Policy Issues

Victims’ Families

Murder victims’ families hold a variety of views on the death penalty. Studies suggest the death penalty does not bring closure and interferes with their healing process.


Tragically, every capital murder case involves at least one deceased victim. 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 circumstance believe that another killing would not bring closure and that the death penalty is a disservice to victims.

The families and associates of the victims (sometimes called “covictims”) can play a key role in how a case proceeds in the courts. The prosecution may consult with the families on whether to seek the death penalty or to accept a plea to a lesser sentence. If death is pursued, family members may be asked to testify at the sentencing phase to describe the impact the murder has had on their own lives. Victims’ families often speak at legislative hearings on the death penalty, both in favor of and in opposition to a death penalty statute.

Statistically, the race of the victim can be relevant to the issues of arbitrary application and racial discrimination in the death penalty. Studies have shown that death cases disproportionately involve white victims in the underlying murder.

The Issue

Victims’ family members who oppose the death penalty are sometimes ignored if the prosecution is intent on seeking the most extreme punishment. In addition, victim impact statements at sentencing proceedings can be so dramatic and powerful as to overwhelm any mitigating factors presented about the defendant’s life history.

What DPIC Offers

DPIC keeps track of the race and gender of all victims in cases where there has been an execution. The voices of victims’ families are highlighted as offering an important and unique perspective on the death penalty.

News & Developments

Victims' Families

May 30, 2023

Victims’ Families are Divided Over Death Penalty as Bowers Trial Begins

On May 25, 2023, 12 death-qual­i­fied jurors and six alter­nates were select­ed in the fed­er­al cap­i­tal tri­al of Robert Bowers, who is charged with killing 11 wor­ship­pers at a Pittsburgh syn­a­gogue in 2018. Prosecutors struck all the Black, Hispanic, an…