In a recent op-ed in the New Jersey Daily Record, Jim O’Brien detailed his experiences with the legal system as the father of a murder victim. His daughter Deidre was murdered in 1982, and the capital trials and appeals for the man convicted of the crime lasted another 8 years. O’Brien stated, “I’ve lived through the state’s process of trying to kill [a murderer], and I can say without hesitation that it is not worth the anguish that it puts survivors through….” Because of the “horrendous toll” the process took on his family and the little closure it gave them, O’Brien asked the New Jersey legislature to abolish the death penalty.

Over the past year, a bipartisan commission has conducted a study of New Jersey’s death penalty. The commission investigated many aspects of the death penalty including its impact on the families and friends of murder victims. O’Brien and his family’s painful experience was not unique, according to a Department of Justice study. About 70% of husbands and wives in the same situation divorce, separate, or develop a substance abuse problem. O’Brien said that many death penalty proponents believe that the punishment is necessary to bring closure to the victims’ families, but he disagrees. Some closure does come with time; however, “the death penalty forces that closure further away than any other punishment on the books.”

Based upon information such as this and testimony from victims’ family members, the New Jersey commission recommended that the death penalty be replaced with a sentence of life without parole. The legislature is likely to vote on this issue next month.
(“Death Penalty Punishes Victims’ Families, Too” by Jim O’Brien, The Daily Record, Nov. 25, 2007). See Victims and New Voices.