Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Two clips

A couple of articles we're glad to see this week:

This story from BU (Boston University) today, "A Father's Grief and Change of Heart," announcing MVFHR member Bob Curley's talk at the university this evening. From that piece: “After Jeff was killed, it seemed like I was supposed to be for the death penalty,” Curley says. “It took time for me to step back and realize the problems with it.”

This story from the North Carolina News Observer, "A Better Law for North Carolina," challenging the wisdom and efficacy of sentencing people with severe mental illness to death. From that piece: "Polling shows that 75 percent of Americans oppose executing people with serious mental illness."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Death Penalty Hurts, Not Helps

From yesterday's Nashua (NH) Telegraph, "Death penalty hurts -- not helps -- families of murder victims":

The state of New Hampshire is studying the death penalty through its study commission, so I want to share the view of the surviving families – from a state that struggled with the death penalty for a quarter century and hadn’t carried out an execution in 40 years before finally giving up on it.

Make no mistake – I am a conservative, a victims’ advocate and a death penalty supporter. But my real life experience has taught me that as long as the death penalty is on the books in any form, it will continue to harm survivors. For that reason alone, it must be ended.

I’ve spent the last two decades of my life fighting for the rights of crime victims. It’s a mission I began after a terrible murder in my own family. The death penalty is no abstract concept to me – I’ve had to confront it every day since 1984, in my work with countless families that have been impacted by the sudden trauma of homicide.

Three years ago, New Jersey conducted a study of its death penalty system like the one New Hampshire is conducting now. One of the questions put to the commission was the impact of the death penalty on homicide survivors, and I was selected to serve on the committee as a victims’ advocate.

It is my opinion, as well as the view of other long-standing victim advocates throughout New Jersey, that our capital punishment system harmed the survivors of murder victims. It may have been put in place to serve us, but in fact it was a colossal failure for the many families I serve.

I don’t have any compassion for murderers and believe they deserve harsh and certain punishment. In real life, the death penalty doesn’t work that way.

The courts scrutinize death penalty cases more than any other. I understand why they do that – once an execution happens it can’t be reversed, and we already know the system has made mistakes. Truly, not just technically, innocent people have been exonerated after spending years on death row.

But the result of that extra care is a process that takes years, and in many cases, decades. The criminal justice system is hard enough on survivors. When the death penalty is added to the process, the survivor’s connection to the system becomes a long-term and often multidecade nightmare that almost never ends in the promised result.

The details of the crime are replayed over and over in the press with each appeal. The defendant is turned into a celebrity.
I have watched too many families go through this over the years to believe that there is any way to make the system work better. Even in those states that do carry out executions, most cases are reversed at some point. I’ve known people in New Jersey whose entire childhoods were lost waiting for an execution that never came.

They endured multiple trials, as well as the additional trauma each one created in their fractured lives, leaving them feeling revictimized by the very system they once trusted to give them some sense of justice. Meanwhile, families with differing opinions on the death penalty are divided at the moment they need each other most.

Added to this traumatizing process is the sad reality that the true needs of homicide survivors are often forgotten and ignored. While well-intentioned people defend capital punishment “for the victims,” surviving family members are left to grieve in silence, without access to ongoing services, peer support, or affordable, specialized counseling.

Of the many hundreds of survivors I’ve worked with, I found most were not focused on the perpetrator literally losing their own life, but on the criminal justice system ensuring they would no longer have the opportunity to harm another person, their family or have the freedom to view anything but prison walls for the rest of their life.

I now believe that the death penalty must be ended and replaced with life without parole, a harsh punishment that provides victims with the swiftness and certainty they need at a fraction of the cost in terms of dollars and human suffering by homicide survivors.

New Hampshire has the opportunity to stop this before more families are subjected to this painful system. As a society, we will continue to fail victims’ families until they have the services they really need to heal as best they can.

Every dollar we spend on a punishment that harms survivors is one we are taking away from the services that can address the emergent and long-term needs of all victims.

Kathleen M. Garcia is a victims’ advocate, an expert in traumatic grief and served on the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

No monolithic view

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty director Diann Rust-Tierney makes a good point about victims' families in this piece for the Huffington Post last week:

When the so-called "modern death penalty statutes" were enacted over 30 years ago -- many believed sincerely that it might deter crime. We thought that most family members of victims would want to have the death penalty exacted and we thought the practice would not cause further harm and trauma. Perhaps most importantly -- we thought that the criminal justice system could get it right.

But thirty year's experience in each state that has the death penalty tells us that the good that we were expecting never came to fruition. And unanticipated harms and costs are actually undermining our efforts to respond effectively to crime and violence.

There is still no hard empirical evidence that proves the death penalty deters murder. To the contrary, there is evidence that states that have the death penalty and use it most frequently continue to suffer higher rates of homicide. On the other hand states like New Jersey that ended the practice in 2007, are beginning to enjoy declines in their overall crime and homicide rates.

The relationship between survivors of homicide victims and the death penalty is more complicated than we once thought. First and most importantly, there is no monolithic view on the death penalty among victims' families. Some families support it while others just as vigorously oppose the practice--more than a quarter of the Board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are family members of homicide victims. For those victims who support the death penalty, we have a better understanding of the pain that the death penalty process causes them. The uncertainty of a legal process, that seems to operate in fits and starts takes its toll.

The reason for their continued trauma is: that we are a nation of laws and this is the level of deliberation necessary when the stakes are as high as life and death. But this is of little comfort. We thought it would be easier but it's not -- because of the other lesson we've learned -- We are not getting it right. Nine men were exonerated and released from death row in 2009 when New Mexico repealed the death penalty. Thus far, 139 people in 26 states have been released nationally from death row with evidence of innocence.

Monday, March 22, 2010

It would profane her name

The March 20th issue of the Toledo Blade has the story, "Murder victim's mom speaks out against the death penalty":

When a kidnapper cut a slit in the Jaeger family's canvas tent in the middle of the night and stole off with 7-year-old Susie, the girl's mother was thrust into a whirlwind of emotions.

Her initial feelings of fear, frustration, and dread that dark summer night in 1973 in Montana eventually gave way to rage - a feeling that Marietta Jaeger-Lane had always suppressed.

"I had been raised in a home where we were never allowed to show anger. We were told it was a sin. If we wanted God to love us, especially as females, we should never be angry," said Mrs. Jaeger-Lane, who will speak Sunday at St. Rose Catholic Church in Perrysburg. "So I became very adept at repressing my feelings or expressions of anger."

But after two weeks without any sign of Susie, the youngest of her four children, and just one brief, confusing phone call from the kidnapper, her anger was too strong to keep bottled up.

"My rage just came roiling up through all the inhibitions I had placed on it," Mrs. Jaeger-Lane said in an interview this week.
She desperately needed God, but at the same time was afraid her anger was sinful.

"I thought, 'Am I offending God?' Then I felt, 'Phooey, I don't care. This is an innocent, defenseless little girl. I'm her mother. I have every right to be furious.'"

It was then, Mrs. Jaeger-Lane said, that the rage took over.

"I would have been happy to kill the guy with my bare hands and a smile on my face. I just didn't know who he was," she said. "That's a normal, valid human response. But if you stay there, you end up giving the killer another victim. Hatred is not healthy."

Mrs. Jaeger-Lane, a Roman Catholic, said her Christian faith helped her move "from fury to forgiveness."

"I began a major wrestling match with God … and when you wrestle with God, you know who wins," she said with a laugh. "What I came to understand was that killing somebody in Susie's name would profane her name and violate the sweetness and beauty of what she was."

Mrs. Jaeger-Lane, 71, a Detroit-area native now living in Three Forks, Mont., travels around the world, sharing her story and calling for compassion instead of capital punishment.

"I'm only a country bumpkin with a high school education, but I have had opportunities to testify to the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights and to speak in Japan, Korea, India, Central and South America, and throughout the United States," she said.

"The bottom line is: Do we really honor the victims by taking on the same mindset of resolving our problems that the murderer did?"

