Thursday, July 28, 2011

Listening to Victims

MVFHR members Bill Pelke and Bess Klassen-Landis were among those who spoke on "Listening to Crime Victims" panel at the 3rd National Conference on Restorative Justice in Raleigh, North Carolina last month. Now Lisa Rea, the moderator, has blogged about the event and their testimony:

As I considered each victim/survivor I thought of how different each story was from the other. Bill Pelke's grandmother, Ruth, was brutally murdered by a group of ninth grade girls in 1985. Stephen Watt, a Wyoming state trooper at the time, was shot multiple times by a fleeing bank robber in 1982 leaving Watt in his police vehicle bleeding to death. Bess Klassen-Landis 's mother, Helen, was brutally raped and murdered by a man in 1969 in the family's Indiana home Bess was 13 years old. Kim Book's only daughter, Nicole, was murdered in 1995 at 17 years of age in her father's home in Delaware by a boy known by her daughter. Again, there is no way to hear such horrible stories and not be affected.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Don't respond with more violence

An article in the July 7th edition of The quotes MVFHR members Amanda and Nick Wilcox:

A bill that seeks to abolish California's death penalty advanced Thursday after its first legislative hearing with support from the author of the state's death penalty and a former warden who presided over executions.

Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, said she introduced the bill because California can no longer afford a capital punishment system that is both expensive and ineffective as it battles persistent multibillion-dollar budget deficits.

It has the backing of two Nevada County residents — Nick and Amanda Wilcox, whose 19-year-old daughter Laura was gunned down in 2001 by a mentally ill man, Scott Thorpe, in Grass Valley. The Wilcoxes traveled to the hearing Thursday in Sacramento to lend their support to the measure.

“We've been advocates for ending the death penalty for a long time,” said Nick Wilcox.

“We add our voice because the death penalty is often justified in the name of victims, and not all victims support it,” Amanda Wilcox said. “We were opposed to the death penalty before Laura was killed, and after she was killed it did not change our view. We don't believe in responding to violence with more violence.”

Former Nevada County District Attorney Mike Ferguson did not seek the death penalty in Thorpe's case, which was in line with the family's wishes, Nick Wilcox said.

“We believe healing comes from within, not with what happens to the offender,” Amanda Wilcox said.

If eventually signed into law, the bill would put the question before voters in November 2012.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Turned his pain into action

From Saturday's online edition of The [Texas] Valley Morning Star:

Chris Castillo remembers how he felt when he first learned his mother had been murdered.

He felt rage, he felt anger, and he wanted to go after her killers himself and hurt them. When he learned they had fled to Honduras and that the United States had no extradition treaty with that country, he felt even more anger. His mother, Pilar, a former Brownsville resident who was living in Houston when she died, had taught Castillo and his siblings so many things about life, and in a moment, she was gone. There was an empty space in his heart that could never be filled.

That was 20 years ago, and Castillo, a former Harlingen resident who now lives in Beaumont, has turned his pain into action. He’s the national outreach coordinator for Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR), an organization that works to abolish the death penalty. He’s also contributes to Bridges to Life, whose members go into prisons and work to make inmates understand the impact of crime on victims’ families.

“It’s about a 13-week program and it’s about three hours once a week,” Castillo said. “They meet in small groups, so we get pretty intimate. The victims share their stories, and the inmates share their stories as well of how they got there … If they lost someone to DWI, had someone (been) taken through homicide, they share their stories as well.”

MVFR also partners with The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He went to Brownsville in May to speak to a Catholic church and a United Methodist church that are members of that organization.

Castillo, who is Catholic, said he opposes the death penalty for a number of reasons.

“I guess one reason why I’m against the death penalty is because I feel that the amount of money spent on the death penalty is just astronomical,” he said. “It actually costs three to four times more for the death penalty than it does for life without parole and I really would love to see that money spent on cold cases and on victims’ services. I just don’t believe that taking another life will make any difference.”

