Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation Releases Juvenile Report

On December 17, 2003, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation released a report regarding the perspectives of family members on the juvenile death penalty: “I Don’t Want Another Kid to Die.” The report opens a window into murder victims’ families struggles with the death penalty in general, and more specifically, how the issue changes when the defendant is a juvenile.

Bill Cosby Addresses Capital Punishment During “Larry King Live” Appearance

During a recent appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” comedian Bill Cosby addressed capital punishment and his experience as the father of a murdered child. Cosby noted:

Cosby: And when they said, ‘Do you want, you know, the death penalty?’ My wife was the first one. She said no. No, it’s not for us to deal with the obvious. And my thought was, ‘Hey man. They could poison, they could strap 1,000 of these people in the chair.

King: Isn’t going to bring him back. ( Transcripts, December 10, 2003) See New Voices.

View the video clip of the interview (requires QuickTime).

Victim’s Son Awarded Scholarship from Prisoners on Death Row

Two years after Brandon Biggs first expressed forgiveness for Chante Mallard, the woman who killed his father in a nationally-publicized Texas murder, he has received a $10,000 college scholarship from prisoners on death row. The scholarship is funded through advertising and subscriptions to “Compassion,” a two-year-old newsletter edited by and featuring articles by death row inmates across the nation. Biggs, whose father was struck by a car on a Fort Worth highway and left to bleed to death, is the third murder victims’ family member to earn the award. During Mallard’s trial, Biggs expressed his forgiveness and told her family, “There’s no winners in a case like this. Just as we all lost Greg (Biggs’s father), you will be losing your daughter.” During the scholarship presentation, he added, “If love is what makes the world go round, compassion makes it sincere.” Mallard is serving 50 years in prison for the murder, and Biggs is a pastoral ministries sophomore at Southwest Assemblies of God University in Texas. (New York Times, October 23, 2003)

Judge Imposes Life Sentence for Victims’ Sake

Baltimore County Judge Dana M. Levitz recently sentenced a man convicted of murder to two life terms without parole, in part because of its possible effects on the victims’ families. Levitz said, “The devastating effect that this unending litigation has on the innocent families of the victims is incalculable. By imposing a death sentence, I ensure that the victim’s families will be subjected to many more years of appeals.” Family members also noted that the decision gave them the peace of mind they have been searching for. A sister of the victim noted, “I’m pleased with the sentence because I think I might get some closure from this. I didn’t want him out on the street anymore, but killing him wasn’t the answer either.” (Baltimore Sun, July 26, 2003). See Life Without Parole.

Restorative Justice and the Death Penalty: Exploring the Human Costs, A Conference Sponsored by the Duke Death Penalty Clinic, the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and People of Faith Against the Death Penalty.
December 6, 2003 from 8:30am to 5:45pm, with an optional Dinner and Workshop, 6:00 ? 8:00.

This conference will bring together those affected by murder and by capital punishment in order to understand the trauma caused by murder, death sentences and executions and to explore the possibilities for healing and peace offered by restorative justice. If you have been touched in any way by a capital murder case or are interested in helping those who have been so touched, this conference is for you!
The conference will begin with a tutorial on restorative justice and its potential in capital cases. This session will be followed by a series of panels during which attendees will hear the stories of devastation and struggle for recovery experienced by family members of murder victims, by family members of offenders, and by professionals who work in the capital punishment system. The day will include lunch and a keynote address by David Crabtree, Anchor and Reporter at WRAL.
Attendees will not be mere passive listeners, however. There will be breakout sessions in which speakers and attendees will explore the needs of the affected communities and the concrete actions that might be taken. In these sessions, all will have the opportunity to share their experiences and ideas in a setting of acceptance and respect.
At the end of the day, there will be an optional dinner and workshop for participants interested in exploring mindfulness practices that promote healing from stress and trauma.
The hope for those attending the conference is that they will find community with one another and that they will leave with information helpful to themselves and/or to others. Those interested will have the opportunity to be included in a network of persons committed to the development of capital restorative justice initiatives in North Carolina.
The conference will be held at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Durham, North Carolina. Travel scholarships for family members of murder victims and of capital offenders will be available. Additional information is forthcoming. In the meantime, for more information or if you would like to fund a scholarship, you may contact Cindy Adcock at or 919.613.7203.

