Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Relatives oppose it

It's helpful when news headlines recognize that not all victims' family members support the death penalty -- like this recent headline on the mynorthwest.com news site, "Relatives of murder victims oppose death penalty":

Relatives of murder victims in Washington hope their voices carry some extra weight in the debate over the death penalty.
Retiring State Senator Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, was among a group of death penalty critics speaking out in Olympia Thursday. The six-term state lawmaker has a personal story to share.

"In 1980, my brother-in-law was murdered and his body was dumped in a park in Seattle," Regala told KIRO Radio. His killer was never prosecuted.

Still, she favors abolishing the death penalty. "We spend six to ten times as much money pursuing a death penalty as we would if we went for life without the possibility of parole," claimed Regala.

"When we look at the high cost, the staggering amount of money that gets spent on this, that money could be so much better used in giving police officers better tools to prevent crime, tools for helping solve some of these cold cases."

Other relatives of murder victims share Regala's viewpoint, including Karil Klingbill, the sister of Candy Hemmig, a bank teller murdered by Mitchell Rupe in Olympia in 1981.

Those who support the death penalty often cite closure for victims as an argument for keeping the law. But death penalty appeals can last for 10 years or longer.

"That prolonged process means that there is no closure for a long period of time and for many people, it re-opens the wound over and over and over again," Regala countered.

Washington is among 33 states, as well as the military and the federal government, that allow the death penalty.

Legislative opponents plan to re-introduce a measure in Olympia next session to abolish the death penalty and they are planning a rally on the steps of the Capitol building in January.

KIRO Radio host Dave Ross said he appreciates hearing from people like Regala. It's a different perspective that isn't always considered. It stops him from wanting to totally abolish the death penalty.
Dave says he knows it's hard for family members to relive the horror every time there's an appeal, but he suggests setting limits and not dragging out the process might be a solution.

One benefit of the death penalty is it gives prosecutors a bargaining chip. They cut a deal with the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, to avoid trial and he plead guilty. He would have been up for the death penalty, but those trials never happened and the victims got closure. He's not on death row, but in prison in Walla Walla for the rest of his life.

However, Regala doesn't believe it's appropriate to use it as a bargaining tool.

"We have people like Gary Ridgway who committed multiple multiple murders and they have life without the possibility of parole. And someone who committed one murder is on death row and may be executed." 

Monday, December 10, 2012

64 years later, 8 years later

Today is International Human Rights Day marking the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDR) in 1948. 

In her book The Death of Innocents, Sister Helen Prejean writes that initially there was some debate about whether abolition of the death penalty fell within the scope of the ideal that the Universal Declaration represented:

It was to be expected when Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was debated back in the 1940s that such a declaration, which granted everyone the right to life without qualification, would provoke debate, and one of the first proposed amendments was that an exception ought to be made in the case of criminals lawfully sentenced to death. Eleanor Roosevelt urged the committee to resist this amendment, arguing that their task was to draw up a truly universal charter of human rights toward which societies could strive. She foresaw a day when no government could kill its citizens for any reason.

We are, of course, still working toward that day, and although there is a great deal left to do, we can also appreciate that 64 years after Eleanor Roosevelt made her argument, the majority of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty.

Today is also the 8th anniversary of the founding of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. Eight years ago, the founding group gathered at the UN Church Plaza in New York City, offered public testimony, and signed a document stating, "In the name of victims, we pledge to end the death penalty around the world."

In MVFHR's first public statement shortly thereafter, we said:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that sets forth the most basic principles regarding the value of human life and the way human beings ought to treat one another, was inspired by victims, demanded by victims. It grew out of the suffering of millions of civilians murdered under the brutal regimes of the Second World War, and its adoption on December 10, 1948 was a way to honor the loss of these lives, and an attempt to give meaning to the loss, by asserting that such violations are neither moral nor permissible under any nation or regime.

Now is the time to raise our voices again and insist that violations of human life in the form of the death penalty or other state killings are not permissible under any nation or regime. It is time to call for the abolition of the death penalty because the only way to uphold human rights is to uphold them in all cases, universally.

We believe that survivors of homicide victims have a recognized stake in the debate over how societies respond to murder and have the moral authority to call for a consistent human rights ethic as part of that response. Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights is the answer to that call.

