Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In Montana and Maryland

Both Montana and Maryland are holding hearings on death penalty repeal legislation today, and victims' family members have been playing an active role in both state's efforts. Laura Porter of Equal Justice USA reports that at the Montana Abolition Coalition's press conference yesterday, 53 murder victims' family members were calling for repeal. The Coalition has also organized a series of speaking events around the state for MVFHR board member Bill Babbitt and New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty's David Kaczynski.

Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from the testimony that MVFHR Board Chair Vicki Schieber is delivering today in support of the state's death penalty repeal legislation:

Discussions of the death penalty typically focus on the offender, the person convicted of murder. My focus, and the focus of those whom I am representing through this testimony, is on the victims of murder and their surviving families.

Losing a beloved family member to murder is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. The effects on the family and even on the wider community extend well beyond the initial shock and trauma. The common assumption in this country is that families who have suffered this kind of loss will support the death penalty. That assumption is so widespread and so unquestioned that a prosecutor will say to a grieving family, “We will seek the death penalty in order to seek justice for your family.” A lawmaker introduces a bill to expand the application of the death penalty and announces that he is doing this “to honor victims.” A politician believes that he/she must run on a pro-death penalty platform or risk being labeled soft on crime and thus unconcerned about victims.

As a victim’s family member who opposes the death penalty, I represent a growing and for the most part under-served segment of the crime victim population. Along with the other members of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions and Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, I have come to believe that the death penalty is not what will help me heal. Responding to one killing with another killing does not honor my daughter, nor does it help create the kind of society I want to live in, where human life and human rights are valued. I know that an execution creates another grieving family, and causing pain to another family does not lessen my own pain.

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