As a prosecutor I have worked closely with, and have come to care greatly for, the victims of crime. It is one of my responsibilities to ensure that the needs of all victims are taken care of – that they are informed, present and heard – and that no further harm is done to them.
Ironically, imposing the death penalty often causes additional damage to the families who survive the murder of a loved one. Concern for these families is a compelling reason to oppose the death penalty. George Kain, Police Commissioner in Ridgefield, Connecticut, said it best as he called on each of us “to listen to how victims’ family members have been affected by homicide, to learn what types of support have helped them in their pain and grief, and to work on providing them with the support they need.” The death penalty can cause divisiveness in relationships among surviving victims. Members of the same family may have different opinions about the proper sentence for an offender convicted of murdering their loved one. At a time when family members need the emotional support of one another the most, capital punishment can drive a wedge between them – families that should be focused on comforting one another are now at odds with one another. In cases where multiple people have been murdered, the emotions can be bitter between and among the families that survive. All too often one family may want the death penalty to be imposed, while another family may not. Instead of receiving consolation from one another and focusing on their healing, the families of those who have been murdered can find themselves in disagreement with each other. Capital punishment creates a painful, and completely arbitrary, distinction between family victims’ losses. The reality is that prosecutors have a great deal of power in deciding when the death penalty will be sought. The result is that the families of murdered victims are often left feeling powerless to a system they can’t control. In Colorado the death penalty is sought in fewer than 2 percent of all eligible cases. Victims’ families are often unable to understand why the death of their loved one wasn’t “worthy” of being a capital case. When a death sentence is sought, the family of the murdered victim and loved ones face a long and tortuous process. Capital cases are complicated – separate trials for guilt and sentencing, and then mandatory appeals. It may take years before the case arrives at the Colorado or US Supreme Court. These cases also are followed carefully in the media with the families of the murdered victims forced to constantly be exposed to the name and image of the offender in the courts and in the media. Violent offenders can and should be punished with harsh sentences such as life in prison, sparing families the additional agony of the capital punishment process. Seeking and imposing the death penalty costs the state a great deal of money. We know that a single capital case in Colorado can cost millions of dollars. This money is spent on housing, legal costs and the execution of the defendant while the families of murdered victims often go without vital support services, such as the means to seek ongoing counseling to address their trauma. In the past 30 years there have been more than 5,500 murders in Colorado. But there has been only one execution! I invite you to carefully listen to and reflect on the powerful personal stories these individuals have shared. Every victim deserves to be listened to and cared for. Ending capital punishment is an important way we can actually show our compassion for those the murder victim has left behind