Our deepest thanks today to all MVFHR's members and supporters who have helped answer that call and who have accomplished so much in these past eight years.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cities for Life

MVFHR members are participating in "Cities for Life - Cities Against the Death Penalty" today, the international event organized each year by the Community of Sant'Egidio. Take a look at the link to see what's happening around the world, or check out this short video.

Monday, October 29, 2012

In Tokyo

Kate Lowenstein is representing MVFHR in Tokyo today at "No Justice Without Life: The Death Penalty in a Globalized World," a symposium organized by the Italian Community of Sant'Egidio. Here's a description:

The special aim of the Tokyo Symposium: how Japan may be closer to the rest of the World? The broad consensus on the issue found in Tokyo today shows that it is possible to begin to build bridges between the Japanese islands and the world. The same Justice Minister Makoto Taki, renamed by Prime Minister Noda, said three days ago in a Press Conference that Japan, on capital punishment, must come out of its isolation and begin to open to an international dimension.

The Conference, realized with the support of the European Commission and hosting the significant contribution of the Vice President of the European Parliament as well as the Ambassador of the European Union to Japan, brings together many of the major Japanese organizations, as Amnesty International, Bar Association, Forum 90, Center for Prisoners’ Rights, ADPAN, Japan Interreligious Network Against the Death Penalty, and others.

Including a truly broad range of witnesses and guests from Europe and the United States, Japanese representatives of institutions, of the world of politics, culture, the press, the arts, voices of the great world religious traditions – including the voice of Pope Benedict XVI – but also representatives of the new generations. In this context, the great composer and conductor Ken Ito will offer over his words also his music.

Today in Tokyo we will listen to a marvellous polyphonic choir, which will sing a hymn towards the future : No Justice Without Life!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Both sides grieve

MVFHR member Lois Robison, whose son Larry was executed in Texas and who has been active in our Prevention, Not Execution project, is quoted extensively in yesterday's story, "Wisconsin Spa Shooting Brings Back Painful Memories for the Moms of Mass Killers."  MVFHR Executive Director Renny Cushing is quoted too:

News of Sunday’s shooting at a spa in Wisconsin brought back painful memories for Lois Robison, more than 1,000 miles away in Burleson, Texas.

Robison’s son, Larry, was executed in 2000 for the brutal murders of five people near Ft. Worth, Texas, in 1982. Every time it happens again, every time a gunman takes to a mall or a Sikh temple or a school playground, bent on rampage, Robison remembers her own son.
This past week, it was the shooting at the Azana Spa in Brookfield, Wis., that triggered those flashbacks. There, Radcliffe Haughton Jr. reportedly shot seven women, three of them fatally, including his wife, before turning the gun on himself.
It didn’t take television crews long to reach the man’s distraught father, Radcliffe Haughton Sr., the following day. “All I can say is, I want to apologize to the people of Milwaukee who have been hurt,” Haughton Sr. told a reporter on Monday. “He did not give me any hint of what he would do.”
He did not give me any hint of what he would do.
Haughton Sr. appeared to be answering an implied question, one that’s asked either directly or indirectly of parents and other relatives every time such a tragedy unfolds—“Did you see this coming? Why didn’t you stop it?” It’s why, when Arlene Holmes told a reporter “You have the right person,” after her son allegedly went on a shooting rampage in Aurora, Colo., last summer, many assumed she was saying, “I knew it was him.” Holmes later clarified she was talking about herself, not her son. ...
These are unfair queries, says Renny Cushing, executive director of the Boston nonprofit Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights. Cushing’s own father, Robert, was murdered in 1988, and Renny has dedicated his life to opposing the death penalty. He has worked with many relatives of murder victims and of killers over the years. Both sides grieve, but in different ways, he says.
“Being the family member of a murderer is incredibly isolating,” Cushing says. “There’s a shame attached to it, a stigma, so they remain silent about their loved one. People will impute responsibility on them for the actions of the family member. Society’s fear gets projected upon you, and you end up being pretty isolated.”
Lois Robison knows that all too well. She knew the day she found out her son had gone on a shooting rampage, she said in the fragile Texas drawl of a 79-year-old woman. That day, she recalls, she turned to her husband and said, “Now our whole lives will be different.”
She was right. Robison had talked to her son Larry just the night before, she said. He was at his sister’s house, and something was wrong. Mom was trying to talk her son into coming over, to her home in Burleson. Larry said he couldn’t.
“The next morning, I woke up and found out he was the one who killed all those people,” she said.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Way Forward: Today at the UN

In conjunction with the 67th Session of the UN General Assembly, the Special Procedures Branch of the Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights will host a side-event this evening at the UN in New York, on the topic of "The Death Penalty and Human Rights: The Way Forward." We are honored that Renny Cushing has been asked to speak at this event, representing Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights.

The event features the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Mendez. Other speakers will be representing the World Organization Against Torture, Penal Reform International, Amnesty International, and the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In Geneva

We just got this photo of Renny Cushing representing MVFHR at the panel discussion on World Day Against the Death Penalty, held in Geneva last week. Thanks to all who helped to organize this powerful event.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Speaking out in Oklahoma

From the Associated Press, 10/10/12, "Okla. church leaders, murder victim's daughter to join national effort, denounce death penalty":

OKLAHOMA CITY — The daughter of a slain Kansas Highway Patrol trooper will join church leaders from across the state as part of an anti-death penalty initiative in Oklahoma.

Neely Goen (GOH'-ehn) and members of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches will release a theological statement in opposition to the death penalty during the event Wednesday at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Goen is an ordained minister from Wellston whose father, Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Conroy O'Brien, was gunned down on a Kansas turnpike east of Wichita in 1978. Goen is now an advocate for the abolishment of the death penalty.

Oklahoma has executed four inmates so far in 2012, and Attorney General Scott Pruitt has asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set execution dates for two other death row prisoners.

And from KOKH-TV in Oklahoma City, "A Murder Victim's Daughter Speaks Against the Death Penalty":

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- Opponents of capital punishment gather at the Capitol to observe the 10th World Day Against the Death Penalty.

"I am here today because I believe we need to abolish the death penalty in Oklahoma," said Bishop Michael Girlinghouse of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Neely Goen is the daughter of a slain Kansas Highway Patrol Officer Conroy O'Brien.

"There was some issues with dealing with the anger," said Goen.

Goen never knew her father. He was killed five months before she was born.

"I was a huge supporter of the death penalty until age 24 or 25 then God showed me this guy's life is worth just as much as mine," said Goen.

Goen says through her faith she came to forgive her father's killer and form a relationship with him.

"I want people to realize that everybody no matter right, no matter wrong, no matter whether they've cut you off in traffic or killed your brother, they're still a human being and all you're doing by taking them is causing more pain."

While Goen's perspective on the death penalty changed as she got older, she quickly learned not everyone would agree with her.

"I believe these people should pay the ultimate price in my opinion," said State Rep. Mike Sanders.

Rep. Sanders argues capital punishment serves as a deterrent. He also believes it holds people accountable for their actions.

Oklahoma has executed four inmates so far in 2012. Attorney General Scott Pruitt has asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set execution dates for two other death row prisoners.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

World Day Against the Death Penalty

Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty! This calendar of events gives a sense of what is happening today all across the globe and helps us all feel part of a worldwide effort to abolish the death penalty.

Renny Cushing is representing Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights on a panel discussion held today at the Palais de Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The event is organized by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and the International Commission Against the Death Penalty. Here's the description:

In 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution on the moratorium on the death penalty, introduced by the European Union and a cross-regional group of countries. Since then, the resolution has enjoyed increasing support. However, challenges to achieving the universal moratorium and the ultimate abolition of the death sentence remain. The panel will gather activists from around the world to discuss and analyse, each from an unique perspective, the progress made over the past decade, and the remaining challenges in the worldwide campaign against the death penalty.

As always, MVFHR is honored to join with others in the international community who share our goal of abolishing the death penalty. We look forward to hearing, and sharing, more reports of the day.

Monday, October 8, 2012

International Roundtable

Today Renny Cushing is representing Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights at the Roundtable on the abolition of the death penalty, sponsored by the International Commission against the Death Penalty and held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid. 

The roundtable, according to the description, "will review developments on the death penalty and identify legal and political challenges and opportunities for the coming five years." Renny, of course, will be talking about working with victims who oppose the death penalty.  We'll post more information as we get it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Those who have lost the most

From today's Huntsville (Alabama) Times:

Amy Bishop shot up a room of university colleagues because some of them voted against granting her tenure, prosecutors argued Monday, yet two years later the families of those same victims at the University of Alabama in Huntsville may have saved her life. 

Bishop was allowed to enter a guilty plea on Sept. 11 to capital murder and avoid the death penalty after Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard learned some of the victims' families strongly opposed capital punishment.
Broussard was asked following the trial why he didn't seek the death penalty anyway, given the severity of the crime.
"I think that would probably be the ultimate arrogance on my part," Broussard said. "But in deciding whether to seek the death penalty, there are lots of facets involved in that decision. Partly the defendant themselves and the severity of the crime. On those two fronts, the death penalty is certainly warranted in this case.
"But if you look at the folks who had the most at stake, who have lost the most, and victims' families, for me to disregard those feelings and forge ahead, I would be ashamed."

Day of Remembrance

Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
Statement on National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims
September 25, 2012

Today is a National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. It is a day to hold the victims of murder in our hearts and minds not as statistics but as distinct individuals, each unlike any other. It is a day to acknowledge each homicide as a singular, incomparable tragedy and to recognize that each homicide is a theft of a unique, irreplaceable, deeply loved human life, representing a world of devastation for the victim's surviving family and friends.

Today Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights joins with other victims' groups across the United States in honoring our loved ones' lives and renewing our commitment to working toward a better world.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Working in Montana

MVFHR board member Walt Everett is in Montana doing a series of speaking events organized by the Montana Abolition Coalition. Here's an excerpt from an article that ran as the top story in a local Montana newspaper with the headline "Death penalty opponents work to repeal statute":

Death penalty opponents last week stepped up their efforts to convince the Montana Legislature to repeal the state’s death penalty statute and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.
An organization called Montana Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty issued a call to political conservatives in the Legislature to work on the repeal of the death penalty.
At the same time, the Montana Abolition Coalition for ending the death penalty brought Connecticut speaker and death penalty opponent Walter Everett to speak in several Montana towns, including Choteau.

The conservative political group made its statements following state District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock’s ruling last week that the protocols by which death row inmates are executed in Montana violate both state law and the Montana Constitution, the group said in a news release. The judge has ordered the Legislature and the Department of Corrections to change the rules for executing inmates.

“Conservatives dislike waste and inefficiency. That is why we should cast a critical eye when the state is involved with the business of executing people,” MTCCADAP Advisory Committee member Roy Brown of Billings said in the news release. “When it takes over 20 years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for extra legal fees and court costs, it is obvious that the process if full of waste and inefficiency.”


Everett, the pastor of the United Methodist Church in Hartford, Conn., began his journey to becoming a death penalty opponent in 1987, when a drugged out, hard luck man, Mike Carlucci, shot and killed Everett’s 24-year-old son, Scott, whose only transgression was that he had locked himself out of his apartment building in Bridgeport, Conn., and was pounding on the exterior door, in hopes that one of the first-floor tenants would hear him and let him in.

Carlucci, strung out on three days of drugs, came out of his apartment with a handgun, listened to Scott’s entreaties and then shot him. Scott died at the scene and Carlucci was arrested almost immediately.

Speaking to Choteau residents, Everett replayed those difficult days and months and recounted a journey that he never expected or wanted to take, but that with “God’s nudging” he is continuing to take.

In the wake of this personal journey, Everett has become an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. His work with the Murder Victims Families for Human Rights movements helped to convince the Connecticut state government earlier this year to repeal the death penalty there, becoming the fifth state nationwide in five years to repeal the death penalty.

Everett opened his program by asking those present to define their perception of the Christian God as one of forgiveness and mercy, not one of vengeance. He took listeners through a short foray into Old and New Testament scripture and ultimately made the position that God does not endorse revenge but instead calls upon his followers to forgive those who trespass against them.

Everett said he was well aware of Christianity’s emphasis on loving your neighbor and your God, but when his son was killed, he did not know how to go on.

He spent the next year trying to cope, falling into depression and losing his ability to reach out to his own parishioners. A support group for families who have lost loved ones to murder did not help. In fact, it highlighted to him that unless he took another path he could be filled with anger and grief for decades.

Everett and his family planned Scott’s funeral and contacted police for updates on the murder. They even talked to witnesses, gathering additional information that they tried, unsuccessfully to give to the police. “I festered in my anger,” Everett recalled.

Read the full article.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fall newsletter!

