degree murder, said his time in prison changed him from a death-penalty supporter to an opponent.

He said his experience had shown him one common argument in favor of retaining the death penalty — that it would deter others from committing crimes — was not valid.

“Having spent nine years in prison, let me tell you, those men don’t care about your deterrents,” he said.

Former Marlborough police chief Raymond T. Dodge echoed Edgington’s point.

He said his experience in law enforcement had shown him that people who commit crimes don’t weight the pros and cons beforehand.

“Criminals don’t do that,” he said. “They just react.”

Dodge also told the commission the danger of a wrongful conviction wasn’t worth the risk.

“We can release an innocent person from jail,” he said. “We cannot release an innocent person from the grave.”

The commission is scheduled to present the final draft of its report to the Legislature on Dec. 1.

In March 2009, the N.H. House passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Steven Lindsey, D-Keene, that would have repealed the state’s death penalty, but the bill stalled in the Senate.

The last person to be executed in New Hampshire was put to death in 1939, but the practice is still legal in the state.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Events this week

MVFHR members Vicki Schieber and Cathy Crino are among those participating this week in Beyond Repair: True Stories of Illinois' Death Penalty, a speaking tour organized by the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. The Coalition says, "This educational event will reveal stories of redemption, forgiveness, and betrayal from those personally affected by the death penalty. It is part of a two-week suburban speaking tour aimed at revisiting the issue of the death penalty ten years after the moratorium."

Also this week, MVFHR program staff member Kate Lowenstein is at the National Center for Victims of Crime conference in New Orleans. This gathering "will bring together victim service providers and advocates, law enforcement officials, researchers, educators, and allied professionals from around the country to share best practices, forge new collaborations, and enhance resources, policies, and services for crime victims."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

If any good can come

On this anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, here are some words from our Gallery of Victims' Stories from family members of victims killed in those attacks:

From Loretta Filipov: "After Al was killed, some thought we would feel differently and want revenge. My family and I would have liked nothing better than to have Mohammed Atta and the other terrorists from Flight 11 brought to an open trial and given 92 life sentences; one sentence for each person aboard that flight. But they and the other terrorists also killed themselves on that day. What kind of a world do we want for future generations? We can see from the present course we are following that violence only begets more violence and killing only leads to more killing. It is possible to have justice without revenge and hate. The death penalty is not the answer.”

From Terry Greene: "We cannot afford to enact measures that give the illusion of safety while doing nothing to deter killings. The death penalty has proven ineffective as a deterrent. It only promotes the acceptability of taking lives, a cycle which must instead be broken."

From Robin Theurkauf: “I am opposed to the death penalty because it sanctions violence and revenge as justice. We have somehow become socialized to believe that if we do not kill the author of a horrific crime, justice has not been done. We need a new way to understand a just response to horrible crimes that does not include more violence. When we exercise the death penalty we become in some way what we deplore."

From Orlando Rodriguez: “We can understand why victims' families would look to the death penalty as a justifiable punishment for convicted terrorists, but we feel that it is wrong to take a life. Nothing will erase the pain and loss that we must learn to live with, and causing others pain can only make it worse. If any good can come out of the disaster of Sept. 11, perhaps it will include examination of how we can maintain our humanity in the face of terrorists' threats.”

And from Anthony Aversano: “If I let hatred consume my life from that terrorist attack, then that act of terror would have taken more than my father, more than those many other lives and more than those buildings, it would have taken my life too! If I let that happen, then the tragedy of that one day would poison me forever."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Videos from the 4th World Congress

Video compilations from last February's 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty are now available online. This 9-minute video contains comments from MVFHR's Bill Babbitt, Renny Cushing, and Bill Pelke, along with comments from many other Congress attendees from around the world. This 6-minute segment includes comments from MVFHR's Bob Curley and Jo Berry and shows the large group marching to the United Nations building at the culmination of the Congress (you can catch a glimpse of us holding the MVFHR banner in the crowd).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A responsibility to victims

From the September 5th Seacoast Online, this article about Renny's Cushing's legislation regarding victim compensation in cold cases:

Rep. Renny Cushing said he saw one shortcoming in the bill signed into law last year establishing for the first time in the state's history a Cold Case Unit assigned to work exclusively on unsolved murder cases.

The Democratic state representative from Hampton said the bill didn't address the needs of surviving victims who may be traumatized by the reopening of an investigation into their loved ones death. That is why he sponsored a bill, which became law three weeks ago, that allows family of cold case homicides to be eligible for victim compensation regardless of the date of the crime.

"It is my understanding that the law that went into effect is the first law in the country that specifically recognizes cold case homicide victims under victim's compensation statutes," Cushing said. "I am proud that New Hampshire is on the leading edge of meeting the needs of crime victims."

Before passage of this law, Cushing said families of cold case victims were ineligible because the state's victim's compensation law did not cover crimes that took place before enactment of the law setting up the fund, and there is a two-year statute of limitations on the time victims have to initiate requests for compensation assistance.

New Hampshire's victim compensation law states that victims of a violent crime are eligible to recover up to $25,000 in related out-of-pocket expenses not covered by insurance or other resources. Cushing said he recognized the shortcoming in the law when they were voting to approve the Cold Case unit.

"Whenever I consider criminal justice legislation, I always ask how does it impact the victims of crime," Cushing said. "I could see right away they were not being addressed, but the focus at the time was just getting the unit approved and up and running."

Cushing said it was important to establish the unit because in the past 40 years there have been approximately 120 homicide victims whose killers have not yet been brought to justice. The unit recently brought criminal charges in the deaths of four family members in an apartment house arson in 1989 in Keene.

David McLeod had been arrested on four counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Carl Hina, his wife Lori, their 4-month old daughter Lillian, and Carl Hina's 12-year-old daughter Sara.

The victim assistance component, he said, will help those surviving families. Costs of the program are paid by motor vehicle and criminal fine assessments and federal Victims of Crime Act grants. Cushing said he's passionate about the issue because he understands what it's like to be a victim. His father was shotgunned to death in the doorway of his Hampton home in 1988 by a neighbor who was a town police officer.

Afterward, he supported a bill establishing the Victims' Compensation Fund in New Hampshire, which was approved in 1989. The money is available for counseling costs, medical and dental expenses and lost wages or support.

"We shouldn't abandon victims," he said. "We have a responsibility to help them. And this is a fund that doesn't cost taxpayers a dime."

Cushing said the fund will also help other family members of cold case victims.

"When they reopen an investigation, the first things that happen is they re-interview people involved and it's always the family members," Cushing said. "Just the process of reinvestigation triggers things in many survivors, revisiting the crime and experiencing retraumatization. This bill recognizes that the impact of crime upon victim-survivors is long term."

Since its passage, Cushing said he's been in touch with victims advocates, legislative colleagues and legislative staff throughout the country who are interested in replicating the law in other states.

Friday, September 3, 2010

We will not be seeking the death penalty

Thanks to Donna Schneweis of Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty for alerting us to this news story from Kansas, which mentions a victim's family's opposition to the death penalty:

ATCHISON, KAN - A Kansas man will face capital murder charges, but not the death penalty, in what prosecutors say was the contract killing of a Atchison County grandmother, a judge ruled on Wednesday.

Roger Hollister, 58, of Sabetha, is accused of killing Patricia Kimmi, who disappeared from her Atchison County home last November. In court, prosecutors presented evidence that Hollister killed Kimmi as part of a contract or agreement, and a witness testified that Hollister demanded $80,000 in payment from Kimmi's ex-husband, Eugene.

In addition, investigators found human vertebrae and skull fragments on property belonging to Hollister's brother that DNA testing confirmed belong to Patricia Kimmi.

The judge in the case ruled that there was enough evidence in the case for Hollister to stand trial for capital murder, although prosecutors then announced that they will not be seeking the death penalty.

"It was really a joint decision between everyone," said Atchison County prosecutor Jerry Kuckelman. "We met in Topeka with the Attorney General. The decision was made based on this particular case that it was not an appropriate case for the death penalty. We will not be seeking that. We will be seeking life without parole."

After the judge's decision, Kimmi's children told reporters that the evidence they saw presented in court tested their faith, but they're satisfied they will get justice for their mother.

"Mom always said, 'We're Catholic, we're pro-life'," said Gene Kimmi, Patricia Kimmi's son. "Mom always said you can't be half pro-life, you're one or the other. She was very strong being pro-life so that was our feelings on this from the beginning."

The trial for Roger Hollister is scheduled to begin November 30th. Although Kimmi's former husband, Eugene, is not part of this case, Kuckelman says it's possible that another person will be charged in Kimmi's death.