Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty
Amy O'Loughlin in
King's Don't Kill is awe-inspiring
Don't Kill in Our Names is a heartening and memorable collection of stories about families who have sought justice for their loved one's killer.
"By renouncing violence and retribution (these families) have set themselves free and brought a small measure of peace to our troubled world," Rachel King writes.
In the book's 10 engrossing chapters, you grapple with distressing tales of murder and you meet extraordinary families affected by these remarkable disruptions in the natural order of things. Further, you discover how these individuals-governed by love for humanity, spirituality, and belief in reconciliation over retaliation, turned grief and loss into compassion and outreach.
Faith in the power of forgiveness is the "common thread" in Don't Kill in Our Names , and tied into that, as the book's title implies, is the death penalty. The families who relate their gut-wrenching stories share the conviction that all killing is reprehensible, whether state-sanctioned, intended criminally, or committed randomly. They believe that putting a person to death is vengeful, morally unjust, inhumane, and a disservice to victims and their families who do not desire more killing to be done in their behalf. It won't return their loved one. It does not ensure "closure," as death penalty advocates often insist it will.
Instead of wallowing in rage and allowing it to threaten their stability, these family members chose to forgive, which resulted frequently in estrangement from their families and ostracism by prosecutors and law enforcement. As King writes, "Forgiveness is not for the weak of heart. It requires hard work and a willingness to delve deeply into intense pain and grief. . [A] person can redeem an incredibly horrible experience, thereby transcending it and going on to lead a full life.
Maria Hines is someone who found new meaning in her life after her brother, Jerry Hines, a Virginia State Trooper, was killed in the line of duty. In February 1989, Dennis Eaton and Judy McDonald were on a killing rampage, trying to flee to Mexico. 'They'd stolen a car, murdered its owner and stored up a supply of drugs and alcohol for the trip. Trooper Hines stopped the car, suspicious of a drunken driver. Fearfijl that Hines would learn that the vehicle was stolen, the couple got out of the car and approached Hines. Eaton was armed, and though the facts on who actually shot Hines are disputed, two rounds were fired, killing Hines instantly. The killers, who'd made a murder suicide pact, escaped.
The couple crashed into a utility pole during a police chase. Eaton shot McDonald, then turned the gun on himself. Eaton survived. McDonald didn't. Later that year, Eaton was convicted of capital murder and sent to death row. Maria Hines didn't follow the criminal case closely. She lived in Kentucky and had recently been diagnosed with cancer. She "had no time or energy to worry about Dennis's fate." She was already opposed to capital punishment, but kept her viewpoint silent because the rest of her family favored Eaton's execution.
Then, she and her husband saw the film Dead Man Walking , and everything changed. "Watching the cold and methodical way the state prepared to kill another person convinced me that there was no difference between state-sanctioned murder and what Dennis had done to Jerry," she aid. 'I knew I could not stay on the sidelines any longer."
Maria Hines became a dedicated abolitionist and fought against Eaton's execution. She spoke at anti-death penalty rallies and testified before the state legislature to repeal capital punishment. She also arranged to meet Eaton, and during their first visit they established a "connection" based on redemption, love and faith. They prayed together. They exchanged heartfelt letters and expressions of friendship.
Despite Maria Hines' efforts, Eaton was executed in 1998.
"Although nothing can compensate for losing Jerry," she said, "I have gained much also. Perhaps the greatest gift is the sense of my own integrity for having stood up for what I believed in. but I also count among my blessings the many people whom I would never have met had this not happened. In life, there are always things lost and things gained."
In 1980, Gus Lamm and his 5-year-old daughter Audrey lost everything they loved when Randy Reeves murdered Vicki Zessin, Gus's wife and Audrey's mother, as well as another woman, Janet Mesner.
The stabbings were committed in an "alcoholic blackout," and Reeves remembered nothing. At trial, she was found guilty and according to Nebraska State law, sentenced to death.
Twenty-one years later Gus and an adult Audrey returned to Nebraska to plead for Reeve's life. Throughout the decades the two had become friends with the Mesners and the Reeves, all opponents of capital punishment. Brought together by this "interfamilial tragedy," the group devoted two months to petitioning the courts and making public speeches and appearances. The effort paid off. Reeve's death sentence was commuted to life.
Gus and Audrey wanted to meet the man for whom they'd struggled to keep alive, the man who murdered the most important woman in their lives. After their visit, Gus stated to Audrey that Reeves didn't seem like a murderer. Audrey replied, "'Well...Dad, he was only a murderer for one night of his life.'"
If you pause and seriously consider what this kind of forgiveness means and what it involves, it's staggering to think that these families have attained such a state of grace.
It would seem an impossible task for the grandson whose grandmother was stabbed 33 times (Bill Pelke, Chapter 4), for the sister whose pregnant sister and brother-in-law were murdered by a 16-year-old boy with a .357 magnum (Jennifer Bishop, Chapter 5), for the mother whose 7-year-old daughter was kidnapped and killed by a multiple-murderer (Marietta Jaeger, Chapter 1), for the daughter who witnessed her father's slaying, as well as being severely injured herself (SueZann Bosler, Chapter 6), for the father whose 19-year-old son was ambushed by a street gang when delivering pizza (Azim Khamisa, Chapter 10).
Don't Kill in Our Names is nothing less than awe-inspiring.
royalties go to:
Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights