Gray Rules Guillory May Ask for Mercy American

May 9, 2003

The mother of a 6-year-old Iowa boy murdered 11 years ago will be allowed to ask jurors for mercy for the man who allegedly molested and killed her child, Judge Al Gray ruled Thursday.

Citing a 1998 state constitutional amendment approved by voters, Gray said Lorilei Guillory will be allowed "to testify and ask for mercy if she wishes" during any penalty phase of Ricky Langley's first-degree murder re-trial, if a penalty phase is needed.

Prosecutors objected and appealed. Gray refused to delay the trial for that appeal. Thus testimony in the trial will resume at 9 a.m. today, May 9.

Gray's ruling came after jurors heard from several prosecution witnesses and viewed two video tapes - one which included police recovering the body of Jeremy Guillory from Langley's closet and another in which Langley matter-of-factly confesses to the slaying.

Earlier in the week prosecutors asked Gray to prohibit the victim's mother from asking jurors to spare Langley's life if the panel in fact convicts him of first-degree murder.

Assistant District Attorneys Wayne Frey, Cynthia Killingsworth and Sharon Darville Wilson filed a document Tuesday objecting to the testimony of Lorilei Guillory as a defense witness. They claim her testimony would violate a higher court ruling that bars victims' family members from expressing mercy for a defendant.

Gray was obviously taken aback by the law cited by the state. "I never thought of it (victim's mercy testimony) being prohibited," the judge, who openly opposes capital punishment, said. "It is inconceivable to me that it would not be allowed."

Gray said there are so many victim's rights laws on the books in which victims or their family members can seek their own form of justice and explain the effects of the loss of the victim. He seemed puzzled that the law wouldn't allow the victim to seek mercy if that is what is desired.

"If I can get it (the mother's testimony) in, I will," he told the lawyers.

During Thursday's morning session, the judge told prosecutors that the law they had cited was superseded by a 1998 victim's rights amendment overwhelmingly passed by Louisiana voters.

That amendment allows victims or their families to testify about what sentence they feel is appropriate for a defendant.

He asked both the state and defense attorneys to further research the matter and also asked Walt Sanchez, Ms. Guillory's attorney, to file documents formally presenting her side of the case.

The papers filed later by Sanchez said Ms. Guillory wants to take advantage of her right to speak out, but is willing to "acquiesce" if testifying would jeopardize the trial in any way.

"(Her) most fervent wish ... is that this matter be finally and swiftly resolved. She intends nothing said or done by her during the course of these proceedings to be the precipitating factor in a mistrial," Sanchez said.

Though she is willing to limit her testimony, Sanchez said, she does not agree with the state that her testimony must be restricted. There are no restrictions, Sanchez said, on the defendant's calling a member of the victim's family in mitigation.

Although it is "unduly prejudicial" for a family member of the victim to give inflammatory testimony before jurors, there is nothing to limit the victim's family from requesting mercy for a defendant, Sanchez argued.

Ms. Guillory asks to be heard, Sanchez said, but will do so within the confines of the law.

Gray noted that Ms. Guillory had complained earlier during the trial that prosecutors were not treating her fairly. Although the state had paid to return her to Louisiana from South Carolina and is paying her hotel expenses, the district attorney's office had not given her a daily expense allowance. Sanchez intervened and got Gray to order defense counsel to pay her $1,000 for living expenses since defense attorneys, as well as the state, had subpoenaed her for the trial.

She is also to be paid $25 per day per diem and reasonable expenses of any after-school day care for her younger son.

The expenses are to be re-imbursed to the defense attorneys as court costs in the case. Since Langley is indigent and his attorneys were appointed by the court, those costs will likely never be paid.

When Gray asked Frey about the 1998 amendment to which he had referred earlier in the day, the prosecutor said the amendment applies to victims in non-capital cases in which judges, not juries impose the sentence. He said the amendment allows the victim's family to recommend a specific sentence, something they had not been allowed to do before.

But, Frey said, victim's family members cannot request a penalty in a capital case because the jury, not a judge, is deciding the sentence.

Gray disagreed. He said the state was placing "this woman in a bind" by requesting that she not testify and making her feel it is her fault if the case is thrown out because she does.

She is in an "uncompromising position," the judge said. "All she wants to do is express her beliefs, and those are her beliefs and she is entitled to them," Gray said.

"She just happens to have a different view than the state," he told Frey. "You can bet if she said she wanted the death penalty, the state would be all over it" and Frey would allow her to testify.

