I saw a lot of sad things in the Lumberton courtroom where I watched the exoneration last week of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, who spent 30 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. I saw gentle Leon, so intellectually disabled that he was barely able to understand the proceedings, staring down, moving his lips as if in prayer. I saw Henry led away in chains and handcuffs, headed for another night in prison, even after being declared innocent by a judge.
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“Many people are talking right now about the terrible injustice done to Henry McCollum, an innocent man who was released this week after 30 years on North Carolina’s death row. We should also remember the other victims in this case, Sabrina Buie, who was only 11 years old when she was brutally murdered, and her family. As a community of people who have had loved ones taken by murder, we at Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) know the deep pain of senseless violence. We also know that, in many cases, the death penalty deepens, prolongs and complicates that pain.
All executions upset me. The prolonged execution of Dennis McGuire was particularly distressing. My sister was murdered in 1975, and I oppose the death penalty for many reasons including the additional pain and violence that accompanies a capital murder trial, including the appeals and execution. I am a member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR). Our members are people like me whose loved ones have been murdered or executed and who oppose the death penalty. When I heard about Mr. McGuire’s execution, I immediately thought of Joy Stewart’s family.
I am saddened by the legislation (SB306) recently filed in the NC Senate to resume executions, especially since the bill sponsor, Sen. Thom Goolsby, claims to be working to achieve justice for victims. Not all family members of murder victims feel like the death penalty is an effective tool for achieving justice for our loved ones and ourselves. District Attorneys choose to try only a small fraction of murder cases as capital cases. From 1977 to 2006, only 2.5 percent of murderers were sentenced to death. Two out of three death sentences are overturned on appeal.
On Wednesday, January 30 2013, the Judiciary Committee of the Arkansas Senate held a hearing to examine the pros and cons of the death penalty. The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (ACADP) coordinated speakers who told legislators why capital punishment is bad public policy for the state. MVFR board member Judith Elane was among those who spoke up on why the death penalty does not meet the needs of murder victims' families. Read her full testimony below:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that “Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.”
This past Wednesday, I had the honor of being a guest at the signing of the repeal of the death penalty bill recently passed to the governor from the Connecticut Senate and House of Representatives. When Governor Malloy signed the bill, I was overjoyed. The tone of occasion was solemn and respectful, as it should have been. This was a momentous, life-changing event for the people of our state.
As a mother of 10-year-old twins, I know and understand the simple joys of motherhood – watching the determination of first steps, experiencing the excitement before a school play, and seeing the care given to a handmade Mother’s Day card are all joys I’ve experienced.
Miracles are real! I know the recent repeal of the death penalty law in Connecticut was a miracle. Not a miracle in the sense of rare, but in the sense of energies coming together to create something marvelous and full of life, like a birth. Participating as one of the 180 family members who spoke out against the death penalty in Connecticut was incredibly healing to me. Knowing that I was part of changing a law to make the world saner and to reduce violence - what could be more healing than that?