Read the rest of the story.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rallying in Missouri

From yesterday's St. Louis (MO) Public Radio story, "Anti-death penalty rally at Mo. Capitol":

Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio (2010-03-17)
JEFFERSON CITY, MO. (ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO) - More than a hundred people gathered at the State Capitol today to call on Missouri lawmakers to place a moratorium on executions of Death Row inmates.

Among those at the rally was Emily Miller, whose mother, Tracy, was murdered in Kansas in 1978 by Anthony Joe Larette. He confessed to the crime a decade later and was eventually executed in Missouri for the 1980 murder of Mary Fleming.

Miller says despite the brutal crime against her mother, she doesn't think it was fair to execute Larette.

"Fair to me is him sitting for the rest of his natural life, facing with whatever conscience he had, and having the opportunity to create some sense of justice by confessing to other murders...that to me (would have been) fair," Miller said.

Other opponents said that there are no guarantees that innocent people are not being arrested, convicted and executed for murders they did not commit. Eric Zahnd with the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys disagrees.

"I would suggest that those who have received the death penalty have received it after extraordinary due process guarantees, and that the death penalty is the appropriate sanction in those very horrific crimes," Zahnd said.

A bill in the State House would place a moratorium on all executions in Missouri and commission a study into whether the death penalty is being applied fairly. The sponsor, State Representative Bill Deeken (R, Jefferson City), says the bill so far has not been scheduled for a hearing.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Until my sister's murder ...

Here's an excerpt from Nancy Filiault's testimony before the New Hampshire death penalty study commission last week. Nancy's sister, Kitty, and her sister's two young children were murdered in their home in 2000.

Everyone involved with my sister's case thought the jury would choose death, I prayed for a sentence of life in prison, yet It makes me physically ill to think that this jury spared his life; he did not spare my sister's life or her children's. ...

Because I did want the absolute worst punishment for my sister's murderer, if I don't believe in the death penalty as the ultimate punishment, does that mean I value a murderer's life more than my sister's? No, I value life and having the death penalty as law makes me as a victim have to choose, and makes me no different than a murder if I choose death. I believe my sister's jury was unable to make that choice. We as a society need to take that choice away. Killing is wrong in any way, shape, or form. Killing is breaking the law and even our judicial system should not live above this law. People who think the death penalty is closure for the victims are misguided. A death penalty sentence is never ending and rarely are executions carried out. The appeals process is very well known to be the defense lawyer's way of keeping the case going. And traumatize victim's family.

The death penalty never brings closure. There is no closure and there never will be any. There is only life after murder for the victims' families. We learn to live with it. I choose not to live my life with anger about my sister's murder. It takes a lot of energy and work to be angry. Life is too precious and anger leads to violence.

Until my sister's murder I always thought that I was for the death penalty. I thought people who kill other people should have to die themselves. And then someone killed my sister and two of her beautiful babies. My heart broke. Killing is so senseless. All killing needs to end. The death penalty makes us all murders. We kill people who kill? This is not the lesson I want to teach my children.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Telling Stories, Making a Difference

In addition to testifying at legislative hearings, MVFHR members do a lot of speaking to groups of students, church groups, and other public audiences. Oregon member Aba Gayle wrote us to say that she spoke last week to a Methodist Social Justice group and then to a high school group who is performing the play version of Dead Man Walking, and Pennsylvania member Walt Everett told about a long list of recent and upcoming speaking engagements at churches and universities. Walt said that at these events several people have asked questions and stayed afterward to speak with him individually, and he has distributed a lot of MVFHR literature. Tomorrow Walt will be participating in a lobbying for a death penalty moratorium event in Pennsylvania and meeting individually with several legislators, and next month he''ll be speaking on a couple of panels in Connecticut, the state where his son was murdered.

Telling one's story and explaining one's opposition to the death penalty, and then placing that individual perspective into a broader context by giving out literature and letting audiences know about an organization of other victims' families who also oppose the death penalty, is so valuable and goes such a long way toward changing listeners' assumptions about victims and the death penalty.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The defining moment

Victims' family members Nancy Filiaut, whose sister was murdered, and Bob Curley, whose son was murdered, attended yesterday's hearing of New Hampshire's death penalty study commission yesterday to express their opposition to the death penalty. This Concord Monitor article, "Despite grief, he opposes the death penalty," focuses on Bob Curley's story:

Bob Curley wasn't always against the death penalty.

But he is now.

It doesn't matter that his 10-year-old son, Jeffrey, was killed, then sexually abused, 13 years ago. It doesn't matter that Curley still wakes up every so often and thinks about killing the killers, Salvatore Sicari and Charles Jaynes. And it doesn't matter that his ex-wife and their two sons believe in the death penalty.

"After what happened with Jeff, I don't see how I could feel any other way than being in favor of the death penalty," Curley said yesterday. "But after a period of time . . . that changed."

Curley is a 54-year-old firefighter from Cambridge, Mass. He came to Concord yesterday to address the Death Penalty Study Commission, which is researching whether capital punishment, on the books in New Hampshire, makes more sense than life without parole.

The committee and some invited to speak were longwinded, forcing Curley to leave without speaking after 2½ hours so he could get to work on time.

Too bad. Curley had plenty to say, at least outside the meeting room; he spoke in calm, measured tones, not much louder than a whisper.

He sees discrimination in our court system based on

race and money, with some criminals receiving the death penalty and others life in prison.

"You find out very quickly it's a great system, but it's not always fair," Curley said. "If you have money and can afford to go to court with a good defense lawyer, you have a better chance than some guy that doesn't."

He learned these inequities the hard way, after the murder of his son.

Jeffrey loved baseball. He loved going to dad's office, the fire station, and climbing on the trucks.

"He was a funny little kid who liked to have a good time," Curley said. "He was a city kid growing up in East Cambridge. He was funny and outgoing and liked mechanical things. He liked to hang out with the guys at the firehouse. He was kind of a showoff, a good kid."

On Oct. 1, 1997, Jeffrey was lured away from his neighborhood by Sicari and Jaynes, who promised him a new bike.

They smothered Jeffrey with a gasoline-soaked rag, sexually abused him, then stuffed his body into a concrete-filled container and dumped him in a Maine river.

News stations began showing a picture of Jeffrey in his blue Little League uniform, a bat resting on his right shoulder. Divers found him six days later.

"Prior to that I think I was like most people, never gave the death penalty much thought," Curley said. "One way or the other, whatever way the wind blows. Yeah, there should be the death penalty when you hear something horrible happened, and the other way around when you hear someone was wrongly convicted."

His opinion on the death penalty when Sicari and Jaynes were convicted?

"I wanted them dead," Curley said.

His opinion, though, began shifting two or three years after Jeffrey's death. Curley read about Manny Babbitt, who had been wounded in Vietnam and was considered a war hero. Babbitt, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, killed a California woman in 1980 and was executed by lethal injection in 1999.

And then there was Harvard graduate Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber. His mail bombs between 1978 and '95 killed three and wounded 23. He's serving a life sentence without parole.

"The poor black man Manny Babbitt gets executed, and the white educated guy from Harvard gets life," Curley said. "That was the defining moment for me."

Curley also cited the men who killed his son. Jaynes gagged Jeffrey, leading to his death, then sexually assaulted him; Sicari drove the car. Yet Jaynes was convicted of second-degree murder, with parole possible, and Sicari of first-degree murder.

Curley said he knows why.

Jaynes "hired a good defense lawyer," Curley said. "(Sicari), who was a tagalong stooge, got life without the possibility of parole. That stood out to me, how the system plays out."

Has money played a role in sentencing here, in New Hampshire? What about race?

Michael Addison killed Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006 and was sentenced to death in late 2008. John Brooks was convicted on two counts of capital murder in 2008 and is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Addison is poor and black, Brooks a white millionaire whose legal team was the best money could buy.

The murder Brooks committed was planned, but Addison killed a cop. Who deserved what? You make the call.

Meanwhile, Curley's crusade for justice in our system is limited, although he traveled to Geneva two weeks ago to speak at the World Congress Against the Death Penalty. "They invited me," he said, "so I went."

He throws himself into his work these days. He's got two sons, 31-year-old Robert, a pipe fitter, and 29-year-old Shaun, a carpenter. He and his wife have divorced since the death of their son. Curley said the killing had nothing to do with the split.

"I'm fine, relatively speaking," Curley said, adding a subtle laugh. "It's crazy, but I really feel Jeff died for a reason, to highlight a lot of different things as far as sexual abuse of kids and things that are wrong in the world. I try to live in a dignified way and carry Jeffrey's memory."

Curley then paused for at least five seconds, choking back tears and collecting his thoughts on yesterday's hearing.

"This," he said finally, "is bigger than me."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A different way to spend spring break

Next Tuesday I'll be in Texas speaking to the students who are participating in Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break. MVFHR has been part of this event in one way or another for several years, but it's the first time I myself have gone to speak to the students -- I'll be talking about MVFHR's "Prevention, Not Execution" project, which focuses on the issue of mental illness and the death penalty from the victim perspective.

You can read about the entire week's worth of speakers and activities here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New book: Parallel Justice for Victims of Crime

Susan Herman, whom we interviewed in our fall/winter newsletter and who spoke on the "Innovative and Effective Responses to Crime and Violence" panel at this year's National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty conference along with Howard Zehr and Renny Cushing, now has a book out called Parallel Justice for Victims of Crime.

You can read more about the book and order a copy at the website of the Parallel Justice Project, which is well worth a visit. The site gives a great overview of the concept of parallel justice, how it has been implemented in several communities, and how others can help put it into practice. Here's an excerpt:

For every reported crime, our society responds by trying to apprehend, prosecute, sanction and eventually reintegrate offenders back into productive communal life. Following the Parallel Justice framework, there would always be a separate set of responses for victims of the crime. Parallel Justice responses seek to restore victims’ safety, help them recover from the trauma of the crime, and regain a sense of control over their lives.

These responses would not depend on whether the offender is ever identified or convicted. In all cases, the harm experienced by victims of crime would be acknowledged and addressed separately and apart from the criminal justice process. While victims’ legal rights within the criminal justice process should be enforced, society’s obligation to provide justice to victims extends beyond the criminal justice process.

This new vision of justice challenges criminal justice agencies–police, prosecutors, courts, and corrections–to respond more effectively to victims, and make victims’ safety and the prevention of repeat victimization, a higher priority. Every social service and healthcare agency can also reorient its core business practices to play a greater role in helping victims rebuild their lives. In fact, every sector of our civil society—businesses, employers, schools, faith-based institutions, and neighbors–can make important contributions to Parallel Justice.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Not just repeal of the death penalty: meeting the needs of victims

Earlier this week, MVFHR board chair VIcki Schieber testified in Maryland in support of a bill that would expand training for police officers on informing homicide victims' families about the availability of services and counseling in the state. Here is her testimony:

In 2008 I was appointed by Governor O'Malley to serve on the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. You know that this Commission recommended repeal of Maryland's death penalty

Today I am here to discuss a lesser known recommendation of the same Commission, which was to increase the services and resources already provided to families of murder victims.

I served on the Commission's Victims Subcommittee. It was made up of three Commission members who were survivors of homicide victims. We were asked by the full Commission to study what information was available and assess the needs of Maryland homicide survivors. A copy of our report is attached to my testimony. The three of us were unanimous about the need for a more statewide approach to meeting the needs of homicide survivors. One key need identified speaks directly in support of SB 820:

"Training for law enforcement both at the entry-level and in-service training for experienced officers must explicitly include dealing with the survivors of homicide and the rights of crime victims. Under Public Safety Article section 3, there are training provisions for rape and sexual assault, however it is important that these provisions be expanded to include homicide offenses, and contract and treatment of homicide survivors."

The reason we emphasized police training is that police usually make first contact with family members and they often make ONLY official contact. This is true in murders where no one is arrested, and thus the family never has contact with State's Attorney's offices, which have their own victims' coordinators.