Mother of 6-year-old Victim Wants to be Allowed to Ask Jurors For Mercy For the Man Who Allegedly Molested and Killed her Son. See Vincent’ Lupo, “Gray Rules Guillory May Ask For Mercy,” American, May 9, 2003.

Murder Victim’s Mother Speaks Out Against Death Penalty

When Aba Gayle’s 19-year-old daughter was murdered in 1980, she found herself seeking revenge and consumed by bitterness. Although the district attorney assured her that she would feel better when the murderer was convicted and, in turn, executed, Gayle was not convinced that the death penalty would quell her anger and lead to the healing she desired. Today, Gayle shares her story with the public and speaks out against the death penalty. “I knew that I didn’t need the State of California to murder another human being so I could be healed, ” she notes. “It’s time to stop teaching people to hate and start teaching people to love. The whole execution as closure idea is not realistic.” A member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, Gayle states, “Anger is just a horrible thing to do to your body. Not to mention what it does to your soul and spirit. Forgiveness is not saying what he did was right - it’s taking back your power.” (Silverton Appeal Tribune, March 12, 2003)

Murder Victims’ Families Ask Gov. Ryan to Grant Clemency Requests

Members of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation are urging Governor George Ryan of Illinois to grant the clemency petitions of more than 150 inmates on the state’s death row. The organization, comprised of murder victims’ families who oppose capital punishment, will host an event to show victim support for the clemency requests on Sunday, December 8, at Loyola University School of Law. The event will feature speakers such as Ross Byrd, Jr., Mamie Till Mobley, Bud Welch, Jennifer Bishop, and Illinois death row exoneree Gary Gauger. For more information about the speakers and this event, see MVFR’s Press Release.
On December 15, an historic gathering of many of those who have been freed from death rows around the country in the past 25 years will be held at Northwestern University Law School in Chicago. See Center on Wrongful Convictions.

Victims’ Family Members, Prosecutors Agree to Not Seek Death Penalty

Several Utah death penalty cases were recently resolved short of trial after victims’ families agreed with prosecutors to not seek the death penalty. Some family members believed that execution was too quick and too easy a punishment, and some were exhausted by pre-trial hearings and wanted to move on with their lives. Others expressed forgiveness and compassion for the defendant and his family. Salt Lake District Attorney David Yocom noted that families have a large stake in the outcome of cases because those that go to trial will require the families’ “personal involvement through who knows how many years of appeals.” Deputy Salt Lake District Attorney Robert Stott believes the ability to sentence a capital murder defendant to life without the possibility of parole has made it easier to resolve cases short of trial. “If families are assured they (the defendant) will never get out, it seems much more appropriate a penalty,” he said. Since Utah added the sentencing option of life without parole in 1992, only 5 defendants have been sentenced to death. (Associated Press, September 30, 2002)

Byrd Son Fights for Life of Father’s Murderer

Ross Byrd - son of James Byrd, Jr., a black man whose racially motivated 1998 dragging death in Texas drew national attention - is fighting to commute the death sentence of his father’s murderer to a sentence of life in prison without parole. Ross Byrd initially supported the death sentence of John W. “Bill” King, but recently joined dozens of anti-death penalty activists to hold a 24-hour fast and vigil at the Huntsville prison where King is awaiting his execution. “When I heard King had exhausted his appeals, I began thinking, ‘How can this help me or solve my pain?’ and I realized that it couldn’t,” said Ross Byrd before the vigil. A date has not been set for King’s execution. (Houston Chronicle, July 4, 2002).

September 11th

In a letter to the New York Times, Orlando and Phyllis Rodriguez, whose son Greg died in the terrorist attacks on September 11, expressed their opposition to the death penalty:

We can understand why victims’ families would look to the death penalty as a justifiable punishment for convicted terrorists, but we feel that it is wrong to take a life. Nothing will erase the pain and loss that we must learn to live with, and causing others pain can only make it worse… .
If any good can come out of the disaster of Sept. 11, perhaps it will include examination of how we can maintain our humanity in the face of terrorists’ threats.

