Sheffer’s and Long’s workshop at the recent 14th IIRP International Restorative Justice Conference in
focused on victims of the death penalty who go mostly unrecognized: the families of the executed and the defense attorneys who handle their death penalty appeals. Halifax, Nova Scotia
For the families of the executed, the period of bereavement begins before the death. The trauma includes shopping for a casket for a loved one who is going to be murdered - before it happens. The exact date and time of their death is known. If a stay of execution is granted at the last minute, there is joy over the victory that is often followed by the execution that was merely delayed. Then there is the death certificate that describes the cause of death as homicide. We ambiguously identify the perpetrator of this murder as “the state.” Who killed their son, daughter, brother or father for “the state”?
We rarely consider the impact on the children of the executed. How do you explain to the children that the “state of
” killed their dad? How does this impact their future relationship with the state? How to they reconcile being told that killing is wrong, but it was okay for “the state” to kill their dad? Texas
Misty was 14 when her dad was charged with a capitol offense and 28 when he was executed. There were no victims’ advocates ready to help her. Misty tried to commit suicide after her father’s execution.
Among the Texas After Violence Project's reports of stories located at theUniversity of Texas’ Human Rights Documentation Initiative is a video of Jamaal, Napoleon Beazley’s younger brother. After Napoleon was put on death row for a crime he committed at age 17, Jamaal lost his parent’s attention during the years they were consumed with Napoleon’s appeals. Every weekend for 7 or 8 years Jamaal and his parents visited his brother on death row. Napoleon was executed three days before Jamaal graduated from high school. After that, Jamaal’s father seemed to pull away, which Jamaal speculates is because of the pain of losing one son, and not wanting to be hurt that deeply again. The family’s grief was in essence “disenfranchised” because the loss could not be openly mourned or socially acknowledged. There was no space for the mitigation of his loss.
There is little space for the family members of the executed to discuss their grief. They face the question, do you hold a funeral, and if so, who should attend? They are innocent people who often feel ostracized.
What can be done about this? If we recognize the family members of the executed as victims, how will we define the framework for meeting their needs; is it state violence, a human rights violation, a murder? Who should provide counseling: school counselors, therapists, victim rights advocates, human rights activists?