NEW VOICES: A Mother Shares Her Grief and Joins the Call for Mercy

When Vicki Schieber's (pictured) daughter, Shannon, was murdered in Philadelphia in 1998, she and her family felt enormous grief.  "Losing a loved one to murder," she recently wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. At first, my husband and I didn't know how we could go on with our lives."  Nevertheless, because of their beliefs, "we did not want the man who murdered our daughter to be put to death."  Now she is speaking out in support of Mamie Norwood, whose husband was killed by Terrance Williams, a Pennsylvania death row inmate who is facing execution on October 3.  Norwood, like Schieber, opposes the killing of the man who caused her loss.  She wrote to the governor: "I wish to see his life spared."  Vicki Schieber's opposition to the death penalty was not well received at first: "When our preference for a sentence of life in prison was made public, many wondered whether our wishes should be honored. The district attorney even publicly questioned our emotional health."  She hoped for a better reaction from Philadelphia officials this time for Mrs. Norwood: "The governor and others must respect her wishes for the man who killed her husband and allow her to retain the peace she has found."  Read full op-ed below.

A victim's plea for mercy
by Vicki Schieber

Many have come forward with concerns about the execution of Terrance Williams, which is to take place Oct. 3 unless his sentence is commuted. One objection in particular should be given great weight: that of Mamie Norwood, the widow of the man Williams killed in 1984.

I know what it means to lose someone you love to violence. In 1998, my beautiful daughter, Shannon, was murdered in Philadelphia. Shannon was a brilliant young woman and a student at the Wharton School. Every year that passes is full of reminders of what she might have become if not for an act of brutal, senseless violence.

Losing a loved one to murder is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. At first, my husband and I didn't know how we could go on with our lives. In the years since, working as an advocate for others affected by violent crime, I have learned that this is not unusual among victims' families. Many experience a similar cycle of emotions, from confusion and despair to anger and, for the lucky ones, some kind of peace, acceptance, and ability to continue living productive lives.

For my husband and me, our lifelong Catholic faith was the cornerstone of our ability to heal. All Christian faiths are based on humility before God and kindness to others. We are commanded to follow the Lord's Prayer, asking God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." And because of our beliefs, we did not want the man who murdered our daughter to be put to death.

Shannon's murderer was known as the "Center City rapist." In addition to the murder of our daughter, he was ultimately charged with 13 sexual assaults in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

When our preference for a sentence of life in prison was made public, many wondered whether our wishes should be honored. The district attorney even publicly questioned our emotional health. This disrespect for a victim's family was an unexpected and very painful blow at a time when we were struggling to heal from the loss we had suffered.

I pray that Mamie Norwood gets more respect than we did. She is, like us, a person of faith. She has sent the state Board of Pardons and Gov. Corbett a statement expressing strong opposition to Williams' execution:

"I was angry and resentful towards Mr. Williams for many years," she wrote. "But then several years ago I accepted that my husband's death at the hands of Terry Williams could not be changed. ... I realized that I had to find a way to heal and live a happy and peaceful life. I realized that the only way I could do that was to forgive Terry Williams for what he did.

"Several years ago, after much prayer and self-reflection, I found the strength and courage to forgive Terry Williams. ... I am at peace with my decision to forgive him and have been for many years. I wish to see his life spared."

Our justice system exists to ensure the safety of citizens and to provide some measure of fairness for those affected by crime. Terrance Williams is not a threat to the public if he serves a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

After public safety concerns, Mamie Norwood's well-being should be the next priority. The governor and others must respect her wishes for the man who killed her husband and allow her to retain the peace she has found.

Vicki Schieber serves on the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment.

(V. Schieber, "A victim's plea for mercy," Philadelphia Inquirer, op-ed, September 14, 2012).  Pennsylvania's Pardons Board voted 3-2 in favor of clemency, but a unanimous recommendation is needed for the governor to commute Williams' death sentence.  Further legal challenges are under way.  See Victims.  Listen to DPIC's podcast on Victims.  See also New Voices.