In June of 2002 Ms. Guillory made a tearful plea to Gray, asking him to allow Langley to plead guilty to first-degree murder with a life sentence. She told him she did not believe in the death penalty which she called "legalized murder."

But Gray told her the law did not allow him to accept such a plea unless prosecutors agreed to back off on seeking a death sentence. District Attorney Rick Bryant later filed a strongly worded refusal.


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    Legal Issues: States That Allow Victim Impact Statements
    Limited Admissibility
    Montana Indiana Alabama  
    New Hampshire Mississippi Arizona  
    Wyoming*   Arkansas Nevada
        California North Carolina
        Colorado Ohio
        Delaware Oklahoma
        Florida Oregon
        Georgia Pennsylvania
        Idaho South Carolina
        Kansas South Dakota
        Kentucky Tennessee
        Louisiana Texas
        Maryland Utah
        Missouri Virginia
        Nebraska Washington

    Note: The Federal Government and the U.S. Military also allow the use of Victim Impact Statements.

    (Source: John H. Blume, "Ten Years of Payne: Victim Impact Evidence in Capital Cases," 88 Cornell Law Review 257, 268 (2003)).

    * On April 14, 2003, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that victim impact evidence is not admissible at the sentencing phase of capital trials in that state. The court stated that it is up to the legislature to decide whether the sentencer may consider victim impact evidence, and Wyoming's legislature has not yet authorized the admission of such evidence. (Olsen v. State, Wyo., No. 98-62).

    New Mexico abolished the death penalty for crimes committed after the effective date of the law in 2009.  Illinois abolished the deaht penalty in 2011.  Connecticut abolished the death penalty for future crimes in 2012.  New York and New Jersey became abolition states in 2007.

    See also D. Sanderford, "Victim Impact Evidence, State by State" (2012).


    KELLY V. CALIFORNIA, No. 07-11073, U.S. Supreme Court (2008)

    Review denied with 3 Justices expressing concerns about victim impact statements

    Some of the Justices sent a signal they may want to restrict prosecutors' use of victim impact statements in death sentencing hearings.  In Booth v. Maryland (1987), the Court initially found such testimony to be unconstitutional because of the danger the jury could be overwhelmed by emotional statements from victims' family members about their suffering and loss. That decision was reversed a few years later in Payne v. Tennessee.  This year, in Kelly v. California, the Court was asked to limit the extent of such victim statements.  Three Justices indicated the Court should consider the issue.  Justice Breyer dissented from the denial of certiorari and wrote separately.  Justice Souter would have granted cert.  Justice Stevens respected the denial of cert., but wrote separately  of his concerns. (Four Justices are needed to grant review.) Stevens wrote:

    "In the years since Payne was decided, this Court has left state and federal courts unguided in their efforts to police the hazy boundaries between permissible victim impact evidence and its impermissible, ‘unduly prejudicial’ forms…. Having decided to tolerate the introduction of evidence that puts a heavy thumb on the prosecutor’s side of the scale in death cases, the Court has a duty to consider what reasonable limits should be placed on its use."

    (Stevens, J., statement respecting denial of cert. Nov. 10, 2008). See U.S. Supreme Court's order.

    Return to Victims and the Death Penalty.

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    Victim Resources

    Studies and Reports
    Law Reviews
    Related Web Sites

    Studies and Reports

    Corey Burton and Richard Tewksbury, "How Families of Murder Victims Feel Following the Execution of Their Loved One’s Murderer: A Content Analysis of Newspaper Reports of Executions from 2006-2011," Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice and Criminology, Vol. 1, Number 1 (2013)

    Marilyn Peterson Armour & Mark S. Umbreit, "Assessing the Impact of the Ultimate Penal Sanction on Homicide Survivors: A Two State Comparison," 96 Marquette Law Review 1 (2012).

    Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights released a report entitled “Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind" (2006). Families of the executed are victims, too, according to the new report, which draws upon the stories of three dozen family members of inmates executed in the United States and demonstrates that their experiences and traumatic symptoms resemble those of many others who have suffered a violent loss. “I don’t think people understand what executions do to the families of the person being executed,” says Billie Jean Mayberry, one of the family members featured in the report. Mayberry’s brother, Robert Coe, was executed in Tennessee in 2000. “To us, our brother was murdered right in front of our eyes. It changed all of our lives.” “Creating More Victims” includes recommendations for mental health professionals, educators, and child welfare advocates. MVFHR also plans to deliver the report to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and request that that office undertake further study of the impact of executions on surviving families. For a copy of the report, contact Susannah Sheffer, 617-512-2010, [email protected]. For more information about MVFHR, visit

    "Dignity Denied: The Experience of Murder Victims' Family Members Who Oppose the Death Penalty" (2002). This report released by Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation provides an account of the experiences of murder victims' family members who oppose capital punishment and steps that can be taken to protect these individuals from discrimination based on this opposition. "Dignity Denied" challenges lawmakers, the federal government's Office of Victims of Crime, and leaders within the victims' services community to address past and current discrimination and commit to equitable treatment of survivors of homicide victims. Specifically, the report offers model legislation and recommends that victims' rights laws be amended to ban unequal treatment based upon a victim's position on the death penalty. It also states that victims' services should be administered independently, not as part of the prosecutor's office, and that leaders in the victims' services community should develop protocols for serving victims' families who oppose the death penalty. 


    Jeanne Bishop has written a new book about her life and spiritual journey after her sister was murdered in Illinois in 1990. Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister's Killer tells Bishop's personal story of grief, loss, and of her eventual efforts to confront and reconcile with her sister's killer. She also addresses larger issues of capital punishment, life sentences for juvenile offenders, and restorative justice. Former Illinois Governor George Ryan said of the book, "When I commuted the death sentences of everyone on Illinois's death row, I expressed the hope that we could open our hearts and provide something for victims' families other than the hope of revenge. I quoted Abraham Lincoln: 'I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.' Jeanne Bishop's compelling book tells the story of how devotion to her faith took her face-to-face with her sister's killer .... She reminds us of a core truth: that our criminal justice system cannot be just without mercy." (J. Bishop, "Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister's Killer," Westminster John Knox Press, 2015; DPIC posted Feb. 19, 2015).

    A new book by Professor Jody Lynee' Madeira of the Indiana University School of Law follows the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing to explore whether the families of murder victims obtain closure from an execution. In Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure, Prof. Madeira recounts her wide range of interviews with those who experienced this tragedy first-hand. Regarding the book, Professor Carol Steiker of Harvard said, “Everyone seems to have an opinion about whether the execution of murders can offer ‘closure’ to the victims’ loved ones. Finally, we have a study that has investigated the largest, most media-saturated mass murder and execution in recent times….Madeira’s in-depth, fair-minded, and sensitive account opens a window for us into the struggles of those affected and explores the complicated role that our public institutions of criminal justice play in the complex and difficult work of reconstructing life after atrocity.” (J. Madeira, "Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure," New York University Press (May 2012); DPIC posted May 23, 2012).

    The Crying Tree is a new novel by Naseem Rakha that raises the real-life question: Could you forgive the man who murdered your son?  Rakha is an award-winning broadcast journalist whose work has been heard on NPR's "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition." The story of her novel is told through the lives of a mother whose son was murdered and the superintendent of a state penitentiary where the defendant's execution is to take place.  Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, said in review, "For anyone who has ever wondered how forgiveness is possible, even when the pain is overwhelming, wonder no more.  The Crying Tree takes you on a journey you won't soon forget." (N. Rakha, "The Crying Tree," Broadway Books, 2009).

    The Ride: A Shocking Murder and a Bereaved Father’s Journey from Rage to Redemption is a new book by Brian MacQuarrie that explores a parent's grief and subsequent transformation through the story of Robert Curley in Massachusetts.  Curley's 10-year-old son, Jeffrey, was a victim of abduction and murder in 1997.  The murder shocked and outraged the community of East Cambridge outside of Boston.  MacQuarrie explores the father's evolution “from grief to anger to activism against predators,” and from being an outraged father demanding the death penalty for his son’s murderer to an outspoken critic of capital punishment.  Delving deeper into the issue, the author looks at the struggle of Massachusetts residents as they decide whether to reinstate capital punishment.  Senator John Kerry calls the book, a “compelling and deeply moving…story of Bob Curley’s journey to hell and back.”  Sister Helen Prejean said "Robert Curley's radical transformation is a lesson for us all." The book may be purchased here and at major bookstores. MacQuarrie has been a reporter at the Boston Globe for 20 years.  (B. MacQuarrie, “The Ride: A Shocking Murder and a Bereaved Father’s Journey from Rage to Redemption,” Da Capo Press, 2009).

    What To Do When the Police Leave by Bill Jenkins is filled with simple, frank and useful advice vital to families suffering a traumatic loss. This book is a victim's voice speaking to victims offering help in the face of helplessness. The author shares expert advice, lists helpful resources demystifies legal and medical jaron, and affirms hope in the midst of tragedy. Bill Jenkins is a professor of Speech and Drama at Virginia Union University. Since the tragic shooting of his son he has become active in various victim support and rights efforts.


