Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Relatives oppose it

It's helpful when news headlines recognize that not all victims' family members support the death penalty -- like this recent headline on the mynorthwest.com news site, "Relatives of murder victims oppose death penalty":

Relatives of murder victims in Washington hope their voices carry some extra weight in the debate over the death penalty.
Retiring State Senator Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, was among a group of death penalty critics speaking out in Olympia Thursday. The six-term state lawmaker has a personal story to share.

"In 1980, my brother-in-law was murdered and his body was dumped in a park in Seattle," Regala told KIRO Radio. His killer was never prosecuted.

Still, she favors abolishing the death penalty. "We spend six to ten times as much money pursuing a death penalty as we would if we went for life without the possibility of parole," claimed Regala.

"When we look at the high cost, the staggering amount of money that gets spent on this, that money could be so much better used in giving police officers better tools to prevent crime, tools for helping solve some of these cold cases."

Other relatives of murder victims share Regala's viewpoint, including Karil Klingbill, the sister of Candy Hemmig, a bank teller murdered by Mitchell Rupe in Olympia in 1981.

Those who support the death penalty often cite closure for victims as an argument for keeping the law. But death penalty appeals can last for 10 years or longer.

"That prolonged process means that there is no closure for a long period of time and for many people, it re-opens the wound over and over and over again," Regala countered.

Washington is among 33 states, as well as the military and the federal government, that allow the death penalty.

Legislative opponents plan to re-introduce a measure in Olympia next session to abolish the death penalty and they are planning a rally on the steps of the Capitol building in January.

KIRO Radio host Dave Ross said he appreciates hearing from people like Regala. It's a different perspective that isn't always considered. It stops him from wanting to totally abolish the death penalty.
Dave says he knows it's hard for family members to relive the horror every time there's an appeal, but he suggests setting limits and not dragging out the process might be a solution.

One benefit of the death penalty is it gives prosecutors a bargaining chip. They cut a deal with the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, to avoid trial and he plead guilty. He would have been up for the death penalty, but those trials never happened and the victims got closure. He's not on death row, but in prison in Walla Walla for the rest of his life.

However, Regala doesn't believe it's appropriate to use it as a bargaining tool.

"We have people like Gary Ridgway who committed multiple multiple murders and they have life without the possibility of parole. And someone who committed one murder is on death row and may be executed." 

Monday, December 10, 2012

64 years later, 8 years later

Today is International Human Rights Day marking the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDR) in 1948. 

In her book The Death of Innocents, Sister Helen Prejean writes that initially there was some debate about whether abolition of the death penalty fell within the scope of the ideal that the Universal Declaration represented:

It was to be expected when Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was debated back in the 1940s that such a declaration, which granted everyone the right to life without qualification, would provoke debate, and one of the first proposed amendments was that an exception ought to be made in the case of criminals lawfully sentenced to death. Eleanor Roosevelt urged the committee to resist this amendment, arguing that their task was to draw up a truly universal charter of human rights toward which societies could strive. She foresaw a day when no government could kill its citizens for any reason.

We are, of course, still working toward that day, and although there is a great deal left to do, we can also appreciate that 64 years after Eleanor Roosevelt made her argument, the majority of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty.

Today is also the 8th anniversary of the founding of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. Eight years ago, the founding group gathered at the UN Church Plaza in New York City, offered public testimony, and signed a document stating, "In the name of victims, we pledge to end the death penalty around the world."

In MVFHR's first public statement shortly thereafter, we said:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that sets forth the most basic principles regarding the value of human life and the way human beings ought to treat one another, was inspired by victims, demanded by victims. It grew out of the suffering of millions of civilians murdered under the brutal regimes of the Second World War, and its adoption on December 10, 1948 was a way to honor the loss of these lives, and an attempt to give meaning to the loss, by asserting that such violations are neither moral nor permissible under any nation or regime.

Now is the time to raise our voices again and insist that violations of human life in the form of the death penalty or other state killings are not permissible under any nation or regime. It is time to call for the abolition of the death penalty because the only way to uphold human rights is to uphold them in all cases, universally.

We believe that survivors of homicide victims have a recognized stake in the debate over how societies respond to murder and have the moral authority to call for a consistent human rights ethic as part of that response. Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights is the answer to that call.

Our deepest thanks today to all MVFHR's members and supporters who have helped answer that call and who have accomplished so much in these past eight years.