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Would You Fight for the Life of a Man Who Shot You and Left You for Dead?

Capital punishment is supposed to bring closure to victims' families, but ignores the wishes of those who prefer forgiveness.

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"The death of Johnnie Baston isn't going to do anything that's going to bring back our father, give us any closure or gratification," his son, Peter Mah argued to no avail. Baston was executed on March 10 th.

The same thing happened in Alabama in January. Leroy White  was executed over the wishes of his victim’s family members, who, as in the case of Timothy Adams, included family members of his own. White was sentenced to death for the killing of his wife, Ruby, with whom he had a young daughter, Latonya. In a signed affidavit, she described how despite years of anger at her father for taking her mother away, she was now very close to him and “have grown to love him just as much as any child would love their parent…I know that he did a terrible thing by taking my mother’s life, but I have forgiven him completely.”

I am deeply opposed to my father’s execution. He is the only thing that I have left that’s a part of me. Taking away my only remaining biological parent will hurt me more than I can say. Executing my father will do nothing to bring my mother back. I would do anything in my power to stop this execution from taking place.

Leroy White was executed on January 13 th.

Some would argue that cases like White’s and Adams’s are different, that of  course family members of murderers will argue to spare the life of a relative, even if they have taken one of their own. To do so sets up a strange hierarchy of victimization—who are the “good” victims?—but one that is all too real. The family members of death row prisoners are rarely included under the banner of “victim’s family,” but when the state has killed your loved one, what are you then?

As we were so aggressively reminded after the death of Osama bin Laden, the killing of killers is celebrated as a way to bring “closure” to people who have suffered terrible losses at their hands. There are  many reasons to question this notion, but whether this is ever true can only depend on individual experiences. What is clear is that, when those in a position to carry out the death penalty stand upon the moral pedestal bestowed to them as a defender of victims’ rights, such  “rights” have limits. As Jeff Gamso, a criminal defense attorney in Ohio who has worked on capital cases,  wrote a few days before Stroman’s execution: “Texas, of course, like Ohio, like other states, like the feds, is deeply committed to ensuring the rights of crime victims. Their voices will be heard. Their needs will be met. They will be offered support and comfort and help. As long as they seek vengeance. The rights of victims don't extend to seeking mercy. At least, not so far.”


Liliana Segura is an independent journalist and editor with a focus on social justice, prisons & harsh sentencing.

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