At a Wednesday press conference — before the House of Representatives' late-night, 86-62 vote to repeal the state's death penalty — the speakers included clergy, a man wrongfully imprisoned, and a woman whose mother was murdered in 1996.
Standing nearby was the dandelion-haired, sensible-shoed 76-year-old Sister Mary Healy, of West Hartford. For her, the discussion was personal.
And there she was, afterward, answering questions and explaining what brought her to Hartford. In 2000, Sister Mary's brother, a former priest, was enjoying his morning coffee at a Burger King in Wilkinsburg, Pa. It was his morning routine — Burger King, then off to tell stories on a school bus. Joey Healy was a grand storyteller, and the children loved him.
But before he could leave, a man came into the restaurant, fresh from killing two men and wounding two others, and shot Healy in the back of his head.
he storyteller gene is shared. As she gets to this part of the story, Sister Mary, a former teacher and a former prison chaplain, turns her hand into a gun, and points precisely to the place on her neck where the bullet entered her brother's body, and killed him.
He was dead, but the family kept him alive so his organs could be harvested. In the same random killing that took him, the former Father Joe randomly gave life to five strangers. He is, in short, his sister's hero.
During the killer's trial, Sister Mary traveled to Pennsylvania to testify for the defense. For the defense. Her brother's killer's action are and were indefensible, but her brother would not support the man's death, and neither could she. Nevertheless, the killer was sent to Pennsylvania's death row, where he remains.
After the press conference — and a quick afternoon nap — Sister Mary returned to the capitol around 2:30 to climb the stairs and sit in the gallery and listen to legislators, one after one, seek to speak for victims. Some, like Rep. Larry Butler, D-Waterbury, have lost family members. Butler talked at length about losing a brother to violence, and then he offered —- and rapidly withdrew —- two amendments, including an unusual one that offered $1,000 tax credits to survivors. There were amendments galore on Wednesday, including amendments to keep the state's death penalty for murders that occur during acts of terror, or a home invasion, or if the victim is a police or corrections officer.
Sister Mary sat through all of it in the gallery, with other women who are also survivors. Sometimes, she shook her head at the discussion. At one point, a representative said from the floor, "I want to talk about victims," and a woman sitting behind Sister Mary said quietly, "All right. We're right here." Sister Mary said she understood the passion of people who support capital punishment, and she understands survivors who support the death penalty. She's never wavered but it took her a while to get involved in the abolition movement. "I was doing my own grieving," she said.
She wrote a statement — her first attempt, she said, smiling — that included her thoughts about "the agony of complicated grief." She wrote about the closure that won't come from an execution. She wrote about the anguish of loss, the "outrageously expensive process" of capital punishment, and justice and pain.
She still grieves for "dear, dear Joey," but she felt the need to witness the discussion. Of the vote — which sends the bill to Gov.Dannel P. Malloy, who says he will sign it —she said she was "delighted, and I am thrilled seeing all these young people who have struggled and worked to bring this about."