News this past week of the June 5 execution of Henry Curtis Jackson here in Mississippi was juxtaposed for me with news that Ohio's governor granted a stay of execution for a death row inmate on the very same day.
I have been troubled about the increase in executions here in Mississippi starting with an unusual announcement in May 2011 that the state intended to execute three inmates in one month. This most recent execution heightened my sense of unease for several reasons, including opposition from the family members of Jackson's victims and questions as to Governor Bryant's use of his pardoning power.
Furthermore, I think all of us who live in this great state should share my moral unease when we realize that Mississippi's increasing enthusiasm for executions is out of step with national death penalty trends. As news stories reported last week, the relatives of Henry “Curtis” Jackson's victims publicly appealed to the governor for clemency thus raising serious questions about our supposed commitment to victims. The courage of Regina Jackson and Glenda Kuyoro, Jackson's own sisters, is even more remarkable when you consider the gruesome facts of the crime: Regina was stabbed multiple times by her brother, and Henry murdered four of the women's children aged 2 to 5 and paralyzed another.
Despite their profound loss, the women pleaded with the governor not to add to their family's tragedy by allowing the state to kill their brother. As Regina wrote, “As a mother who lost two babies, all I'm asking is that you not make me go through the killing of my brother.”
To be sure, the feelings of murder victims' family members differ from case to case. In recent executions in Mississippi some family members have expressed a belief that justice was served for their slain loved one. On the other hand, Regina and Glenda are not alone in opposing execution of their family members' murderer.
In one of the most high profile executions in recent U.S. history, Bud Welch spoke out against the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, arguing that it would be a disservice to his daughter's memory who was killed in the bombings.
Of course, one of the justifications that lawyers, legislators, and governors often offer in support of the death penalty is that it honors the victim's family. But organizations like Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) have long pointed out that states and prosecutors are not as eager to honor victims' families when they oppose the death penalty, as seen in the Jackson case.
And when you read victims' families' testimonies on the MVFHR website, it is clear that it is simply not true that executions are the only way for victims' families to experience healing and closure. Furthermore, the voices of Regina Jackson and Glenda Kuyoro remind us that the loved ones of death row inmates are our fellow citizens, too, and that executions add to the tragedy of murder by creating loss and sadness for another family.