    In "Don't Kill in Our Names: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty," author Rachel King presents the stories of 10 Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation members. Throughout the book, King examines the reasons why these survivors choose reconciliation over retribution and why they actively oppose capital punishment. Using first-hand accounts and third-person narrative, King presents the stories in the context of the nation's on-going death penalty debate. King is legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. (Rutgers Press, 2003).  For more information, visit Rutgers Press.

      Capital Consequences: Families of the Condemned Tell Their Stories is a new book by Rachel King of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project. The book focuses on the impact that the death penalty has on the families of those who have been condemned to die. King, who also wrote Don't Kill in Our Names: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty, describes these individuals as the unseen victims of capital punishment and highlights the experience of having loved ones on death row using personal accounts and a moving narrative voice. King notes that because their pain tends to attract less attention and empathy than the hurt of crime victims' families, many family members of the condemned suffer alone. Though the book uses the stories of the condemned to depict the flaws in the judicial system, its clearest message is that tragic events have tragic consequences that reach far beyond their immediate victims. (Rutgers University Press, 2005).


    Choosing Mercy: A Mother of Murder Victims Pleads to End the Death Penalty" - Written in the spirit of "Dead Man Walking," this book by Antoinette Bosco conveys both the powerful personal experience of a mother whose son was murdered and a wealth of information about the criminal justice system in America. (Orbis Books, 2001) For more information, or to read an excerpt, visit



    Journey of Hope - Bill Pelke tells of the life-altering transformation that occurred after his 78-year-old grandmother was murdered by four teen-aged girls in his book, Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing.

    Though at first he supported the death penalty for 15-year-old Paula Cooper, one of the young girls who had murdered his grandmother in her home for $10 and an old car, he later opposed her execution and successfully fought to have Cooper's death sentence overturned. The book follows his personal journey over many years and features a forward by Sister Helen Prejean. (Xlibris Corporation, September 2003).

    "Hidden Victims," a new book by sociologist Susan F. Sharp of the University of Oklahoma, examines the impact of capital punishment on the families of those facing execution. Through a series of in-depth interviews with families of the accused, Sharp illustrates from a sociological standpoint how family members and friends of those on death row are, in effect, indirect victims of the initial crime. The book emphasizes their responses to sentencing, as well as how they grieve and face an impending execution. Sharp also examines the issues of wrongful conviction and the change in family structure after a loved one has been sent to death row. The book contains a foreword by death penalty expert Michael Radelet. (Rutgers University Press, 2005).

    Murdering Myths: The Story Behind the Death Penalty, a book by Judith W. Kay, uses the personal experiences of both crime victims' families and those on death row to examine America's beliefs about crime and punishment. Noting that researchers have raised questions about the execution of innocent people, racial bias in sentencing, and capital punishment's failure to act as a deterrent, Kay asks why Americans still support the death penalty. She uses interviews with those most closely impacted by violent crime and capital punishment to examine whether punishment corrects bad behavior, suffering pays for wrong deeds, and if the victims' desire for revenge is natural and inevitable. Kay is an associate professor of religion at the University of Puget Sound. ("Murdering Myths: The Story Behind the Death Penalty," Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., June 2005).

    Wounds That Do Not Bind: Victim-based Perspectives on the Death Penalty, a book by James R. Acker and David Reed Karp, examines how family members and advocates for victims address the impact of capital punishment. The book presents the personal stories of victims' family members and their interactions with the criminal justice system. It also examines the relevant areas of legal research, including the use of victim impact evidence in capital trials, how capital punishment affects victims' family members, and what is known about addressing the needs of the survivors after a murder. (Carolina Academic Press, 2006).

    Law Reviews

    Symposium: Pamela Blume Leonard, Michael Mears, John H. Blume, Stephen P. Garvey, Samuel R. Gross, Richard Burr, et al.: "Victims and the Death Penalty: Inside and Outside the Courtroom," 88 Cornell Law Review 257 (2003). This is a series of articles in the Cornell Law Review stemming from a symposium focusing on the role that victims play in capital cases. The journal provides a close legal examination of victim impact statements and related research, expert analysis of state statutes, and an analysis of what role these statements should play in capital trials.

    Vivian Berger, "Payne and suffering - a personal reflection and a victim-centered critique," 20 Florida State University Law Review 21 (1992).

    See also Studies, top.


    Statement of Rep. Renny Cushing, a member of New Hampshire's Death Penalty Study Commission, Dec. 1, 2010, upon release of the Commission's report.

    Carolyn Leming and Vicki Schieber "Why Two Mothers Back Death Penalty Repeal" The Gazette, Feb. 16, 2007: This article talks about the tension between protecting the innocent on the one hand and dragging the process out for victims' families on the other, and how those two can't be reconciled.

    Vincent Lupo, "Gray Rules Guillory May Ask For Mercy," American, May 9, 2003. - This article focuses on Lorilei Guillory, the mother of a 6-year-old Iowa boy murdered 11 years ago. Guillory wantsto be allowed to ask jurors for mercy for the man who allegedly molested and killed her child. Judge Al Gray said he will allow Guillory "to testify and ask for mercy if she wishes" during any penalty phase, but prosecutors are appealing the decision ot the Louisiana Supreme Court. Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation filed an amicus curiae brief in the Louisiana Supreme Court in support of Lorilei Guillory's effort to testify in the penalty phase of the trial of the man who murdered her 6 year old son Jeremy and to express her opposition to the execution of her son's murderer. Read the brief.


    NPR: STORYCORPS: Recording America "Father Finds Peace in Forgiveness" - Hector Black's daughter was murdered after she surprised an intruder in her Atlanta home. In this powerful recording, Black discusses how he found peace in forgiving the man who murdered his child.

    Related Web Sites

    National Center for Victims of Crime - support hotline to speak with victim advocates, receive referrals to support services.

    National Organization for Victim Assistance - promotes victim rights and services through national advocacy, direct services to victims and assistance to professional collegues.

    Office for Victims of Crime - oversees diverse programs that benefit victims of crime.

    Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Alliance - provides educational resources to those at risk of developing PTSD.

    Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation - a national organization comprised of family members of murder victims and family members of those who have been executed. Advocates alternatives to the death penalty, crime prevention programs and supports programs to address the needs of victims of violence.

    Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights - is an organization with a national and international focus actively working to abolish the death penalty. MVFHR members are murder victims' family members and family members of the executed who are opposed to killing in all cases whether it be homicide, state killing, or extrajudicial killings and "disappearances."

    Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing - is an organization led by murder victim family members joined by death row family members, family members of the executed, the exonerated, and others with stories to tell, that conducts public education speaking tours and addresses alternatives to the death penalty.

    California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty - is a coalition of families, friends, and loved ones of murder victims who oppose the death penalty. The coalition supports families, friends, and loved ones in telling their stories and being heard.

    Victim Offender Mediation Association - provides resources, training, and technical assistance in victim-offender mediation, conferencing, circles, and related restorative justice practices.

    Campaign for Equity-Restorative Justice

    Illinois Victims - support for victims of crime in Illinois

    New York Victim Voices - Family & Friends of Homicide Victims come together to share experiences, knowledge and peaceful strategies to foster a safer, stronger community.

    Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, Inc. (FOHVAMP) - is a nonprofit organization working in Colorado to find, support and empower families suffering from a loved one's murder or long-time disappearance.

    Lamp of Hope Project - project started by Texas death row inmates aiming to educate the public about alternatives to the death penalty, and support the families of victims and of prisoners.

    Restitution Incorporated - a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting healing between offenders and victims by helping offenders make restitution for their crimes.

    Read More 46,887 reads
    Victims and the Death Penalty


    Vindication for victims and closure for victims' families are often held out as primary reasons for supporting the death penalty.  However, many people in this community believe that another killing would not bring closure and that the death penalty is a disservice to victims.

    Legal Issues: States That Allow Victim Impact Statements

    Victims' Resources

    Studies and Reports
    Law Reviews
    Related Web Sites

    News and Developments - Current Year

    News and Developments - Previous Years (Includes the Voices of Victims):

    2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011  2010  2009  2008   2007  2006  2005  2004  2003


     Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights


    To support and aid those who are mired in the court system without voices.

    To be a national and international advocate against the death penalty as punishment for crime.

    To educate legislators and the general public about the victimizing and re-victimizing effects of the death penalty on everyone involved in the process.



    Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation


    Recruits, trains, prepares and mobilizes victims to get involved in jurisdictional campaigns.

    Develops strategy with other state-focused death penalty abolition groups.

    Testifies before legislatures and empowers other family members to testify.

    Forms alliances with other victims' groups.

    Works with policymakers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, media and victims advocates to support alternatives to the death penalty and increases awareness of the needs and voices of victims' family members.


    Read More 174,386 reads