Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Forgotten Victims

An article that appeared this past Friday in Florida's Palm Beach Post, titled "Children live with the heartbreak of parents on Death Row" and written by Daphne Duret, features members of MVFHR's No Silence, No Shame project and includes several good photos. Here's an excerpt:

... "They really are the forgotten victims in death penalty cases," Susannah Sheffer, director of the No Silence, No Shame project for Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, says of Death Row inmates' children. "It's not something that has been part of the debate about capital punishment."

Little has been done to study the effect of an execution on an inmate's children, but some say the combination of the loss of the parent, shame about the crime for which he or she is convicted, and conflicted feelings about the government often come together to inflict deep emotional and psychological trauma that follows them into adulthood.

Desiree Babbitt, now 30 and living in New England, was a toddler when her father, Manny, was sentenced to death in California for killing a 78-year-old grandmother after he broke into her house while suffering a flashback to his time in Vietnam.

She grew up knowing he was in prison but unaware he was on Death Row. After she found out, she spoke out on his behalf. She asked anyone who would listen to keep her father from being executed, saying she needed him.

In the meantime, Desiree said, her father was her world. He sent letters full of poetry and math problems, which prison guards helped him devise as she aged and her proficiency in the subject surpassed his.

Manny Babbitt was executed in 1999. Desiree was 21.

His death is a cloud that hangs over her life, she says.

Since then, she has been hospitalized more than a dozen times for mental illness. She works for several months at a time, lately as a booking agent for a club, but after awhile her depression sets in and she can no longer function.

"I'm OK today," Babbitt said Tuesday. "But if you would have called me yesterday, I probably would have been crying on the phone."

For Misty McWee of South Carolina, the death sentence and 2004 execution of her father, Jerry, fueled a downward spiral that included years of drug and alcohol abuse, a violent marriage and a suicide attempt.

She was 14 and living with her father, a former police officer, when he was charged in the murder of a convenience store clerk in 1991. She was 28 when he was executed.

Now in her early 30s, McWee says she is just now regrouping from the toll of her father's execution.

The birth of her son, now 3, has changed her life for the better, but she says she still wrestles with deep issues of anger. For years, she said, she cried for the children of her father's victim, sad that they would never see their father again.

"I hated him for what he did. I hated him for putting all of us in that situation," McWee said of her father. "But in the end, all the love you have for him takes over."

Sheffer says a death sentence for a parent leaves a child with questions. Chief among them, she says: "If killing is wrong, then why is the state killing daddy?"

The answers, or lack thereof, often breed a resentment of government institutions. ...

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