The Death Penalty’s Invisible Victims

“What is capital punishment if not the most premeditated of murders to which no criminal act, no matter how calculated, can be compared.”

Albert Camus

The debate surrounding the death penalty always fires up heated arguments between passionate advocates on both sides of the fence; crime prevention, lethal injection procedures, safety of the community , recidivism, costs, innocence claims, and so on are fiercely debated. We all know more or less the usual arguments in this regard and the point being raised here isn’t much about proving these right or wrong. Nonetheless, one major argument advanced by proponents of the death penalty is about bringing a so-called “closure” to the loved ones of the murder victim(s). The relative of such a crime become victims themselves, as we can all agree on, whose lives are totally changed forever; not only having to deal with the perpetual trauma of their great loss, but also having to cope with the loss of a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a friend, as well as possibly the fact of losing the main breadwinner in the family. However, as plenty of testimonies have demonstrated in the past, the real “closure” brought is a very debatable issue at best. Regardless, the question that needs to be raise about this is the following: are we not forgetting to consider a whole lot of victims here?

Not undermining the above-mentioned victims, however if the actual goals of the application of the death penalty are justice and to prevent having more innocent victims crying over the dead bodies of loved ones, the system is failing miserably as it is in fact doing the exact opposite for the latter. Why is it that the families of state-sanctioned murders are not even given as much as an afterthought in the equation? Are we to blame the parents as well for the atrocities that their sons and daughters might have committed as grown-ups?

It goes without saying that justice and a severe punishment need to be handed down for committing murder for the sake of the families affected by these crimes perpetrated against their relatives. However, it is preposterous to do it while ignoring and being blind to the trauma and permanent scars left by the judicial process leading to an execution and the actual killing. Just take a look at the recent case of Lamont Reese executed by the State of Texas on June 20th, 2006. As the drugs took effect, his mother, Brenda Reese, was in such a state of shock that she began pounding with her fists on the chamber window and began screaming repeatedly, “They killed my baby.” She then kicked two holes in the death chamber wall of the Walls Unit, in Huntsville, and had to be restrained. She was sobbing loudly and nearly collapsed as she reached the prison administration building across the street.

Do the parents of a crime victim really want to put another innocent human being in the same state of distress and pain as she/he is going through? In the name of JUSTICE? I certainly hope they can not be blinded by such rage as to acknowledge this. The tragedy that brought horror to the Amish community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, a couple of weeks ago, also taught us a mighty lesson. One of the very first questions people asked in the community on the very evening of the shooting was: “What can we do to help the family of the shooter?”

No, not shunning them; not making them feel like pariahs in their own community, but embracing their humanity. Recognizing they are victims in their own rights; that they are suffering more than enough already and will be forever tormented by the irreversible horrific actions of their own flesh and blood: their beloved son.

We need, as a society, to take a step back and look at the imposition of the death penalty with a clean slate; not with a vengeful eye, but with consideration for all the victims of the system. Is imposing more suffering our objective? I surely hope that it isn’t the case. Is it releasing individuals into society that will strike fear in each and every one of us what we want? Of course not. But let’s stay objective here and recognize that the system is far from perfect as one hundred twenty three individuals released from death row have clearly demonstrated over the years in the United States. Therefore, in the meantime, let’s keep this in mind and consequently humanity within prison walls as surely a few of these men might not have done what they stand accused of. Justice and adequate punishment are needed; not more and more innocent victims.

A thorough introspection of our conscience is in order; and I firmly believe we should do away with a punishment that is always creating more victims instead of preventing the exact opposite from happening.

CHARLES PERROUD is a human rights activist and supporter of the DRIVE Movement on Texas Death Row to improve prison conditions. He can be reached at: