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


Jan 16, 2024

U.S. Department of Justice Authorizes First Federal Death Penalty Case for Payton Gendron, Teen Who Killed Ten Black People in 2022

On January 12, 2024, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it will seek a death sen­tence for Payton Gendron, the then-18-year-old who killed 10 Black peo­ple at a Tops super­mar­ket in Buffalo, New York in 2022. This is the first cap­i­tal case autho­rized by Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Biden Administration’s DOJ. The announce­ment came twen­ty months after the mass shoot­ing and eleven months after Mr. Gendron pled guilty to state first degree mur­der charges and was…

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Oct 17, 2023

Victim’s Sister, Faith Leaders, and Others Plead for Clemency for Will Speer, Faith Based Coordinator on Texas’ Death Row

On Friday, October 13, the sole sur­viv­ing fam­i­ly mem­ber of mur­der vic­tim Gary L. Dickerson joined dozens of faith lead­ers and oth­ers in ask­ing the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for clemen­cy for Will Speer. Mr. Speer is set to be exe­cut­ed on October 26, 2023. After a child­hood of hor­rif­ic abuse, a life sen­tence by age 18, and a judg­ment of death by age 23, Mr. Speer devot­ed him­self to the study of Christianity and has become a promi­nent prison min­is­ter. In my heart, I feel that he is not…

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Oct 04, 2023

LA District Attorney Won’t Pursue the Death Penalty Because it Doesn’t Serve as a Deterrent” and Does Not Bring People Back”

On September 26, 2023, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced that he would not seek the death penal­ty in the case of slain Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer. If I thought that the death penal­ty was going to stop peo­ple from com­mit­ting bru­tal mur­ders, I would seek it. But we know that it won’t,” said Gascón at a news con­fer­ence, The real­i­ty is that the death penal­ty doesn’t serve as a deter­rent, and the death penal­ty does not bring peo­ple back. …What I can assure…

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Sep 07, 2023

9/​11 Victims’ Family Members, Members of Congress Urge Biden Administration to Abandon Plea Negotiations with Guantanamo Detainees

Family mem­bers of some of the vic­tims of 9/​11 have asked the Biden Administration to aban­don cur­rent plea nego­ti­a­tions with Guantánamo detainees that would remove the pos­si­bil­i­ty of death sen­tences for the men accused of plan­ning the 9/​11 ter­ror attacks. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his four co-defen­dants have been held for more than twen­ty years, first at CIA black sites where they were sub­ject to enhanced inter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques” and then at Guantánamo, but none has pro­ceed­ed to tri­al. The…

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