From today's Hartford Courant, "Death Penalty Vs. Life: An Issue of Closure Vs. Peace", by Susan Campbell:
Shannon Schieber was one of those brilliant lights, an honors student who finished college in three years with three majors, then earned a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where she hunkered down to shine as well.
She told her mother she intended to use her education to reach out to the poor, among whom she volunteered as a doctoral candidate despite her challenging course load.
And then in May 1998, a serial rapist broke into her Philadelphia apartment. Shannon cried out, and that, investigators said later, may have proved fatal. Her attacker, Troy Graves, would eventually be found guilty of a series of sexual assaults and home intrusions in Pennsylvania and Colorado; Shannon was his only murder.
Her cries brought a concerned neighbor, who knocked on her door, heard nothing and then summoned police, who used their nightsticks to knock on the door as well. After finding no sign of a break-in, they left the scene.
Meanwhile, Graves choked Shannon Schieber to death.
When she didn't show up for work the next day, her brother, who had planned to meet her for lunch, went to her apartment and, with the neighbor who had earlier called police, broke in to find his sister's battered and bloody body.
Devastated, her family — brother Sean and parents Sylvester and Vicki — felt cushioned (if one can be cushioned after such a horror) by their loved ones and their Catholic faith. Vicki Schieber found herself relying on a lesson she had learned in church, that life is sacred. If this man who took her daughter's life could not live by that precept, she could. The family began to lobby for life without parole instead of the death sentence. Now, Graves is serving life in prison without possibility of parole.
The district attorney was stunned and even asked Vicki Schieber if she loved her daughter. Because if she did, wouldn't she want her killer dead?
But, as Schieber told a small but rapt audience Monday at St. James Catholic Church in Rocky Hill: "If you don't pass the test and live up to your principles, were those ever your principles in the first place?"
Schieber spoke along with Robert Pallotti, director of the Archdiocese of Hartford's office of the diaconate, and Ben Jones, executive director of the Connecticut Network To Abolish the Death Penalty. The 20 or so people sat quietly as Schieber spoke passionately about the peace she seeks and the peace she's attained.
On Tuesday, a New Haven jury found Steven Hayes guilty of 16 of the 17 charges he faced in the Petit murders. Hayes is eligible for the death penalty; Connecticut is one of 35 states that retains that option for its most heinous crimes. The jury will decide Hayes' fate beginning Oct. 18. After that, the state — and, more pointedly, the Petit family survivors — will face the trial of Hayes' accomplice, Joshua Komisarjevsky.
Vicki Schieber knows how passionate people can be during trials like these. Her voice was quiet but emphatic Monday when she said, "We call 'closure' the 'c-word.' Closure is kind of a deceptive word."
If we can't find closure, may we find peace.