Saturday, December 01, 2007

Murder Victims' Families Speak Out Against the Death Penalty

As an anti-death penalty activist one of the questions that I often hear is "If one of your loved ones was murdered. Do you still support the death penalty?" It is hard to answer this question since I have never been in that situation. However, I can always point out to many Murder Victim' Families that decided not support the death penalty such as Marietta Jaeger, Ron Carlson, Bill Pelke and George White. These video clips are taken from the documentary "Step By Step A Journey of Hope" produced by Micki Dickoff.

Marietta Jaeger's daughter Susie was abducted at the age of seven during a family camping trip in Montana. For over a year afterwards, the family knew nothing of Susie's whereabouts. Shortly before the one-year anniversary of Susie's disappearance, Marietta stated to the press that she wanted to speak with the person who had taken her child. On the anniversary date, she received a call from a young man who taunted her by asking, "So what do you want to talk to me about?"

During the year following Susie's disappearance, Marietta had struggled to balance her rage against her belief in the need for forgiveness. Her immediate response to the young man was to ask how he was feeling, since his actions must have placed a heavy burden on his soul. Her caring words disarmed him, and he broke down in tears on the phone. He subsequently spoke with Marietta for over an hour, revealing details about himself and the crime that ultimately allowed the FBI to solve the case.

Marietta was to learn that Susie had been killed on a remote Montana ranch a week after she disappeared. Despite her family's tragedy, she remains committed to forgiveness and has been an ardent opponent of the death penalty for the over 25 years since Susie's death.

Ron Carlson's sister, Deborah Ruth Carlson Davis Thornton, and Jerry Lynn Dean were murdered with a pick ax by Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Ryan Garrett on June 13, 1983. Both Tucker and Garrett were sentenced to death. Ron originally supported their sentences, telling the prosecutors, "I think they got what they deserved." Ron lost his stepfather and natural father within a year of Deborah's death. "You can't imagine the anger that was in this body," he says now. For many years, Ron treated his pain with alcohol and drugs, until becoming a Christian and turning his life "over to the Lord" in 1990. Ron ultimately forgave Karla and Dan and worked hard to commute their death sentences.

Dan died in prison of natural causes in 1993. Despite widespread appeals on her behalf, Karla Faye Tucker was executed on February 3,1998, in Huntsville, Texas. Ron was invited by Karla to witness the execution as one of her representatives. When he did so, he become the first known victim's family member to witness an execution on behalf of the murderer. Ron's decision caused rifts within his family that remain to be healed. But most family members still offer their love and support. And Ron knows he made the right decision. "I drew strength from the Lord, and I knew he was here. God reached out of heaven to hold us in his hands and cradle us with his love and compassion. Karla died with a smile on her face. They took her body, but they didn't kill her spirit."

Bill Pelke's 78 - year - old grandmother Ruth, taught Bible lessons to neighborhood children in Gary, Indiana. One day, May 14th, 1985, four ninth grade girls from the local high school come to her door asking about the lessons, and she invited them into her home. As she turned to get information for them, one grabbed a vase and hit her over the head. Another pulled a knife out of her purse and began to stab her. Ruth was stabbed a total of 33 times. While one of the girls held the knife inside her, the others ransacked her house. They ended up with $10.00 and her ten-year-old car.

A year later, one of the girls, Paula Cooper, was sentenced to death for the crime. She had been 15 when the murder occurred, and at 16 became the youngest female on death row in America. Originally supportive of Paula's death sentence, Bill eventually forgave Paula, began corresponding and visiting with her, and worked to overturn her sentence. She is now serving 60 years in prison. Bill recently retired after over 30 years of service with Bethlehem Steel and plans to devote his retirement to abolishing the death penalty. He recently purchased a tour bus to travel across the country and spread the message of forgiveness and hope.

On February 27, 1985, the White family experienced first-hand the insanity and horror of murder. George and his wife Charlene were shot repeatedly by an armed robber at his place of business in Enterprise, Alabama. George held Charlene in his arms as her life slipped away. Their children, Tom and Christie, were only 12 and 5 at the time. The nightmare had just begun. Sixteen months later, George was charged with murdering his wife. Following a capital murder trial that was later described as "a mockery and a sham", George was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was overturned in 1989 and he was released from prison, but George remained in legal limbo until 1992, when proof of his innocence was finally brought forward. Following a brief hearing the trial court ordered the charge against him forevermore dismissed. The nightmare had lasted more than seven years...had the State of Alabama had its way, George White would be a dead man today.

Understanding fully how easy it is to become advocates for revenge, the White family, however, rejects the death penalty as a solution and as way of healing the wounds of their loss.

No comments: