Tuesday, February 28, 2012

No monolithic view

MVFHR is mentioned in this article about the death penalty published in The Hennepin (Minnesota) Lawyer by Rosalyn Park and Robin Phillips of the Advocates for Human Rights. Here's that excerpt; the link will take you to the full article:

People in favor of the death penalty often cite the victims’ wishes for capital punishment, but many victims’ families have spoken out against the death penalty. For example, Murder Victims Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) seeks to end the death penalty rather than perpetuate the cycle of violence. MVFHR sees the death penalty as a human rights violation, not just a criminal sanction. Their position is that the “response to one human rights violation should not be another human rights violation.”

While there is no monolithic victim’s view of the death penalty, organizations such as MVFHR show that it is possible to support victims and oppose the death penalty at the same time. It does not take another killing to promote healing and justice for victims’ families; rather, organizations like MVFHR work to ensure that victims’ stories, voices, and needs are included in the penalty phase of murder trials.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Speaking out in Nebraska

Posted on the Nebraska Radio Network's site, 1/31/12, "Sister of murder victim campaigns against death penalty":

The sister of a man brutally murdered nearly 30 years ago campaigns against executing his killer.

A mixture of Mennonite faith and practicality leads Miriam Kelle of Beatrice to come out against the execution of Michael Ryan. Kelle says her faith compels her to speak out against the death penalty. Kelle adds, though, that each time the legislature debates capital punishment, the news media recounts how Michael Ryan tortured and murdered her brother, James Thimm, at his religious compound near Rulo in far southeastern Nebraska in 1984.

Kelle uses a coping mechanism whenever debate at the Capitol turns to capital punishment.

“We just try not to read the paper,” Kelle tells reporters at the Capitol. “You know, I try really hard not. My co-workers are reading it. You just try to go on and do your job that you’re supposed to do.”

That approach didn’t work this year. Kelle actually gathered numerous newspaper accounts of the murder for Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha who sponsors LB 276, a bill that would eliminate the death penalty. Under the legislation, life in prison without the possibility of parole would be the ultimate penalty in Nebraska. The legislature debated the bill for two days last week before Council moved to indefinitely postpone it. The bill could return for debate later this session.

Kelle says it’s difficult to re-read accounts of her brother’s death.

“And the really hard thing is when you read something that you kind of forgot about and it comes crashing back, that’s the hard part,” Kelle says with emotion in her voice.

An execution date of March 6th has been set for Ryan in the 1984 murder. A delay will begin the news cycle over. Kelle contends if Ryan had been sentenced to life he would have been forgotten long ago and she wouldn’t have to relive her brother’s brutal death.

Testifying in Washington state

From the January 26th edition of the (Washington state) Olympian, "Sister of Rupe victim urges end to death penalty":

More than 30 years after Mitchell Rupe fatally shot Candace Hemmig in Olympia, her sister is asking state lawmakers to abolish the death penalty she says caused years of traumatic court appearances for her family.

Karil Klingbeil testified Wednesday in favor of a bill to end capital punishment in Washington. Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, sponsored the measure, Senate Bill 6283, which had a public hearing in the Senate Judiciary committee.

Rupe was sentenced to execution two different times for fatally shooting Hemmig, 33, and another bank teller, Twila Capron, 30, at a West Olympia bank in 1981. Higher courts overturned both, and Rupe ultimately received a life sentence without parole after one juror objected to the death penalty at a third trial.

Rupe suffered from terminal liver disease, hepatitis c and cirrhosis. He died in prison in 2006 at age 51.

Klingbiel testified Wednesday that her family would have found more peace had life without parole been the most severe punishment available. She told the committee she was in favor of the death penalty for more than 30 years, but study and reflection led her to oppose it Thursday.

“What followed (the shooting) was 20 excruciating years of hearings and appeals and nonstop media attention,” Klingbeil told lawmakers. “With each appeal and each court appearance, we relived that horrible tragedy.”

