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Murder victims family members tell Kentucky: Don’t kill in our names

Renny Cushing opposed the death penalty for his father's murderer: he "didn’t want the killer, having taken our father’s life, to take our values too."

Renny Cushing opposed the death penalty for his father's murderer: he "didn’t want the killer, having taken our father’s life, to take our values too."

In the wake of the American Bar Association’s damning assessment of Kentucky’s death penalty, a Frankfort State-Journal editorial said that while safeguards are needed, Kentucky needs capital punishment as it benefits victims’ family members.

Qualitative and quantitative evidence has shown that belief is wrong.

This weekend, the State-Journal published two letters to the editor from family members of murder victims explaining why they oppose the death penalty.

To the Editor:

The State Journal editorial on Dec. 9 does a fairly good synopsis of the American Bar Association’s call to suspend executions while explaining the various responses from Attorney General Conway and the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. I am not sure of the editor’s intent in describing the execution of Jereboam Beauchamp in 1826. Are we supposed to yearn for the good old days when we string up a dying man?

My biggest objection to the editorial (and the accompanying editorial cartoon) is the suggestion that murder victim families need the death of the murderer in order to feel better served by justice. There is an alternative not even mentioned or considered – life without parole. No parole hearings, period. Victim survivors can move on and not live in legal limbo for decades.

To make the leap that murder victim families are united in wanting a death penalty continues the critical oversimplification of “paying a price commensurate with their crimes” and the pathetic use of a grieving family at a parole hearing to justify another murder. I belong to two different organizations of murder victim families (thousands of us) that feel victim survivors are victimized yet again when murderers are given the gallows. My brother was murdered in 1986 and his murderer was poisoned to death in 1997 by the state of Missouri. That is why I work as a board member of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Don’t lay the need to continue executions down at victims’ feet. (You don’t know the voices of all of us.) It lay at the feet of an antiquated Beauchamp reflex that is really a societal ill.

Ben Griffith
Frankfort

And

To the Editor:

The State Journal’s Dec. 9 editorial, “No room for error,” suggests that  “Staunch opponents of capital punishment should imagine members of their own families victimized by barbarous criminals …”

Many opponents of capital punishment don’t have to imagine the horror of a family member’s murder. We’ve lived it – and we don’t feel that another killing is what will help us. Rather than a “proportionally irreversible response,” we want a response that truly addresses the many different needs victims’ families have and avoids the lasting trauma that executions inflict on the criminal’s innocent family members.
After two shotgun blasts took my father’s life in the doorway of our family home, many people assumed that my family and I would become proponents of the death penalty.  A friend said to us, “I hope they fry those people so your family can get some peace.” But in the aftermath of the worst thing that had ever happened to us, my family and I did not feel that an execution would give us peace, and we didn’t want the killer, having taken our father’s life, to take our values too.

I founded the organization Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights so that victims’ families who oppose the death penalty would be recognized and supported in that belief, and so that we could join with families of people who have been executed to publicize the devastating effects of both murder and the death penalty.

Renny Cushing
Executive Director, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights
Boston, Mass.

Kentucky’s death penalty is too broken to fix. It needs to be abolished.

Photo: Courtesy National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

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