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Victims’ families deserve more care and concern

The lengthy appeals process for death penalty cases can extend and intensify murder victims’ families’ suffering. And many of those families oppose the killing of anyone and don’t want to see the family members of murderers have to experience the ordeal of having a loved one killed.

Studies and findings

  • “The growing covictim opposition to the execution of the offenders in their individual cases highlights the resistance of victims’ families to accepting the responsibility for the state-sanctioned death of the offenders, specifically, and to the notion that the court can provide closure, more generally.” [UofL study]
  • “No psychological study has ever concluded that the death penalty brings ‘closure’ to anyone except the person who dies, and there’s circumstantial evidence that it can prolong the suffering of grieving families.” []
  • “What’s the empirical basis for the government assumption that all, or even most victims of terrible tragedy will find ‘closure’ through protracted trials and executions? To the extent the data on the needs of victims suggests anything at all, it says there is no magical solution, no one-size-fits-all mechanism to afford closure to the victims and survivors of violent crime.” [The Washington Post]
  • Prisoners on Kentucky’s death row have been there since as long ago as 1980, subjecting victims’ family members to 30 years of court dates and appeals. (The appeals process for sentences of life in jail without parole is less extensive.) [Kentucky Department of Corrections]
  • Resources saved from eliminating the death penalty system (it is more expensive that life in jail without parole) could be redirected to help victims’ families through therapy or a fund to make up for the lost income of their loved one.
  • “Stanford University psychiatrist David Spiegel believes that the theory that executions provide closure is ‘naive, unfounded, pop-psychology.’ Contrary to expectations, Spiegel says, witnessing executions not only fails to provide closure but also often causes symptoms of acute stress. ‘Witnessing trauma,’ he says, ‘is not far removed from experiencing it.'” [Oregon Live]

Victims’ family members: In their own words

  • “I even opposed the death penalty for the man who killed my brother!” — Sen. Ted Kennedy [The Washington Post]
  • “You legislators hear a lot about the phrase, ‘Victims needing closure.’ I’m here to tell you, that is nothing but a myth perpetuated by politicians and news media. Six months after the bombing a poll taken in Oklahoma City of victims’ families and survivors showed that 85 percent wanted the death penalty for Tim McVeigh. Six years later that figure had dropped to nearly half, and now most of those who supported his execution came to believe it was a mistake. In other words, they didn’t feel any better after Tim McVeigh was taken from his cell and killed.” — Bud Welch, father of Julie Marie Welch, victim in the Oklahoma City bombing [Murder Victims’ Families For Human Rights]
  • “The word closure is invoked so frequently in discussions of victims and the death penalty that victims’ family members jokingly refer to it as ‘the c word.’ But I can tell you with all seriousness that there is no such thing as closure when a violent crime rips away the life of someone dear to you.” — Vicki Schieber, mother of Shannon Schieber, murdered in 1998 by a serial rapist [Testimony to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights Committee on the Judiciary U.S. Senate]
  • Ben Griffith’s brother Chris was murdered in 1986, yet he opposed the death penalty for his brother’s killer, who was sentenced to death. In this video the Frankfort resident talks about the impact of his brother’s killer’s execution in 1997–“It has done nothing for justice in my life”–and how it inspired him to work to end capital punishment. Ben is now a member of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s (KCADP) board of directors and a member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation.

  • Kentucky resident Mary Alice Pratt had a member of her extended family murdered. Twice. Yet she “can’t see how executing the murderer would give us any comfort or any satisfaction.” She also corresponds with men on death row and their families, so she understands how the death penalty devastates family members of the condemned and executed too. She is a member of KCADP.

For more evidence that Kentucky’s murder victims’ families deserve more care and concern than the death penalty, read our blog.

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