Our fall/winter newsletter is now available, with the feature story "After Repeal: Reflections from Victims' Families," interviews with Tom Mauser about going public after a tragedy and Jody Lynee Madeira about the myth of closure, and our usual sections on "MVFHR in Action" and "Victim Opposition to the Death Penalty in the News."

Read the issue here.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A victim's plea for mercy

From MVFHR Board Chair Vicki Schieber's op-ed, which appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday, September 14.  Vicki will be in Harrisburg on Monday testifying at the clemency hearing. See yesterday's post for the letter that MVFHR submitted to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.

A victim's plea for mercy. 
Many have come forward with concerns about the execution of Terrance Williams, which is to take place Oct. 3 unless his sentence is commuted. One objection in particular should be given great weight: that of Mamie Norwood, the widow of the man Williams killed in 1984.

I know what it means to lose someone you love to violence. In 1998, my beautiful daughter, Shannon, was murdered in Philadelphia. Shannon was a brilliant young woman and a student at the Wharton School. Every year that passes is full of reminders of what she might have become if not for an act of brutal, senseless violence.

Losing a loved one to murder is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. At first, my husband and I didn't know how we could go on with our lives. In the years since, working as an advocate for others affected by violent crime, I have learned that this is not unusual among victims' families. Many experience a similar cycle of emotions, from confusion and despair to anger and, for the lucky ones, some kind of peace, acceptance, and ability to continue living productive lives.

For my husband and me, our lifelong Catholic faith was the cornerstone of our ability to heal. All Christian faiths are based on humility before God and kindness to others. We are commanded to follow the Lord's Prayer, asking God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." And because of our beliefs, we did not want the man who murdered our daughter to be put to death.

Shannon's murderer was known as the "Center City rapist." In addition to the murder of our daughter, he was ultimately charged with 13 sexual assaults in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

When our preference for a sentence of life in prison was made public, many wondered whether our wishes should be honored. The district attorney even publicly questioned our emotional health. This disrespect for a victim's family was an unexpected and very painful blow at a time when we were struggling to heal from the loss we had suffered.

I pray that Mamie Norwood gets more respect than we did. ...

Rest the rest.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

We stand in solidarity

MVFHR sent this letter to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons in support of Terry Williams's clemency application

To the Honorable Governor Tom Corbett and Members of the Board of Pardons: 

We, the members of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, write to support the petition of clemency for Terry Williams.  

Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) is a victim-founded, victim-led national organization of people who have lost family members to murder or execution and oppose the death penalty.  We have members in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States. 

As murder victims' family members, we stand in solidarity with Mamie Norwood, whose husband Amos Norwood was murdered by Terry Williams in 1984.  Ms. Norwood has stated unequivocally that she does not want Mr. Williams to be executed and that she supports his petition for clemency.  We know from our own experiences, and from her statement, that Ms. Norwood's position comes despite her tremendous pain, and is part of a journey that only other murder victims' family members can understand.  We support her in her courageous stand against the execution of Terry Williams, and ask that you honor her request that his sentence be commuted to life in prison.

The members of our organization know the pain of losing a beloved family member to murder.  Having all suffered a tragic loss, we have come in different ways and times to the understanding that the death penalty does not help us heal, and is not what we need to feel that justice has been served.  A sentence of life in prison fulfills the purpose of holding murderers accountable for their terrible crimes, and keeps society safe.  We have come to understand that an execution does not bring our family member back, but does create another grieving family.  We stand as well with the family of Terry Williams who will suffer tremendously if he is put to death.  

We ask that you hear the request for mercy from Ms. Mamie Norwood in her opposition to the execution of Terry Williams, and we ask that you recognize that, in the face of her stand against it, to continue with his execution has the potential to cause Ms. Norwood additional pain.  

As victims, and in support of the victim in this case, we support clemency for Terry Williams.

Thank you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Challenging the Stereotype

Yesterday's Salon.com has this reposted this story from The Crime Report:

Death penalty opponents' unlikely allies. 

Across the country, family members of murder victims have come out against capital punishment

Monday, August 20, 2012

At the NOVA conference

MVFHR is at the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) conference this week, where we will be presenting workshops on "Working with Victims Who Oppose the Death Penalty" and "Victims After Exoneration." We look forward to giving reports of both workshops. In the meantime, check out NOVA's many valuable services for victims of crime.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In Memoriam: Hugo Bedau

We were saddened to learn yesterday of the death of Hugo Bedau, who was widely known for his work on the death penalty. As MVFHR Executive Director Renny Cushing wrote, "Hugo was such a giant, a hero and an inspiration, a teacher in every sense of the word. All of us who work for human rights and the abolition of the death penalty mourn today."

The Death Penalty Information Center has this notice:

Dr. Bedau had been the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, and is best known for his work on capital punishment. Dr. Bedau frequently testified about the death penalty before the U.S. Congress and many state legislatures. He authored several books about the death penalty, including The Death Penalty in America (1964; 4th edition, 1997), The Courts, the Constitution, and Capital Punishment (1977), Death is Different (1987), and Killing as Punishment (2004), and co-authored In Spite of Innocence (1992).  This last book, written with Prof. Michael Radelet of the University of Colorado and Constance Putnam (Dr. Bedau's wife), contained one of the best early collections of people who had been wrongly convicted in death penalty cases. In 1997, Bedau received the August Vollmer Award of the American Society of Criminology, and in 2003 he received the Roger Baldwin Award from the ACLU of Massachusetts.  Dr. Bedau was a founding member of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Family doesn't want the death penalty

From the Clanton (Alabama) Advertiser, 8/2/12, "Family of shooter, victims asks prosecutor not to seek the death penalty":

Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty for Ann Campbell, who is accused of shooting her two sons in June 2011, killing one.

C.J. Robinson, deputy district attorney, said officials originally sought the death penalty but changed course after conversations with the family of Campbell and the victims.

“The family unanimously asked us not to pursue the death penalty,” Robinson said. “The death penalty is no longer on the table.”

Robinson said he recently notified the court of the decision. Prosecutors will now seek a sentence of life in the prison without parole.

It does a disservice

MVFHR's Program Director Kate Lowenstein is quoted in today's Time magazine piece, "Dancing Around the Death Penalty" by Erika Christakis:

Our eye-for-an-eye approach to the death penalty is getting progressively harder to support with reason. We know the death penalty doesn’t deter people. We know it is extremely expensive to apply “fairly.” So the only remaining arguments are emotional — the most compelling of which is that the families of murder victims want it.

Interestingly, the “closure” defense of the death penalty only gained traction in the early 1990s when deterrence arguments came up short and states found it increasingly difficult to bear the costs. Yet, defending the death penalty out of revenge or sensitivity to the victims’ families does a disservice to the many families who do not want this kind of justice. “It’s almost like if you really loved the person who was killed, you should seek the death penalty,” Kate Lowenstein, program staff at Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (and the daughter of a murdered father), explained to TIME.

Monday, August 6, 2012

I was forced to contemplate it

Yesterday's New York Times has an opinion piece from a victim's family member about the unusual circumstances under which he came to oppose the death penalty. Matthew Parker was 19 when his brother John was murdered.

My brother had been stabbed numerous times, his throat slashed. The crime occurred in a park in South Phoenix. An ex-con from Oklahoma was later found guilty of first-degree murder.
Overnight, I became a believer in the death penalty. Before John’s murder, I thought that killing a person in any form was wrong. “I want closure,” I would rant to anyone who’d listen. “I want justice.” But what I really wanted was blood and vengeance.
A few years after John died I moved to Arizona and, several years after that, was sentenced to prison. I was a junkie and a petty thief, the latter a direct result of the former. Between 1987 and 2002 I was constantly being locked up. Aside from time in the county jail, I also served roughly 10 years in both federal and state institutions.

Matthew Parker confronts the possibility of encountering his brother's murderer in prison, and writes:

It’s easy enough to think about vengeance, even to declare a desire for it, but being confronted with the mechanics of murder is a different matter entirely. It forced me to examine my motives more closely, and to think about the sheer intimacy inherent in acts of violence. I’d been in fistfights in jail and prison — fighting is just a fact of life on the inside — but they were relatively harmless and over quickly. Now I was forced to contemplate actual murder, and decided that it just wasn’t in me to attack another human being with intent to kill or, a distinct possibility, be killed. It took [being in the same prison system as my brother's murderer] to teach me that I didn’t want to kill anybody, and from there it wasn’t much of a mental leap to conclude that I didn’t want the state do it for me, either.