Wednesday, October 8, 2008

We Can Choose How We Respond

Continuing our series, here is the statement that Amanda and Nick Wilcox of California delivered at the "Prevention, Not Execution" event in San Antonio last Friday:


On January 10, 2001, our only daughter, Laura, was murdered while home on winter break from college. Laura was filling in as a receptionist at a Behavioral Health clinic in our home state of California when, without warning, a patient suffering from paranoid schizophrenia opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun and shot Laura four times at point blank range. Laura was killed instantly. When the rampage at the clinic and at a nearby restaurant ended, three people lay dead, three were severely injured, a community was shaken, and the world was diminished by the loss of an incredible young woman.

Many call the death of a child the worst loss. As a mother outliving her daughter, I no longer have the future I envisioned. To me, Laura will always be a teenager, full of plans for a busy, happy, and meaningful life.

Laura had extraordinary capabilities, kindness and spirit. She was an outstanding student, graduating as high school valedictorian, and was at the time of her death a college sophomore and in the midst of her campaign for the student body presidency. Laura was extremely organized, disciplined, and motivated, and with her positive energy, she was a natural leader. At age nineteen, Laura was already living a full life of service; she wanted to make a positive difference in the world; she had unlimited possibilities and the brightest of prospects.

It made no sense that someone as good and innocent as Laura could be murdered. After her death, life seemed meaningless. I felt great despair. I felt I had seen humanity at its worst. In the following months my husband and I heard comments such as “fry the bastard” or “I hope he gets what he deserves.” These statements did nothing to restore our faith in the goodness in people. Those who expressed hatred and revenge did not comfort us. Those who thought execution would bring justice did not realize that there is no justice. Justice would be to have Laura alive again.


As it turned out in this case, the man responsible for Laura’s murder was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a state mental hospital. We believe the man who killed our daughter must be held fully accountable. He cannot be trusted to be free in society again. In order to protect society, institutionalization of Laura’s murderer is both necessary and appropriate.

But to execute him for an act he committed while delusional with a severe disease is, to us, simply wrong. Our prisons are now filled with the mentally ill and in many instances the only way a person can receive proper mental health care is by committing a crime. The financial resources now spent on implementing the death penalty would be better spent if redirected to treatment of those with serious mental illness, thereby preventing future acts of violence.

We had no control over what happened to our daughter, but we can choose how we respond. For us, part of that response involves speaking out for violence prevention and against the death penalty for people with mental illness. As the father of a daughter murdered by a mentally ill man, I am here today as witness to this project. My wife and I are joining other families whose loved ones have been killed. We are standing together to say that prevention, not execution, is how we honor our loved ones’ lives.

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