Victims

VICTIMS: Troubling Aspects of the Death Penalty

In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, a victim's family member in Missouri described her mixed feelings about the death penalty and the executions that have occurred there. Laura Friedman wrote, "Death penalty supporters talk of closure. That may work as a matter of process — execution rids the state and the justice system of any further involvement — but it is much more complicated for families of victims. Each envelope from the Department of Corrections, each anniversary when the crime is recounted in the paper, every discussion about the death penalty on TV — those are reopenings, not closings." Friedman said many aspects of the death penalty were disturbing: "I am troubled by the number of minorities on death row (more than half), by the preponderance of whites among their victims (about 80 percent, even though blacks and whites are victims in roughly equal numbers). I am troubled by the evidence that juries and judges make unconscionable mistakes (144 death-row inmates exonerated since 1973). And I am troubled by the pretense of execution as a medical procedure: As drug makers and medical personnel back away from participating in lethal injections, states are experimenting on condemned men with untested drug combinations and inadequately trained personnel while concealing the source, skills and methods used." She concluded with the uncertain hope that the process "will finally bring an end to killing in our lives."

NEW VOICES: Former Oklahoma Warden Says Death Penalty Fails on Many Fronts

Randy Workman (pictured) is a former warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, where he oversaw 32 executions. In a recent interview, he was critical of many aspects of capital punishment. He said the death penalty failed the victims' families and wasted money: "We spend millions of dollars on these cases and going through the process and the end result is the family, do they feel vindicated? I’d say 90% of the time the people I’ve seen don’t." He shared the advice he gave to a murder victim's mother (a relative) who asked for his thoughts on whether to seek the death penalty: "I said here’s the deal, if you get the death penalty and you[’re] successful, you're going to spend the next eight to 12 years back and forth in court and you’re going to relive your son’s death, because he has all these appeals....I’ve seen some mothers that had some serious broken hearts that said this doesn’t end it for me.This isn’t justice to me. This doesn’t do it.” He also said the threat of execution does not deter people from committing murder: “I can tell you the people that I’ve executed, when they committed crimes, they didn’t, wasn’t thinking about the death penalty and a lot of them were high, or a lot of them in the generation of people we’re dealing with today don’t have a lot of forethought about the end result.” Workman said he still supported the death penalty, but would not want to "push the button" on the chance the defendant might be innocent: "I would never take that chance with my life,” he said.

New Hampshire House About to Vote on Death Penalty Repeal

UPDATE: The repeal bill passed the House 225-104 on March 12. On April 17, the Senate voted 12-12 and then tabled the bill. The New Hampshire House of Representatives has scheduled a vote on repealing the death penalty for March 12. The bill, HB 1170, would replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole for future offenses. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House Criminal Justice and Public Works Committee in February by a vote of 14-3, including supportive votes from several legislators who had previously opposed repeal. Six other states in the past six years have ended the death penalty. Rep. Renny Cushing, the sponsor of the bill, said "The death penalty does not protect public safety, it does not shield our police officers, it does not meet the needs of many families of murder victims, it is not consistent with the values we hear from our religious leaders...those who commit first-degree murder will spend the rest of their lives in prison with no chance for parole." A death penalty repeal bill passed the legislature in 2000, but was vetoed by the governor. The current governor, Maggie Hassan, opposes the death penalty. New Hampshire has not had an execution since 1939 and has only one person on death row. 

Controversial Colorado Case Ends With a Plea and Life Sentence

Edward Montour, the defendant accused of killing correctional officer Eric Autobee (pictured) in a Colorado prison, agreed to plead guilty on March 6 to first degree murder in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. Autobee's family had opposed the prosecution's decision to seek the death penalty for Montour, standing in witness in front of the courthouse during jury selection, and asking the judge to allow them to testify at the trial. Montour pled guilty to the crime in 2003 and was sentenced to death by a judge, but his conviction was overturned when an appellate court ruled the jury needed to be involved in sentencing to death. At his second trial, Montour initially pled not guilty by reason of insanity, arguing that he was wrongfully convicted of the crime that first put him in prison, and that his mental illness had gotten worse in prison. Montour was serving a life sentence for killing his 11-week-old daughter, though evidence recently emerged indicating she might have died from an accident.

Victim's Family Opposed to Death Penalty Meets Resistance from Colorado Prosecutor

The parents of a slain corrections officer in Colorado have asked to testify in opposition to a death sentence for their son's alleged killer, but prosecutors have challenged their right to intervene. Eric Autobee's (pictured) parents say that their son "would not have wanted someone killed in his name." Prosecutors maintain Colorado law only allows victim impact statements to discuss the harm that resulted from the crime. The Autobees, in a court filing quoting Colorado law, argue that a victim has the right "to adequately and reasonably express his or her views' regarding 'the type of sentence which should be imposed by the court.'" (emphasis in original). Kate Lowenstein of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights agreed, "Disagreeing with the prosecutor – opposing the death penalty when the prosecutor is seeking a death sentence – should not mean that you are silenced."

NEW VOICES: Victims' Family Members Show Opposition to Death Penalty at Colorado Trial

Family members of murder victims gathered outside a courthouse in Castle Rock, Colorado, in support of Robert Autobee, whose son was murdered, but who opposes the death penalty for the perpetrator. Inside the courthouse, jury selection was underway in the trial of Edward Montour, who is accused of murdering correctional officer Eric Autobee (pictured), Robert's son. Montour originally pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death, but his conviction was overturned, and he has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The District Attorney intends to seek the death penalty if Montour is convicted. Among those joining Autobee outside the court was Tim Ricard--whose wife was also a prison guard killed by an inmate--and a relative of a woman killed by Nathan Dunlap, an inmate on Colorado's death row. Ricard said, "I know my wife wouldn’t want somebody killed." In a recent meeting between Robert Autobee and Montour, Autobee told Montour, “It’s a time for forgiving, and it’s a time to move on." Montour replied, "I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain I caused you and your family for killing your son.”

Stories From Families of Murdered Law Enforcement Officers

A new report from Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights collects the stories of families who have had a loved one murdered who was in law enforcement. The families discuss the pressure they faced to demand the death penalty as punishment, their efforts to prevent more violence, and their evolving views on the death penalty. Kathy Dillon, whose father was murdered in 1974 while on duty as a New York State Trooper, said, "[I]n the case of my father’s murder, the death penalty was in place in New York State, but it didn’t protect him that day." Neely Goen, whose father was a Kansas State Trooper who was killed in 1978, wrote about the toll the death penalty system takes on victims' families: "We already have been through enough. We deserve better than a system that forces us to go through long trials and endless appeals. The death penalty focuses an incredible amount of attention on the killers, which makes victims’ families relive the painful details of a murder over and over." 

New Hampshire Legislator to Introduce Repeal Bill

On October 24, New Hampshire state representative Renny Cushing (pictured) will introduce a bill to repeal the state's death penalty. In addition to a bi-partisan group of co-sponsors, Cushing will be joined by Judge Walter Murphy--a former chief justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court and chair of the New Hampshire Death Penalty Study Commission; Ray Dodge--a former police chief; Bishop Peter Libasci--of the Catholic Diocese of Manchester; and Nancy Filiault--a murder victim family member. Cushing, whose father was murdered in 1988, is also the Executive Director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. In 2000, legislators voted to repeal the death penalty, but then-governor Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the bill. In 2009, the House also passed a repeal bill. New Hampshire has not had an execution since 1939. New Hampshire's current governor, Maggie Hassan, has said she would sign a repeal bill.

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