Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Families of homicide victims, executed face similar ef fects

By Kiah Collier
The Daily Texan

Surviving family members of homicide victims and of those who have been executed by the state suffer similar psychological consequences, according to a report released Sunday by Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, an anti-death penalty group.

The report, titled "Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind," is based on interviews with three dozen family members of people who have been executed across the nation and recommends that the 2005 United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution condemning the death penalty be adopted in the United States. The report said this ruling should be the basis for giving family members of the executed the same rights as victims of violent crime.

"The report shows that the dramatic consequences suffered by family members of those executed are really more similar to than different from the traumatic experience of having a family member murdered," said Susannah Sheffer, a member of the human rights group.

Hooman Hedayati, Longhorns Against the Death Penalty president and pre-computer sciences sophomore, said the report shows that the death penalty perpetuates a cycle of violence.

"It also shows that the death penalty will not bring the healing and reconciliation that were promised to the murder victim family members," he said.

An organizing board member of the human rights group and contributor to the report Robert Meeropol, was 6 years old in 1953 when his parents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for "conspiracy to commit espionage." Meeropol contributed the issue of the impact of state execution on children.

"No one has studied how the execution of an immediate family member impacts children," Meeropol said in the report. "We don't know the effect that having a parent executed will have upon their impressionable lives and the cost society may pay for that impact."

Many see the death penalty as "collateral damage" to families of the executed.

The report offers a list of recommendations for reform including a suggestion to lawmakers to give legal rights to families of the executed in order to provide financial help with paying for medical care, mental health services and funerals after the execution of a family member.

"If our real concern is justice, then we should focus on building the kind of social support network that would give people the opportunity and resources they need to establish a life where they could contribute to society instead of committing these violent acts," said Stefanie Collins, a UT law student and member of the UT Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

The nation is divided on the issue of the death penalty, with about a 50-50 split among respondents when asked whether they generally prefer the death penalty or mandatory life imprisonment for murderers, according to a July ABC News/Washington Post poll.

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