Victims' Families

Statements from Murder Victims' Family Members

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Anything other than death “would be a grave injustice as well as a disservice to the lives, legacies and memories of our deceased family members and to us, the immediate victim-family members that live this nightmare each and every day.”

“Additionally, we do NOT support any form of plea bargain in this case,” the letter said. “Proper justice is not about seeking revenge or retribution. Our great losses can never be repaired or remedied.”


July 2021 letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland from seven of the nine families who lost a relative in the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting (the families of Bernice and Sylvan Simon; Cecil and David Rosenthal; Daniel Stein; Richard Gottfried; Rose Mallinger; Joyce Fienberg and Melvin Wax)

“The best punishment, in my mind, would be to give the shooter a sentence and an opportunity to abjure his hateful beliefs about Jews and immigrants and work for tolerance and valuing diversity in our country.”


Beth Kissileff, wife of Rabbi Jonathan Perlman who survived the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting

“If you can’t get the death penalty for killing 17 in a school, I don’t know what you can get the death penalty for.”


Ryan Petty, father of Alaina Petty, one of the victims of the 2018 Parkland Shooting in Florida. Many victims’ family members were in support of the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz

In opposition to the execution of Nikolas Cruz: “But I would say that I have been trying to see him more as a human rather than the typical narrative that he’s a horrible person who is completely, irrecoverably bad and evil and that we must purge him from the Earth.”


Robert Schentrup, brother of Carmen, who was among those killed in the 2018 Parkland Shooting

“This man gets to sit and get his medicine for his diabetes, gets food every day and gets to go outside. And my friend is gone.”


“Somebody like him shouldn’t be able to breathe the air that we breathe. …The nightmares might end if he’s gone.”


Rhonda Whitelock, lifelong friend of Suzanne Taylor who was killed along with her two daughters by George Brinkman

In opposition to the death penalty: “When it comes to my family and myself, I want this to be over, and it’s not over.”


Instead the money could be better used for victims’ services: “We’re talking about trauma centers, we’re talking about helping people with funerary expenses, with counseling. There is a litany of services that could help all victims of crime.”


Jonathan Mann, member of Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE) and son of John who was killed by Thomas Knuff

“11,932 days ago Donald Dillbeck brutally killed our mother. We were robbed of years of memories with her and it has been very painful ever since. However, the execution has given us some closure.”


Tony and Laura Vann, children of Faye Lamb Vann who was killed by Donald Dillbeck

“One of my parents’ killers is on death row in Pennsylvania. I cannot imagine what good it would do to kill a person who is incarcerated and away from the public. No one would be made safer. However, I can think of many people who would be harmed by his death — including his innocent family members and the prison workers who would be asked to carry out his execution. Not a single person would be healed.”


Megan Smith, daughter of murder victim Terry Smith, stepdaughter of murder victim Lucy Smith, and a middle school teacher

“I don’t know if today was justice. I don’t know if today was closure. … I do know I am glad the enemy is dead. I believe this was the only way to end this nightmare my family has endured for all these years.”


Justin Wyatt, a grandson of A.J. Cantrell and Patsy Cantrell killed by Scott Eizember

“Each of us has had a loved one taken from us by homicide. At a moment none of us could have predicted or prepared for, senseless violence took from us children, parents, spouses, siblings and other loved ones. Our direct experiences with the legal system and our struggles with grief have led us all to the same conclusion: The death penalty fails victims’ families.”


North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (NCCAP) Homicide Survivor Engagement Group letter to Governor Roy Cooper (December 2022)

“To know that he will never walk this Earth again does give me a little more peace than I had yesterday, but I will never have peace knowing what he did to my brother Donnie, to Amy, to James and to Terry. He got what he deserved today.”


Shelli Milner, sister of Donnie Swindle, one of the four people killed by Gilbert Ray Postelle

“When authorities caught the person responsible a few days later, I was surprised and also relieved that one of the first things my father said to me was that he didn’t want the death penalty. We felt it would be more traumatizing to see this person put to death and to have to endure decades of legal uncertainty. We also learned that the young woman who fatally stabbed my uncle and stole his car had endured terrible trauma throughout her life. This in no way justified what she had done, but somehow, it helped me to better understand the circumstances that had led to the death of my uncle.”


Monique Normand, niece of murder victim Willie Normand and board member of the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty

“Although Donald Grant’s execution does not bring Brenda back, it allows us all to finally move forward knowing justice was served.”


Shirl Pilcher, sister of Brenda McElyea who was killed by Donald Grant.

Regarded the life sentence imposed by the court as “a much more just sentence” than the death penalty. 

In a news conference outside the courthouse, she said “this sentencing make[s] clear to all who dare to kidnap, torture, or kill any American citizen abroad that U.S. justice will find you wherever you are, and that our government will hold you accountable for your crimes against our citizens.”


Diane Foley, mother of journalist James Foley who was kidnapped and killed by Islamic State militant El Shafee Elsheikh

Regarding Mr. Taylor’s execution: “Justice was served. Now, I get a little peace.”


Gerjuan Rowe, sister of Angela Rowe on who was killed by Leonard Taylor

“I don’t relish the thought of [Fields] getting the death penalty. That’s my belief. I’d rather him get his heart straight and get life [in prison].” 


Mark Heyer, father of Heather Heyer who was killed in 2017 while protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia

“Today’s not a good day, it’s not a bad day, it’s just a new day for our family. We can finally move on. It’s not going to heal anything, but it closes this chapter.”


Mitchell Hale, son of victim Albert Hale, told reporters after attending the execution of James Coddington

“Yes, our loved one was murdered. We want the truth about what happened, and we want the killer held accountable in a way that he can’t do it again. No amount of killing is going to bring our loved one back, and we certainly don’t want the state using our pain and suffering to justify another family losing their loved one — even if they are guilty.”


LaShawn Ajamu, sister of murder victim James Nero and wife of death row exoneree Kwame Ajamu       

When asked if she wanted Mr. Owen to be executed, she replied: “Yes, without a doubt. Without a doubt. He looked into my sister’s eyes when she died, and I will look into his eyes when he dies.”


Debbi Johnson, sister of Karen Slattery who was killed by Duane Owen

“Given what I know now, I can no longer support Colorado’s broken death penalty system. What’s more, I will work to end it to ensure that our resources are better used and no family ever has to go through what my wife and I have endured.”


Bob Autobee, father of slain Colorado corrections officer Eric Autobee

“There’s monsters out there that need to be gotten rid of, that need to be put down like the dogs they are. There’s no excuse for it.” 

“I hope he rots in hell. I really do. He’s a very manipulative individual.”


William Long, father of Jennifer Long who was killed by Wesley Purkey

“Our society is conflicted about the death penalty. I recognize and respect the diversity of opinions about capital punishment among survivors of murder victims. Unlike those of many death-penalty opponents, my views are victim-centered. My opposition is not rooted in what an execution does to a condemned prisoner but in what a system that embraces the ritual killing by government employees of an incapacitated prisoner does to me–to us, as individuals and as a society.”


Renny Cushing, son of murder victim Robert Cushing, brother-in-law of murder victim Stephen McRedmond, New Hampshire state representative, and founder of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights     

Regarding Rhoades’ execution: “I wanted to watch him die.”


Marley Allen Holt, daughter of Bradley Allen killed by Rick Rhoades

“We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites. Executing James’ killers will not help balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment.”


Barbara Anderson Young, sister of murder victim James Anderson