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.