Does the Death Penalty Offer Closure or Solace to Victims’ Families?
Henry McMaster, JD, Governor of South Carolina, in a May 5, 2021 twitter thread that included a link to the The State article by Emily Bohatch, “SC House Passes Bill Bringing Back Electric Chair, Introducing Firing Squad,” stated:
“The S.C House has given second reading to a bill that will restore the state’s ability to carry out the death penalty. We are one step closer to providing victims’ families and loved ones with the justice and closure they are owed by law. I will sign this legislation as soon as it gets to my desk.”May 5, 2021
Jason Johnson, whose father was sentenced to death for killing his mother, as quoted by Katherine Burgess in a May 8, 2019 article, “Their Father Killed Their Mother. Now, the Siblings Disagree on whether He Should Be Executed,” available at commercialappeal.com, stated:
“[I will go to see him executed] not to see him die [but] just to see my family actually have some closure…
He’s an evil human being. He can talk Christianity and all that. That is all my father is. That’s all he’s ever been, is a con man…
If he found redemption, that doesn’t matter, that’s between him and God. His forgiveness is to come from the Lord and his redemption is to come from the Lord, not the government. The Bible also says, ‘An eye for an eye.’”May 8, 2019
Leslie Rutledge, JD, Arkansas Attorney General, and Tom Cotton, JD, US Senator (R-AR), in a Sep. 17, 2019 article, “Justice Served: Resuming Death Penalty Right Thing,” available at arkansasag.gov, stated:
“Though we understand some Arkansans have principled objections to the death penalty, we believe the ultimate punishment is warranted for the most heinous murderers. Capital punishment can help bring closure for victims’ families, deter other would-be murderers, and express the moral outrage of our society for the most atrocious crimes.
Consider the case of Daniel Lewis Lee, one of the five convicted murderers whose execution will now proceed. Lee belonged to a white-supremacist group called the Aryan People’s Revolution…[S]imple justice demands that Daniel Lewis Lee and murderers like him face the ultimate punishment, which truly fits the crime. Further, the death penalty in this case warns criminals to stop short of murder, lest they face execution. The death penalty also ends a horrific and prolonged period of pain and justice delayed for a victim’s loved ones–in a case where Lee doesn’t even deny his guilt.” Sep. 17, 2019
Phyllis Loya, mother of police officer Larry Lasater who was killed in the line of duty, as quoted by Meghna Chakrabarti and Brian Hardzinski in a Mar. 20, 2019 article, “How Murder Victims’ Families Are Responding to Death Penalty Halt in California,” available at wbur.org, stated:
“I’m 71 years old. I’ve dealt very seriously. I will live to see the execution of my son’s murderer. But I don’t want my grandchild growing up and spending 35 or 40 years before he sees his father’s killers execution carried out. There are families that have waited decades over 30, 35 years and now we’re supposed to wait until [California Governor Gavin Newsom] finishes his election time because he has decided to put his own personal will ahead [by imposing a death penalty moratorium. He blindsided us. He stole justice from us like a thief in the night…
People use closure, and I think it means different things to different people. What it would mean for me is that my fight for justice for my son would be complete when his sentence, which was by a Contra Costa County jury and by a Contra Costa County judge, would be carried out as it should be, which really basically means we have a law on the books, enforce it — give people their appellate rights — but enforce the law.”Mar. 20, 2019
Ohioans to Stop Executions, in an undated flyer, “The False Promise How the Death Penalty Fails Victims’ Families,” available at uakron.edu and accessed on Sep. 7, 2021, stated:
“To be meaningful, justice should be fair, accurate, and healing for crime survivors and their families. The death penalty is none of those things. Capital punishment prolongs pain for victims’ families, dragging them through an agonizing and lengthy process that holds out the false promise of healing through an execution – often resulting in a different sentence in the end…Sep. 7, 2021
• In Ohio, people on death row serve an average of 17 years and two months. This long process is traumatizing for victims’ families, both because of the added time and stress that accompany capital cases and the high profile nature of these cases.
• Without the death penalty in the mix, the healing process can begin sooner and families can grieve in private, outside the spotlight of news cameras.”
Renny Cushing, New Hampshire State Representative (D), as quoted by Amber Widgery in a Jan. 16, 2020 article, “Debating the Death Penalty,” available at ncsl.org, stated:
“As a victim survivor, I hate the word closure. You close on a mortgage not a homicide. No sanction will lift the burden for victims. We will be grieving forever. The execution solution or putting people in prison won’t end the grief…
I’m concerned about creating a hierarchy of victims. I think that is what the death penalty does sometimes, because it is reserved for only the most heinous murders. The reality is that the murder of a loved one is the most heinous. There is often a focus on a few high-profile cases that understandably rip your heart apart, but in New Hampshire there are 130 unsolved homicides. We are willing to spend millions of dollars to prosecute a single case to put someone to death, but for the families of the 130 victims whose murders have never been solved, the question for them is why their loved one isn’t worthy enough to have the state devote funds to try to apprehend those killers who are still out there.”Jan. 16, 2020
Bill Pelke, President of Journey of Hope and grandson of a murder victim, as quoted by Amy Bergquist in a July 30, 2019 article, “Capital punishment: victims and their families deserve better,” available at theadvocatespost.org, stated:
“The death penalty has absolutely nothing to do with healing. [It] just continues the cycle of violence and creates more murder victims family members. We become what we hate. We become killers.”July 30, 2019
Sharon, who declined to give her last name and whose brother was murdered, as quoted by Meghna Chakrabarti and Brian Hardzinski in a Mar. 20, 2019 article, “How Murder Victims’ Families Are Responding to Death Penalty Halt in California,” available at wbur.org, stated:
“But, to me, more than justice is healing. And you do not reach that point of forgiveness — if that man had been executed, he would never have come to that point of remorse, I don’t think. And I don’t think he would ever come to that point, certainly, of being able to look us in the eye and literally ask that we forgive him, knowing that we did not owe it to him in any way.
The burden that lifted from my shoulders when I realized that I was able to give him that forgiveness, it was truly amazing. It was life-changing. And I figured if that’s how it felt to me, I can’t even imagine what it felt like to him. Now, the other murderer died before he ever came to me. He never asked forgiveness, and I find myself wrestling with the real realization that someone doesn’t need to ask you to forgive them for you to forgive them. But, boy, it’s a lot easier when they do.”Mar. 20, 2019