The death penalty has a traumatic impact on many people involved in capital cases in addition to the individual sentenced to die. Drawing on the presenters’ extensive experience, this session will focus on how two groups in particular are emotionally harmed by death sentences: families of the offender and capital defense attorneys. We will consider what obligations society has toward members of these groups and what possibilities exist for addressing the harms they experience. Our session is rooted in restorative justice’s basic questions: who has been harmed, what are their needs, and who is obligated to address those needs? Families of the executed and capital defense attorneys are harmed by executions in ways that have not yet received significant attention, and the time is ripe for an exploration of their experience within the context of restorative justice practices.
Walter C. Long founded the non-profit Texas After Violence Project, an independent oral history project designed to listen empathetically to people directly affected by criminal violence and state executions in Texas and to engage all voices in the creation of a less violent, more just community. As a criminal defense attorney, he has represented Texas death row inmates in their final appeals for many years.
Susannah Sheffer is staff writer and project director for the Massachusetts-based international non-profit Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights. She works closely with survivors of homicide victims and families of the executed, and is co-author of the report Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind. She is at work on the book Fighting for Their Lives, about the emotional experience of capital defense attorneys.