I have talked to many who strongly support Dr. William Petit Jr., the lone survivor of this unspeakable crime, who has sought the death penalty for the murderers of his family. And believe me, I empathize with all of them, even though I believe strongly that they are wrong to want more murders, even if done so-called legally by the state.
Montana had only recently re-established capital punishment, and the boy, "Shadow" Clark, was facing death. I had always opposed the death penalty and my children were raised to believe as I had. I remember kneeling in that room of death with my surviving sons and we all grasped a truth so clearly — that unnatural death at the hands of another is wrong, except in a clear case of self-defense. The state is no more justified in taking a life than is an individual. Killing cannot be sanitized by calling it "official" and "legal."
And so, my then five living children and I wrote to the Montana judge asking him not to seek the death penalty for Shadow Clark. We knew it is only a delusion to believe that one's pain is ended by making someone else feel pain. We were relieved when the young murderer took a plea bargain and received a life sentence, avoiding the death penalty.
My daughter Mary expressed our belief well.
"The truth is, no one in my family ever wanted to see Shadow Clark put to death. We felt instinctively that vengeance wouldn't alleviate our grief. We wanted Clark in prison, removed from society forever, so he could never hurt another person. But watching Clark suffer and die would have done nothing to help us heal. Worse, wishing Clark would suffer and die would only have diminished us and shriveled our own souls. We had had enough pain already, dealing with the indescribable horror of our loved ones' brains and blood splattered all over their bedroom walls. We didn't need to increase our own torment by demanding more blood."
And Mary emphasized where we all stood: "Hatred doesn't heal. Mercy, compassion, moving on with life, turning toward good people, walking into the light of love as much as possible, that's what victims need. And our lawmakers have the capacity to help us do that by abolishing the death penalty and along with it, the fantasy that it will make the pain go away."
Sadly, the United States, which so often claims to be the world champion of human rights, is the only Western industrialized country that still practices this barbaric punishment. We do have 16 states without the death penalty, but unfortunately, Connecticut is not one of them.
I am often asked about my opposition to the death penalty, and I give credit to my Catholic faith. I well remember when the Catholic bishops first called for an end to the death penalty nearly 40 years ago. In the fall of 2005, they launched the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty, saying we must be people who affirm life. "State-sanctioned killing in our names diminishes all of us," they said.
Many of us are working to end the death penalty in Connecticut. We who belong to the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty believe we have the means to punish convicted criminals without having to resort to killing them for protection, vengeance or retaliation.
Antoinette Bosco of Brookfield is the author of "Choosing Mercy, A Mother of Murder Victims Pleads to End the Death Penalty," (Orbis Books).