Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Testifying in Connecticut

At a hearing before the Judiciary Committee of Connecticut's General Assembly yesterday, several victims' family members testified in favor of a bill that would repeal the state's death penalty. The hearing lasted until 2:00 this morning -- kudos to those who stuck in out both to listen and to testify. Here are excerpts from some victim family member testimony:

From Gail Canzano:

I’m here today speaking to you on behalf of 80 individuals who have joined me as signatories in a letter to the General Assembly asking for repeal of the death penalty. We have all lost family members to homicide in the state of Connecticut and we are united by our shared belief that Connecticut’s death penalty fails the families of murder victims.

Some years ago I sat in a courtroom not far from here and stared down the man who savagely murdered my brother-in-law. It brought me not one moment of solace and it’s not something I ever wish to repeat. My family was actually quite fortunate because ours was not a capital case. We appeared in court only 2 or 3 times before a plea bargain sent the murderer to prison for 30 years with a guarantee that he would serve every day of his sentence. Two years after the murder, we were finished with the criminal justice system and we were free to focus on healing our broken hearts.

From Elizabeth Brancato:

My mother was 53 years old when she died. She was brutally beaten, raped, and bludgeoned to death, in her home. Her death was horrible, and it was a horrible loss for those of us who loved her. Death is difficult enough to deal with, but death accompanied by this brutality is a whole different thing. This kind of death leaves behind living victims.

Today, I'd like to talk to you briefly, about how the criminal justice system, in general, and the death penalty specifically, further victimize the families of murder victims.

I experienced the nightmare of being trapped in a criminal justice process.   For  five years my family and I endured the trial and appeal process of my mother's killer.  Throughout this period, I was completely unable to deal with the huge emotions that were flooding over me.  The pain, loss, and confusion that I experienced in the wake of my mothers’ murder were too big to handle while I also had to navigate the legal system. The trial demanded all my attention, and not knowing what was coming next, or when it was coming made it impossible to try to take the time to grieve and heal. My healing was put on hold.  The uncertainty of when it would be over made it necessary to postpone attending to my grief, my pain, my anger, and all the other emotions that such a brutal loss creates.

Only after the trial was over could I begin to process my emotions and take care of myself, and my children. My children were 8 and 11 years old when they lost their grandmother. Although I tried to be there for them, and I worked hard to help them through their grief and fear, I know now that I wasn't fully present for them in this. I couldn't be.

Our letter states: “The reality of the death penalty is that it drags out the legal process for decades. In Connecticut, the death penalty is a false promise that goes unfulfilled, leaving victims’ families frustrated and angry after years of fighting the legal system.”  I would add that I believe it further victimizes the loved ones of murder victims.

From Renny Cushing:

The hardest thing for victims to do is accept that they cannot change the past. But what they can do, what they need to do, is make decisions about the future, about how they live their lives in the future. Sometimes victims get so fixated on how their loved one died that they almost forget how their loved one lived. Our broken death penalty system, with its years of delays and other problems, holds a victim’s focus, and society’s focus, on the killer, anticipating and expecting an event, the event, the killer’s execution. If and when an execution occurs, another coffin is filled and another family grieves a killing, but, sadly, very little changes for the victim. Their loved one is still dead. What sometimes ends up happening is the murder claims two victims: the person killed by the murderer, and the person who is the survivor of that person who was killed, whose life gets claimed by a system that is a set up for failure.

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