Monday, January 17, 2011

Victim Testimony in Illinois

Here is the testimony that MVFHR member Cathy Crino delivered before the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Earlier posts about the repeal vote in Illinois are here and here.

I thank you for the opportunity to appear here today. I am not alone, as the family member of a murder victim who is opposed to the death penalty. You have received written testimony from other family members, and a letter signed by 35 murder victim family members.

My sister Stephanie was murdered almost sixteen years ago in Texas. Before she was killed, I was an opponent of the death penalty. I spoke about it, on occasion, as part of my work. And I would get the criticism that “You would feel differently if it happened to you.”

When Stephanie was killed, I did indeed learn many things. What I learned is that the death of the perpetrator was gruesome, and grisly. And that it didn’t fix a thing. It didn’t make us feel better. It didn’t solve anything. A murder leaves a void that never goes away, is never completely healed. The death of the perpetrator doesn’t bring closure. It doesn’t fill the void.

You may hear from other victims in your consideration of this. You will hear of shock, anger, the trauma of the loss, the inability to forgive. We all share in these feelings. We have all known what it is like.

We talk about ways to help the victims, and that the death penalty is that way. But, I found out a lot, as I became the survivor in a family.

The death penalty affects less than one percent of murder cases. What are we doing for the 99 percent of other victims?

The death penalty holds out the false promise of making it better. But, it doesn’t. It can never fill the void or make up for the loss.

Instead, the process we have drags families through years and years of court proceedings, and every time, it retraumatizes them. We need this lengthy process to ensure that we are not executing the innocent, but it works against families as well.

Families are given the hope of ‘closure’, but there is no closure. You just have to learn to live with it. And if that realization is delayed by years of court proceedings, families are harmed.

What would help victims? Broad based services that help them to manage the effects of trauma, the dislocation and the turmoil that follow a violent death.

Effective law enforcement would help victims. They want the police to find the perpetrator, the right person. God forbid an innocent person is arrested while the real criminal creates havoc for another family.

Chief Charles Gruber, with forty years of law enforcement background and the former president of two associations of chiefs of police wrote a letter to the editor published in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune. He urges passage of this bill precisely because it frees up needed funds for more effective police training.

I often hear the argument about keeping the death penalty for the ‘worst of the worst.’ As I said earlier, less than 1 percent of murders in Illinois result in a capital sentence. What does that say to the rest of us? Your loss was not severe enough? Your loved one wasn’t important enough? Your sister, brother, mother, husband didn’t suffer enough? The crime wasn’t horrible enough? The publicity wasn’t sensational enough?

To the family who has lost a loved one, there is no replacement, but there is also no comparison. We have all suffered equally. It is the ‘worst’ when it happens to you.

I stand here for many victims in Illinois, including the thirty five who signed this letter. I’d like to conclude with the last paragraph:

It is vitally important that Illinois address the needs of surviving family and friends as we struggle to heal. We know that elected officials who promote the death penalty often do so with the best intentions of helping family members like us. We are writing to say that there are better ways to help us. The death penalty is a broken and costly system. Illinois doesn’t need it and victims’ families like ours don’t want it.

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