Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty
by Ben Soesman from
Don’t Kill in Our Names presents a collection of painfully honest and detailed accounts from people who have lost a family member through murder, who have opposed and continue to oppose the imposition of the death penalty.
From the introduction, King is frank about the purpose and nature of this book. In order to put across the most persuasive argument against the death penalty, she deliberately focuses on murder cases that are not common. Stranger homicides, the ones most used in this book, account for only 14% of all murders in the U.S.
However, any charge that this book is manipulative abolitionist propaganda is washed away by the full and candid nature of the experiences that are recounted here. In each chapter King gives the reader the opportunity to hear about the family members’ pain and journey to forgiveness in their own words, often spending a large amount of time on specific and physical details of the murder that would not be out of place in a prosecutor’s closing statement. The opening chapter, “The Lost Child,” gives voice to Marietta Jaeger’s feelings of torment during the period that her seven-year-old daughter had been kidnapped, when she did not know whether she was alive or dead. The reader knows that Susie has been killed but is forced to engage in the pain felt by Marietta and her family. This highlights the full spectrum of emotions that are present in a potential capital case but are often bypassed by both sides of the death penalty debate. By including this raw emotion, including anger and vengeance, King also gives credibility to the forgiveness shown by the family members. There is no room for the rebuttal that family members somehow didn’t love the victim or that their actions were in fact a denial or repression of feelings.
King also goes to lengths to highlight how other family members, and also the state that prosecuted those responsible, have repeatedly excluded these individuals. She points to one example where Ron Carlson, the brother of murdered Debbie Thornton, writes to then Texas Governor Bush and pleads for the life of his sister’s killer to be spared. Carlson receives a standard letter from an aide, with only the phrase “I understand this matter is of great concern to you and your family” distinguishing it from others routinely sent out.
These incidents illustrate how the imposition of the death penalty is just that, an imposition by the state on both the convicted and on the family of those struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one. All here attack the notion of closure and finality that the death penalty is supposed to bring, and instead promote forgiveness as a lasting way to deal positively with the ongoing pain resulting from the loss of a loved one. Family members reinforce the notion that the pursuance of the death penalty does not benefit the families of murder victims; any correlation in sentiment between the prosecutor and family is all too often coincidental.
King has given a voice to a vital section of the death penalty debate, and this book should be required reading for both sides.
royalties go to:
Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights