Much of what is written and debated about the death penalty is from the perspective of the law profession, social ethics, or the incarcerated. This post will offer a different perspective – from the admittedly subjective view of homicide survivors who are pulled into the sentence decision by the prosecution in capital cases.
Not all of us are. Thankfully. Only 27 states have the death sentence. And, of those, 16 have not executed anyone in decades. But it still happens, and crime victim families are still in the background being drawn into the punishment phase. We seldom, if ever, know what to think, nor given any guidance to help us. As in so many other dimensions of life as a homicide survivor, it’s a learn-as-you-go experience.
What Do We Want?
Homicide survivors are a heterogeneous group. There is no consensus among us. Nor among our family members for that matter. Moreover, some survivors change their minds as the date of execution draws near.
It is easier to analytically debate the merits and pitfalls of capital punishment from a distance. But when you are the prisoner, the executioner, or a family member of the convicted or homicide victim it is momentous and heavy. It’s even personal.
Arguments For Execution
Here are the most common refrains heard from homicide survivors who do wish to support an execution.
“An eye for an eye. After all, it’s only used for those deserving of it. It’s for the worst of the worst – people without redemption.”
“Execution is not revenge. It is justice; a consequence. Revenge would be killing three of their family members along with him. Then we’d be even.”
“His method of dying is humane. He won’t suffer. My sister and niece suffered. Somehow, they lasted through the night. I don’t know how. A peaceful death doesn’t begin to offset what my kid sister and her five-year-old went through at the hands of that monster.”
“This way there is no chance for him to escape. It’s rare, but it happens.”
Arguments Against Execution
Here are the most common refrains heard from homicide survivors who do not support an execution.
“No more death! My wife and me are sick of death.”
“I think about her family. Could we face them knowing we voted to have the State kill their daughter? Whatever she did, she is still their child.”
“Execution won’t bring my husband and his brother back. It won’t tell us any more than we already know. What’s the point? What’s it going to change?”
“This isn’t our place. It is up to his maker when he leaves this earth.”
“Execution is the easy way out. No. I’d rather he be confined to a 6 x 9 cell eating baloney sandwiches for Thanksgiving and watching younger and tougher felons file in as he ages.”
Regardless of your viewpoint, I think most homicide survivors would agree that:
Murders don’t always lead to arrests.
Arrests don’t always lead to charges.
Charges don’t always lead to convictions.
Convictions don’t always lead to stiff sentences.
And stiff sentences never lead to closure.