Monday, October 24, 2011

Unlikely opponents?

MVFHR members Charisse Coleman and Gus Lamm are among those interviewed for the CNN story, "Death penalty's unlikely opponents," that ran yesterday. Here are some excerpts:

Charisse Coleman has no real compassion for the man who walked into the Thrifty Liquor Store in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1995 and put three bullets in her brother, Russell.

But she doesn't want Bobby Lee Hampton -- one of more than seven dozen killers on Louisiana's death row -- executed, either.

"My opposition to the death penalty has nothing to do with Bobby Lee Hampton," Coleman said. "He's a bad dude. He's never going to be a good dude. If I got a call that said Bobby Lee Hampton dropped dead in his cell last night, I don't think it would create a ripple in my pond."

She added, though, "I will be goddamned if I will let Bobby Lee Hampton make me a victim, too, by taking me down that road of bitterness and revenge."

Coleman, 50, is among the most unlikely opponents of the death penalty, people who lost loved ones to unspeakable violence yet believe executing the killer will do nothing for family members or society.

Their stance is backed by groups like Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation and Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, and their reasons aren't as religious or political as one might think. Some feel so strongly they've spoken against the death penalty even when it wasn't an option in their loved one's case.


Jan Brown of Houston said she can't pinpoint why she loathes the death penalty, but she always has, even when her 9-year-old daughter's killer was executed.

A Southern Baptist until 1984, Brown said capital punishment is tantamount to "legalized murder." She said she doesn't know when she developed her disdain. The first time she considered it may have been when she told a prosecutor she didn't want James Earhart to die, she said.

"Maybe I'm just selfish," she said. "Maybe he'd tell me what her last words were. Maybe he'd tell me why she had to die. Maybe because I think it's barbaric. Maybe if one of my children ended up in the same situation, I wouldn't want them to die."

Brown, 65, said the entire process leading up to Earhart's lethal injection was more about the perpetrator than the victim. Brown was a suspect until police found Kandy Janell Kirtland's deteriorating body, her hands bound, in a rubbish pile in Bryan, Texas. Brown said she was further devastated when protesters staged a vigil at Earhart's 1999 execution -- not for the innocent girl who never got to see fifth grade, but for her killer.

Brown said she went through 12 years of hell because a prosecutor seemed to care more about Texas' reputation for being tough on crime than about helping Kandy's family heal.

Gus Lamm said he felt the same way when his wife, Victoria Zessin, was taken at age 28. He and his daughter unsuccessfully sued the parole board -- and in the process alienated themselves from Zessin's family -- to make sure the state knew they felt capital punishment was repugnant.

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