Mark Major, a Benetton spokesman, defended the campaign as raising an important issue in a thoughtful way. He also dismissed the New York protest, noting that it "probably involved fewer than 10 people. The reporters outnumbered the protesters."
He said the campaign deleted reference to the victims because "continuing to focus on the crime we felt took away the real issue, which in this case is capital punishment. We assumed that people understood that a horrible crime would have been committed in order for these men to be on death row. We saw no sense in convicting these inmates again."
As for those, like the Peebleses, who feel newly aggrieved by the campaign, Major said "Benetton is not doing anything to intentionally hurt anyone." In any case, he said the emotional responses of the families should not overshadow a dispassionate debate about the death penalty. (Never mind, as Joanne Wilson says, that Benetton's exceedingly friendly interviews with the inmates is no more an appeal to the intellect.)
Finally, Major said the campaign is not intended to help Benetton sell clothes but to spur debate. "Unlike Sears," he added, "we don't feel we are a slave to consumerism."
A chance denied
Unlike her brother's murderer, Joanne Wilson says, Ed Peebles didn't have a chance to contemplate all that he would miss.
Most likely, at the time of his death, Ed didn't think his life lacked for much of anything. To hear his family, he was a man with a large capacity for contentment.
He was disarmingly affectionate, mischievous and free-spirited. In any group, he was always the most adventurous, ready for a new experience, whether on waterskis, motorcycles or a horse's back. People said he inherited more of his father's liveliness (he still jet skis) than any of his siblings.
Younger looking than his age, Ed had the slim build of all the Peebles men and smooth, childlike skin. Even his mustache and goatee didn't age him. They only made him more handsome.
In the Peebles family, Ed was the repository of all the musical talent. As a child, he taught himself to play the piano -- a music teacher told his mother not to waste money on lessons. He could play anything by ear -- pop songs, gospel, jazz. As an adult, he put together a rhythm-and-blues band named Quest. He played keyboards and acted as manager. He toyed with the idea of making a career out of it.
Not that he was discontent with his profession, working alongside his father as a master plasterer. Their artistic skills were always in demand, and Ed, like all his brothers and sisters, was in awe of the old man.
His siblings were all an easy car ride away. There was always a dog or two underfoot in his house. He had a beautiful, loving wife and a young daughter he adored. In his driveway was a 1973 Eldorado Cadillac convertible. Life was just about perfect when Ed Peebles and a bandmate stopped at the Fast Fare in 1987 for a quick cup of coffee after rehearsal.
By the next day, there was a hole in the life of everyone who loved him.
"I think about him a lot," says Michelle, a youthful-looking 45, who has not married again. "We used to say to each other, `If I die, I'm coming back to you.' Now, when I see a bird around me, I say, `Is that you?' "
Even today, when she fills out a tax form that asks her marital status, Michelle, a pension case manager, can't believe she is a widow. "He used to call during breaks from work, and the hardest thing was knowing I was never going to hear his voice again."
She hates the holidays and every year takes off from work on the day of their anniversary. "To see that ad," she says, "was like a wound that never healed."
Wilson wonders what lines of decency are left to cross in the name of corporate promotion. "How far can you go to advertise your product? You think they've reached a limit, but maybe they'll go even further to sell their T-shirts."
This spring, Benetton takes its death penalty campaign to Europe.