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.