Friday, December 22, 2006

The power of peace

The Appalachian Trail killer, Paul David Crews, was resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole yesterday in Perry County after the district attorney's office decided to stop fighting the appeals. Crews had a legitimate claim for a least a new sentencing hearing since his trial attorney failed to present evidence of an abusive childhood.

What struck me as I read about this, though, was not the information about the defendant but the info about the families of the two victims. Here are the first four paragraphs from today's Patriot News story:
NEW BLOOMFIELD - The father of one of Paul David Crews' victims forgives him for raping and killing his daughter.

The mother of Crews' other victim said she doesn't hate him.

In May 1991, Crews, a drifter from South Carolina, was sentenced to die by lethal injection for killing Geoffrey Hood, 26, of Signal Mountain, Tenn., and Molly LaRue, 25, of Shaker Heights, Ohio, on the Appalachian Trail in Perry County.

"I am here today to offer you forgiveness for what you have done," Jim LaRue told Crews yesterday. "Peace be with you, brother. Peace be with you."

Later in the article, it again comes back to Mr. LaRue:
Jim LaRue said he hoped Crews eventually talks and gives some insight into his mind as a way to give his life meaning. He compared the good it might do to his daughter's job helping troubled children.

"She would have wanted that from you," said LaRue, who opposes the death penalty. "You are a gold mine of critical information that needs to be unearthed."

As a father, the idea of losing my only child to violent crime is incomprehensible. And yet I am always struck by people like Mr. LaRue and my good friend Walt Everett, who have found a way to find peace after the deaths of their children.

Death penalty supporters sometimes pull out the line that goes something like, "You would feel differently if someone in your family was killed." I don't know what I would feel in that situation, but I would hope that the best of me, my buddha nature, would shine through.

There are a few well-known victims' families, who shall remain nameless, whose public personas are that of anger and rage. Of course, those emotions would inevitably be a part of the grieving process, but I feel sad for those folks that they still feel that way (or at least portray it publicly) 25 years later.

Jim LaRue, Walt Everett, and victims' family members like them have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration from me.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Altering our thinking: What if you support the death penalty in PA?

We abolitionists can get quite frustrated with the state of the death penalty in Pennsylvania. Fourth largest death row in the country. Six death row exonerations. A minority death row rate at 70%. The nation's "deadliest DA" in Philadelphia. It's enough to make an abolitionist glum.

But what about supporters of the death penalty? What are they thinking right about now? Death sentences have dropped significantly. There were seven in PA in 2005, in contrast to the 21 given out in 1994. In the entire modern era of the death penalty (post-1978), there have been exactly three executions in the Commonwealth, and they were all for defendants who had given up their appeals. It's been seven years since we had an execution.

Let's face it: As noted last week by the blog of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, we're winning. It doesn't always feel like it. Sometimes it feels down right frustrating. But time and justice are on our side.

Last spring when the PA House was deciding what to do about the death penalty and persons with mental retardation, the Attorney General was lobbying, in person, for the version supported by the District Attorneys, which is opposed by the disabilities community. Think about that: The top attorney in the Commonwealth was walking the halls to lobby for an obscure procedural matter. Why? Because he knows, and the DAs know, that capital punishment is a dying institution in PA. If we had won on this issue, it would be another nail in the coffin of the death penalty, and the AG and the DAs want to do everything they can to stop it.

We're winning.

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