Pilar Castillo’s case recently was re-opened to check for DNA evidence, but investigators found nothing. But police believe the people who were renovating his mother’s house entered the residence in the middle of the night, forced her to sign some checks, and then strangled her to death. The perpetrators then fled the country and cashed the checks internationally.

When Chris Castillo tells his story to inmates, they seem sympathetic.

“I think that it really has a deep impact on them because they all have a mother, and they all have brothers and sisters, and I think there’s a close bond between someone and their mother,” he said.

The people who killed his mother still haven’t been brought to justice. Castillo said he’d like see those involved held accountable.

“A lot of people are confused,” he said. “They feel like people who are against the death penalty want everyone let go, and that’s not really the case. But I feel like they should be held accountable. Right now we have life in prison without parole. I think that’s a suitable sentence.”

Read the full article.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

After the Execution

Randy Gardner, brother of Ronnie Lee Gardner, who was executed in Utah last June, sent us a link to a television news story in which he talks about how the execution has affected Gardner's surviving family members:

Randy Gardner was never one to rally openly for any cause, but after his brother, Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad last year, that changed.

"I just got on the internet to see if there were other people in the same situation I was in," said Gardner. He found there were many other Americans who mourned the loss of their loved ones who also died after being executed in other states.

Gardner does not defend the fact that his brother shot and killed two people and seriously injured another, but he has a hard time with the state's execution of his brother. "I feel like they did the same thing that Ronnie did," he said.
On the Fourth of July weekend, Gardner spent time with other activist like him fasting and holding vigils and informing citizens about the Death Penalty and why they believe it should be abolished.

"We're not the ultimate judge in someone's life. Even if someone does kill, it is not our choice to take another life," said Gardner.

View the clip here.

And read last year's post with a news story about the execution and comments from the victim's family expressing opposition to it here.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Genuine Justice

On her blog Genuine Justice, Virginia attorney Sylvia Chute posted yesterday about the presentation that Walter Long and I gave in Halifax a couple of weeks ago. Here's an excerpt from the post:

Sheffer’s and Long’s workshop at the recent 14th IIRP International Restorative Justice Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia focused on victims of the death penalty who go mostly unrecognized: the families of the executed and the defense attorneys who handle their death penalty appeals.

For the families of the executed, the period of bereavement begins before the death. The trauma includes shopping for a casket for a loved one who is going to be murdered - before it happens. The exact date and time of their death is known. If a stay of execution is granted at the last minute, there is joy over the victory that is often followed by the execution that was merely delayed. Then there is the death certificate that describes the cause of death as homicide. We ambiguously identify the perpetrator of this murder as “the state.” Who killed their son, daughter, brother or father for “the state”?

We rarely consider the impact on the children of the executed. How do you explain to the children that the “state of Texas” killed their dad? How does this impact their future relationship with the state? How to they reconcile being told that killing is wrong, but it was okay for “the state” to kill their dad?

Misty was 14 when her dad was charged with a capitol offense and 28 when he was executed. There were no victims’ advocates ready to help her. Misty tried to commit suicide after her father’s execution.

Among the Texas After Violence Project's reports of stories located at theUniversity of Texas’ Human Rights Documentation Initiative is a video of Jamaal, Napoleon Beazley’s younger brother. After Napoleon was put on death row for a crime he committed at age 17, Jamaal lost his parent’s attention during the years they were consumed with Napoleon’s appeals. Every weekend for 7 or 8 years Jamaal and his parents visited his brother on death row. Napoleon was executed three days before Jamaal graduated from high school. After that, Jamaal’s father seemed to pull away, which Jamaal speculates is because of the pain of losing one son, and not wanting to be hurt that deeply again. The family’s grief was in essence “disenfranchised” because the loss could not be openly mourned or socially acknowledged. There was no space for the mitigation of his loss.

There is little space for the family members of the executed to discuss their grief. They face the question, do you hold a funeral, and if so, who should attend? They are innocent people who often feel ostracized.

What can be done about this? If we recognize the family members of the executed as victims, how will we define the framework for meeting their needs; is it state violence, a human rights violation, a murder? Who should provide counseling: school counselors, therapists, victim rights advocates, human rights activists?