A popular argument in favor of the death penalty is that it is what the murder victims' family members want. However, for many victims’ families, the complex appeals, which are required by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the resulting delays, reversals, and stays of execution, are reason to reject capital punishment in favor of sentences of life in prison.
During New Jersey’s abolition bill hearings, sixty family members who have lost a close relative to murder, including some who have been through the death penalty process, signed onto a letter to the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission supporting repeal of the death penalty law. The letter stated, “To be meaningful, justice should be swift and sure. The death penalty is neither.”
In hearings in Maryland, Kathy Garcia, a veteran victims’ advocate whose nephew was murdered more than twenty years ago, testified about the impact of the death penalty’s cumbersome process on survivors. In addition to the long delays, which she argued are damaging because they prolong the survivors’ connection to the criminal justice system and thus to the offender, she explained that the death penalty can cause divisions in families that include members with varying views on capital punishment. Noting that her experience included assisting families that have gone through the capital process, Garcia said, “I’ve watched too many families go through this to make me believe the system will ever work.”
Other resources concerning murder victims' families and the death penalty: