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'... killing this man would not bring our daughter back.'

Philadelphia Inquirer April 02, 2006

An excerpt from a statement delivered Feb. 1 to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights in Washington. The statement was written by Vicki A. Schieber and Sylvester J. Schieber; Vicki A. Schieber was the presenter. The Schiebers' daughter Shannon was 23 when she was murdered in May 1998 by a serial rapist in Philadelphia.

I am the mother of a murder victim, and I serve on the board of directors of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR), a national nonprofit organization of people who have lost a family member to murder or state execution and who oppose the death penalty in all cases. There are MVFHR members in every state.

Discussions of the death penalty typically focus on the offender, the person convicted of murder. My focus, and the focus of those whom I am representing through this testimony, is on the victims of murder and their surviving families.

Losing a beloved family member to murder is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. The effects on the family and even on the wider community extend well beyond the initial shock and trauma. The common assumption in this country is that families who have suffered this kind of loss will support the death penalty. That assumption is so widespread and so unquestioned that a prosecutor will say to a grieving family, "We will seek the death penalty in order to seek justice for your family." A lawmaker introduces a bill to expand the application of the death penalty and announces that he is doing this "to honor victims." A politician believes that she must run on a pro-death-penalty platform or risk being labeled soft on crime and thus unconcerned about victims.

As a victim's family member who opposes the death penalty, I represent a growing - and, for the most part, underserved - segment of the crime victim population. Along with the other members of MVFHR, I have come to believe that the death penalty is not what will help me heal. Responding to one killing with another killing does not honor my daughter, nor does it help create the kind of society I want to live in, where human life and human rights are valued. I know that an execution creates another grieving family, and causing pain to another family does not lessen my own pain...

My husband and I were both raised in homes with a deep-seated religious faith. We were both raised in households where hatred was never condoned and where the ultimate form of hate was thought to be the deliberate taking of another person's life. The death penalty involves the deliberate, premeditated killing of another human being. The death certificate of an executed person lists the cause of death as homicide. In carrying forward the principles with which my husband and I were raised, and with which we raised our daughter, we cannot in good conscience support the killing of anyone, even the murderer of our own daughter, if such a person could be imprisoned without parole and thereby no longer a danger to society.

No one should infer from our opposition to the death penalty that we did not want Shannon's murderer caught, prosecuted, and put away for the remainder of his life. We believe he is where he belongs today, as he serves his prison sentence, and we rest assured that he will never again perpetrate his sort of crime on any other young women. But killing this man would not bring our daughter back. And it was very clear to us that killing him would have been partly dependent on our complicity in having it done. Had we bent to this natural inclination, however, it would have put us on essentially the same footing as the murderer himself: willing to take someone else's life to satisfy our own ends. That was a posture we were not willing to assume... .

We must move beyond vague sentiments about being tough on crime and seeking justice for victims, and look closely at what actions would truly prevent violence or help victims heal in the aftermath of violence. Among the policy changes that Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights recommends in this arena are [that we...]

End discrimination against victims' family members who have lost loved ones to murder and oppose the death penalty. Amend the Victims of Crime Act to recognize and validate the position of survivors of murder victims who oppose the death penalty. Current federal and state statutes that predicate the rights and privileges of victims upon the approval of prosecuting authorities lead to a 2-tiered system of victims - those who support the death penalty are good victims; those who do not are suspect... .

[C]reate a new paradigm about crime that establishes as a goal an aspiration for healing, for both individuals and society. When the focus is on healing for the victims, instead of blind retribution against perpetrators, we truly honor the meaning of justice.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

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