(New York Times, letter to the editor, 1/4/02)

Louisiana Victims’ Group Supports State Funding for Death Row Appeals

Victims’ advocates in Louisiana want the state to adequately finance capital post-conviction appeals, saying that a sloppy legal process only drags out the appeals. “It doesn’t do the victim…any good to have someone who is not guilty convicted or even a guilty person convicted with an improper trial,” said Sandy Krasnoff, director of Victims and Citizens Against Crime. Currently, 14 of the men on Louisiana’s death row are without attorneys. (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 8/20/01)

Father of Oklahoma City Bombing Victim Reflects on the Death Penalty

“Before my daughter Julie Marie was killed in the Murrah Building [in Oklahoma City], April 19, 1995, I was like most people; I didn’t give the death penalty too much thought. But I can tell you that it is a very important issue to me now… . Vengeance is a strong, and natural human emotion. But it has no place in our justice system… . I ask each of you to reconsider your position. If you really care about victims and their families, then please tell the public the truth about the death penalty and invest your time and energy in alternatives that might truly reduce violence.”
—Letter from Bud Welch to the California gubernatorial candidates (1998). The entire letter will be published in the July,1998 issue of The Champion. (For more reflections from family members, see family statements.)

Daughter of Texas Murder Victim Says “Execution is not the solution”

“‘YOU’D feel differently if it happened to someone in your family,’ is a remark I often hear. Many people see the pain of the family members left behind by murder and think that executing the murderer will help them heal. As the daughter of a woman who was murdered right here in Harris County, (Texas) I would like to say that execution is not the solution.”
-Celeste Dixon (Houston Chronicle, 5/29/98).

Sister of Murder Victim Speaks Out Against Execution

“Bad news was waiting for Maria Hines when she awoke Feb. 21, 1989. Her only sibling, a Virginia state trooper, had been shot to death the night before in a murder spree that took four lives. The killer, Dennis Wayne Eaton, is now confined to the warrens of death row. Maria Hines met him there last weekend, inside the concrete walls, steel bars and razor wire of the Mecklenburg Correctional Center. She wants to save his life… . ‘I believe that killing is wrong, no matter whether it’s done by an individual or whether it’s done by the state,’ said Hines.” (F. Green, Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 31, 1998). (Eaton was executed in Virginia on June 18, 1998).

Father of Murder Victim Testifies Against the Death Penalty

The death penalty is often cited as necessary to bring solace to the family of a murder victim. In Randolph Reeves’ case, one of the victims, Janet Mesner, and her family are Quakers. They are opposed to the death penalty under any circumstances and opposed to the execution of Randy Reeves. Mary Werner, a cousin to Mesner, recently told 10/11 News (Lincoln, NE) that Reeves’ execution “wouldn’t promote healing. It doesn’t make me feel any better about Janet’s death that Randy might be executed. I think it’s bad for the state to do that. I think it diminishes us as a state [and] a civilization to do that.”
In testimony to the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on February 5th, 1985, Ken Mesner, Janet’s father said:

“I was born and raised in the belief that violence is not an acceptable method of solving the problems that arise in our daily lives . . . The fact that my daughter, Janet, was a victim of a murder has not changed that belief … The use of the death penalty only lowers the standards of government to the mentality of the murderer himself, who may [have thought] at the moment of the murder that his life will benefit by the death of another …” - from Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty.

Father of Murder Victim Responds to Idea of “Closure” in Supreme Court Ruling

Lorry W. Post, the father of a murder victim, responded to a recent Supreme Court ruling. The Court, in Calderon v. Thompson, had written that “[o]nly with an assurance of real finality can the State execute its moral judgment and can victims of crime move forward knowing the moral judgment will be carried out.” Mr. Post disagreed: “How dare the court speak for me, my family and my murdered daughter…” Mr. Post takes the Court to task for “talking about their brand of morality and their versions of victims’ wishes.” In concluding his letter, Mr. Post requests “that judges and prosecutors and politicians cease and desist in their politicizing about victims’ families who need ‘closure’ to move on….” (letter to the editor, Washington Post, 5/19/98).

New Hampshire State Representative and Son of Murder Victim Asks Colleagues to Abolish the Death Penalty

Another voice among victims’ families was that of New Hampshire State Representative Robert Renny Cushing. He spoke before his colleagues in the New Hampshire House on March 12, 1998. As an opponent of the death penalty and the son of a murder victim, Representative Cushing told the horrifying story of his father’s murder, his family’s pain and his own unwavering beliefs.”If we let those who murder turn us to murder, it gives over more power to those who do evil. We become what we abhor.” Representative Cushing emphasized the need of victims for healing and forgiveness, asking his colleagues to abolish the death penalty “because if the state kills them, that forever forecloses the possibility that those of us who are victims might be able to figure out how to forgive.”