Based on these Maryland Commission and the Victims' Subcommittee recommendations, the 2009 death penalty repeal bill included intent language urging expanded servies to survivors of homicide victims, and directed the Governor's Office on Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP) to deliver a report by Nov. 1, 2009 to the House Judiciary and to this Committee on "how victim services for the homicide survivors should be expanded."

In this Nov. 1st report, also attached to this testimony, GOCCP conducted a pilot survey. Although the sample was small, it is noteworthy that "68% of survivors responding said they did NOT receive any information from law enforcement officers regarding the availability of services in their respective communities." Thus, one of the GOCCP recommended in this report that Maryland "expand and enhance training for law enforcement officials working with homicide victims."

SB 820 does what was urged by the Commission and the GOCCP reports by requiring uniform, routine training for police officers across our state so they become equipped to inform ALL Maryland crime victims of their rights and available services.

I support SB 820 as a step on the path to justice and healing for victims. I am honored to do so so that our state can move beyond vague sentiments about being tough on crime and seeking justice for victims and look closely at what actions would prevent violence or help victims heal in the aftermath of violence. In honor of my daughter, my family is committed to seeking not just the elimination of the death penalty, but meaningful change like SB 820 which truly serves the needs of survivors.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"People really don't understand"

One more link: this write-up on the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty site also has a couple of video clips from the Words of Victims evening.

We're now working on the spring/summer issue of our newsletter, Article 3, which will have some more in-depth material from the World Congress, including interviews with some of our members and colleagues around the world.

And one other note: MVFHR Board Chair Vicki Schieber sent a link to an article in The Leaven about a recent speaking engagement that she and her husband Syl did; the article's title is, "Saying No to the Death Penalty: Couple opposes death penalty even after murder of their daughter." Here's an excerpt:

Ultimately, the murderer [of the Schiebers' daughter Shannon] received several life sentences without the possibility of parole. The entire trial and sentencing process lasted five weeks, mercifully brief compared to the average 17 years of appeals and challenges associated with pursuing a death sentence.

The Schiebers felt they made the right decision.

“The trial, the constant hearings, and the seething hatred all add up to a real ordeal for the families of the victims,” said Sylvester. “The anger can consume you. We’ve seen it ruin people’s lives — ruin their health, ruin their marriages.”

“Instead of dealing with this for another 17 years, we were done with it in five weeks,” Sylvester continued. “We have peace. We haven’t got any anger left, and I haven’t lost a night’s sleep over him since they put him away.”

In addition to their Catholic faith, which they said taught them that life is sacred and hatred is a sin, the strain on the victim’s family is one of the key reasons the Schiebers have since become heavily involved in the move to abolish the death penalty across the country. Vicki has even quit her job to become involved in the movement full time.

“People really don’t understand the system and what it does to families,” she said. “What we went through in the criminal justice system, we call being re-victimized.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A picture seldom seen

More coverage from the World Congress: this piece by Jessica Reed was posted on the UK Guardian's "Comment is Free" blog. One note of clarification: the piece is worded in a way that makes it sound as though Vicki Schieber is not a member of MVFHR, but of course she is very much a member, and indeed is Chair of our board of directors.

Death row lets victims' families down
Many families of murder victims do not want the perpetrators executed – but they do want more support from the state

Most debates about the criminal justice system and restorative justice are criticised for not focusing enough on the impact that violence has on victims and their families. Those objections multiply tenfold when the issue at hand is capital punishment: bring up the subject and many death penalty supporters will say that executions are the only way to meet survivors' needs for justice and closure, and that to oppose capital punishment is to be anti-victim. "What if it was your own son or mother?" they ask. "Wouldn't you want the perpetrator die at the hands of our justice system?"

As it turns out, the truth is rather different. During last week's fourth world congress against death penalty in Geneva, the voices of murder victims' families painted a picture seldom seen in the media. For a variety of reasons, a growing number of families do not support capital punishment. However, all families face decades of legal appeals over the execution of the perpetrator – a truly agonising wait for anyone seeking closure.

For some, such as the members of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, opposition to capital punishment is first and foremost ideological: in their mind, the response to one human rights violation should not be another one. Others, such as Vicki Schieber, resent the attention that inmates on death row receive. Schieber's daughter, Shannon, was murdered in Pennsylvania in 1998, and she fought the district attorney and prosecutors to keep the death penalty from being applied to her daughter's killer, poignantly writing that "one tragedy of the death penalty is that it turns society's perspective away from the victim and creates an outpouring of support for those who have perpetuated a crime. This is not the way to honour our daughter's life".

But beyond ideologies, participants in Geneva were particularly keen to accentuate how little support families receive after tragedies. Renny Cushing, whose father was murdered in 1988, spoke at length about the lack of resources available to victims. He told the harrowing story of a woman whose husband was killed. A few weeks later, she received a hefty bill for the cost of the ambulance which transported the body. She had, in effect, to pay for her family member's death.

Extraordinary funds are allocated to keep prisoners on death row at the taxpayer's expense: having someone on death row adds $90,000 per inmate per year to the normal cost of incarceration, which could be diverted to meet the murder victims' families most immediate needs. In California alone, $125m could be saved every year if death penalty sentences were switched to life without parole. And while psychological support and financial support for those suffering material loss should be key elements helping survivors to get on with their lives as efficiently and compassionately as possible, woefully inadequate funds are directly dedicated to compensation.

Similarly, law enforcement representatives John Van de Kamp, ex-district attorney of Los Angeles County and James Abbott, chief of police of West Orange, New Jersey, both agreed that death penalty costs were taking away from law enforcement resources which could be better spent on both crime prevention and forensic innovations. In the US alone, the increasing use of DNA-based evidence has been pivotal in proving the innocence of many of the 135 men and women who have been released from death row after having been wrongfully convicted since 1973.

The majority of speakers in Geneva agreed that if civil society wants to fight the feeling of abandonment faced by survivors of violence, the state should shoulder compensation when the perpetrator cannot do so. In that vein, pro-victim lawmaking is making progress: the ICC allowed the creation of a trust fund for victims and families of victims of crimes to allocate some form of reparation when the convicted person does not have sufficient assets to provide reparation. In the US, the Crime Victims Equality Act provides that crime victims shall be treated equally under the law regardless of their position on the death penalty, has been passed and legislature recently adopted an important new victim rights bills in New Hampshire, which will expand victims' compensation fund coverage.

There is little doubt that a greater emphasis on victim voices is needed, as retentionist countries have a vision of justice which does not always have the well-being of those who suffered in mind. But while the crimes penalised by capital punishment bring emotions which can't and shouldn't be erased, only adequate compensation, support and participation in legal proceedings can contribute to a true level of satisfaction and empowerment so that victims can move on as best as they can.

Speaking at the conference, the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, called for a global moratorium on executions by 2015. Many of the campaigners present felt his message was overly optimistic but in the meantime, listening to survivors would be a good place to start.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Photos & Clips

We'll have a wide range of photos from the 4th World Congress before too long, but for now, here are a couple just to give a quick glimpse:

MVFHR members holding our banners during the march to the United Nations at the close of the 3-day event.

Flags lining the walkway to the UN.

Renny Cushing with Tamara Chikunova, director of the Uzbekistan group Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture

MVFHR's educational poster

And here's one other MVFHR-related press clip from the World Congress: this mention in the Boston Globe's "New England in Brief" section on Saturday, February 27th:

Curley speaks out against death penalty
Bob Curley, the father of a 10-year-old Cambridge boy abducted and murdered in 1997, spoke Thursday in Geneva at the Fourth World Congress Against the Death Penalty. Curley, who led a nearly successful fight in Massachusetts to reinstate the death penalty after his son’s slaying, later became an opponent of execution. “I originally supported the death penalty because I wanted to prevent something like Jeff’s murder happening to another family,’’ Curley told the conference, “and that is still what motivates me today - working for child safety and violence prevention, and trying to make the world a better place.’