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Two pieces of news caught my attention last week:
On Wednesday morning I learned that Connecticut’s death penalty repeal bill had unexpectedly failed after two state Senators – Edith Prague and Andrew Maynard – decided to change their votes from “Aye” to “Nay” at the urging of Dr. William J. Petit, whose wife and two daughters were murdered during a home invasion by two paroled felons.
Prague and Maynard both insisted that they still opposed the death penalty and would vote to repeal the death penalty when the bill is re-introduced next year. However, they said they were motivitated by a desire to comfort Dr. Petit – and the death penalty for the perpetrators is the comfort that he said he wanted.
In granting Dr. Petit’s wish, Prague and Maynard ignored the wishes of 83 Connecticut murder victim family members who, in a signed letter, urged the state legislature to repeal Connecticut’s death penalty statute. All 83 said that the death penalty in their state brought them more pain than comfort. They said they would rather see the millions of dollars wasted on the death penalty invested in violence prevention and victims’ assistance.
When it comes to the death penalty, some victims get more respect than others. It’s a system that picks and chooses, often arbitrarily. If the crime is high profile and the victim is high status, then the death penalty might be a possibility. Media and politics play a big part. Seemingly, most victims and their families aren’t important enough to merit the time, expense, and effort of a death penalty prosecution – prosecutors working tirelessly for months, placing other cases on the back burner, going that extra ten thousand miles in pursuit of ”ultimate justice.”
Are we to conclude, then, that murder victim family members in non-capital cases experience less pain and grief? That their need to see justice done (however we define it) is somehow less compelling? That would be an absurd conclusion.
On Thursday evening, while dining with my wife Linda at Appleby’s, I glanced up and saw the scrolling news blurb on CNN: “Unabomber items to be auctioned on the internet.”
As most of you know, the Unabomber is my brother Ted, who is serving life imprisonment with no possibility of parole at the federal supermax prison in Colorado.
The federal government spent an estimated eight million dollars on my brother’s death penalty trial. Fortunately, my brother didn’t get the death penalty. So, in some sense, the money went to waste.
Do you know how much the Unabomber’s victims received in assistance from the federal government? You might think it would add up to a lot given that 23 people were injured and three killed.
The victims got nothing.