Death penalty punishes families of victims

April 05, 2011

As a mother who lost a son to murder, my heart goes out to the family of Sarah Haley Foxwell, who was killed in December 2009. I am sure it is a relief for them that Sarah's murderer pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. ("Convicted sex offender pleads guilty in killing of 11-year-old," March 30.)

Having the legal case finally resolved allows the family to focus on healing. Contrast this outcome to what would have happened if prosecutors had continued to pursue a death sentence. The case would surely have dragged on for years — decades even if a death sentence had resulted.

Each appeal would summon up memories of the crime and cause her family to relive her tragic death. And each delay in court would hinder the family's ability to move forward from the crime.

At a recent hearing in Annapolis, I spoke for 59 Marylanders who have lost family members to murder, urging legislators to end the death penalty in our state. We know that capital punishment drags victims' loved ones through an agonizing and lengthy process. A life without parole sentence keeps society safe, holds killers responsible for their brutal and depraved acts and starts as soon as we leave the courtroom.

There is a broader lesson here for prosecutors and Maryland legislators. It's time they recognize the toll that the death penalty process inflicts on the loved ones of murder victims. Maryland should stop wasting huge resources seeking death in a tiny fraction of murders and instead focus on meeting the needs of the vast majority of our murder victims' families.

Vivian Brown Penda, Silver Spring

The writer serves on the board of directors of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.

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