Rupe made national headlines as the “man too fat to be hanged.” A federal judge ruled that hanging him would be cruel and unusual punishment, as he would likely be decapitated from his 409-pound weight.

Several years later, state lawmakers switched the primary method of capital punishment to lethal injection. At the time Rupe faced death row, prisoners who did not choose between injection and hanging faced the latter.

Regala also testified Wednesday as someone who lost a family member to violent crime. Her brother-in-law was killed in 1980, and his killer was never found.

“We want the person responsible to be identified, to be prosecuted, and to be off the streets,” Regala said. “Life without the possibility of parole provides that.”

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, expressed concerns at the hearing that some families might feel differently.

“It denies some who would like to see a more final outcome,” Roach said.

Klingbeil acknowledged those people in an interview later Wednesday.

“There will always be some that want it, but they want it for the wrong reasons,” she said. “They want it because of their emotions, in my opinion.”

Senate Bill 6283 has not been scheduled for a committee vote.

Read more here: http://www.theolympian.com/2012/01/25/1964343/sister-of-woman-fatally-shot-in.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.theolympian.com/2012/01/25/1964343/sister-of-woman-fatally-shot-in.html#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In New Hampshire

Victims' family members Renny Cushing, Arnie Alpert, Margaret Hawthorn, and Laura Bonk testified in New Hampshire yesterday in opposition to a bill that would expand the state's death penalty. An article in today's Concord Monitor quotes from Margaret's testimony and reports that the bill did not get much support:

It's unlikely the state's death penalty law will be expanded to include murder during a robbery or murders that are "especially heinous, cruel or depraved."

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted unanimously yesterday to recommend the bill be killed. The recommendation still must go before the full House.

Rep. Steve Shurtleff, a Penacook Democrat, said the bill was so broadly written that it could have made almost any murder a capital offense. "It was just a poorly drafted bill," Shurtleff said. "It was very vague."

At a hearing yesterday, some questioned what murder wouldn't be considered "cruel" or "heinous" as described by the bill.

Under the existing law, seven crimes are punishable by death: the murder of a police officer; murder for hire; and murder during a kidnapping, rape, drug deal or burglary. Murder while serving life without parole is also a capital offense.

Burglary was added last year in response to a machete and knife attack that left a Mont Vernon woman dead and her daughter badly injured. Rep. Ross Terrio, a freshman Republican from Manchester, introduced his bill to expand it further to close what he considered a "loophole" in the existing law.

Terrio told committee members yesterday that capital murder needs to be more evenly applied to all murders that are particularly heinous or those involving the torture of the victim.

The state attorney general's office estimated that 11 murders since 2009 would have been capital offenses under Terrio's bill.

Anticipating objections from the religious community, Terrio cited the Old Testament and said Moses spoke of offenses that should be punished by death.

That's not untrue, Rabbi Robin Nafshi testified yesterday. But more importantly, she said, there are no examples in the Old Testament of the death penalty actually being used. She said religious leaders set such a high threshold that no offense qualified for capital punishment.

"I know many in the Legislature feel their religious laws guide them," she said, urging the committee to defeat Terrio's bill.

Opponents yesterday also included Margaret Hawthorn of Rindge, whose daughter Molly Hawthorn-MacDougall, 31, was murdered in her Henniker home in 2009. A Haitian national, Roody Fleuraguste, is awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge for her death.

Hawthorn told lawmakers expanding the death penalty law would not make New Hampshire safer or make justice more equitable. Prosecuting and defending a death penalty case also consumes a lot of money that could be better spent, she said.

State officials said a death penalty case can cost millions, compared with a first-degree murder case, which carries a life sentence without parole.

"The cost of receiving justice is priceless," Hawthorn said. "Please don't impede justice by squandering precious resources on the cost of revenge."

Defense attorney Michael Iacopino, who sat on a state death penalty study committee, urged lawmakers to consider the report his committee produced in 2010.

Twelve of the members voted to keep the death penalty and 10 voted to abolish it, he said. "I can tell you that there was not an appetite (on that committee) to expand the death penalty law," he said.