Death Penalty Can Prolong Suffering for Victims' Families

Vera Ramirez-Crutcher, whose son Donald Bruce was murdered, opposes the death penalty

Numerous families and loved ones of murder victims support alternatives to the death penalty for many reasons, including:

  • The death penalty process is a traumatizing experience for families, often requiring them to relive the pain and suffering of the death of their loved one for many years. Life without parole provides certain punishment without the endless reopening of wounds.

  • Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on the death penalty each year. If we replace the death penalty with life without parole, millions of dollars could be spent on violence-prevention efforts, solving unsolved cases, and increasing victim services.

  • The death penalty places the focus on the legal consequences, not the human consequences. Attention is directed on the crime and the accused, instead of where it belongs — on the family and loved ones of the victim and on the community. Life without parole punishes the criminal without putting him or her in the headlines.

  • Resources for Victims

    California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
    California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a coalition of families, friends, and loved ones of murder victims who oppose the death penalty. The coalition supports families, friends, and loved ones in telling their stories and being heard. CCV educates the public about alternatives to the death penalty and provides information, resources, and support to families regardless of their views on the death penalty or whether the perpetrator has been apprehended. Learn more.

    Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation
    MVFR members have lost family members to murder or execution and oppose the death penalty. We oppose the death penalty for a variety of reasons — endless trials re-open emotional wounds and put off the time when real healing can begin, the vast resources and attention spent on the death penalty is better spent supporting victims and preventing crime in the first place, the risk of executing the innocent is too high a price to pay, biases of geography, race and class plague the system, executions create more families who have lost a loved one to killing, and many of us think it is just plain wrong for the state to kill. For more information on victims' family members and their rights, please contact Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation (MVFR). Visit

    Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
    Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights is an international, non-governmental organization of family members of victims of criminal murder, terrorist killings, state executions, extrajudicial assassinations, and “disappearances” working to oppose the death penalty from a human rights perspective. Membership is open to all victims’ family members who oppose the death penalty in all cases. “Friend of MVFHR” membership is open to all those interested in joining our efforts. Please visit:

    Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing
    Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing is an organization that is led by murder victim family members that conducts public education speaking tours and addresses alternatives to the death penalty. Journey "storytellers" come from all walks of life and represent the full spectrum and diversity of faith, color and economic situation. They are real people who know first hand the aftermath of the insanity and horror of murder. They recount their tragedies and their struggles to heal as a way of opening dialogue on the death penalty in schools, colleges, churches and other venues. The Journey spotlights murder victim's family members who choose not to seek revenge, and instead select the path of love and compassion for all of humanity. Forgiveness is seen as a strength and as a way of healing. The greatest resources of the Journey are the people who are a part of it. Please visit:

    Research and Reports

    Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights released a report entitled “Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind.” Families of the executed are victims, too, according to the new report, which draws upon the stories of three dozen family members of inmates executed in the United States and demonstrates that their experiences and traumatic symptoms resemble those of many others who have suffered a violent loss. “I don’t think people understand what executions do to the families of the person being executed,” says Billie Jean Mayberry, one of the family members featured in the report. Mayberry’s brother, Robert Coe, was executed in Tennessee in 2000. “To us, our brother was murdered right in front of our eyes. It changed all of our lives.” “Creating More Victims” includes recommendations for mental health professionals, educators, and child welfare advocates. MVFHR also plans to deliver the report to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and request that that office undertake further study of the impact of executions on surviving families. For a copy of the report, contact Susannah Sheffer, 617-512-2010, For more information about MVFHR, visit

    "Dignity Denied: The Experience of Murder Victims' Family Members Who Oppose the Death Penalty:" A report released by Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation provides an account of the experiences of murder victims' family members who oppose capital punishment and steps that can be taken to protect these individuals from discrimination based on this opposition. "Dignity Denied" challenges lawmakers, the federal government's Office of Victims of Crime, and leaders within the victims' services community to address past and current discrimination and commit to equitable treatment of survivors of homicide victims. Specifically, the report offers model legislation and recommends that victims' rights laws be amended to ban unequal treatment based upon a victim's position on the death penalty. It also states that victims' services should be administered independently, not as part of the prosecutor's office, and that leaders in the victims' services community should develop protocols for serving victims' families who oppose the death penalty. See also, MVFR's Press Release.


    Carolyn Leming and Vicki Schieber "Why Two Mothers Back Death Penalty Repeal" The Gazette, Feb. 16, 2007: This article talks about the tension between protecting the innocent on the one hand and dragging the process out for victims' families on the other, and how those two can't be reconciled.

    Vincent Lupo, "Gray Rules Guillory May Ask For Mercy," American, May 9, 2003. - This article focuses on Lorilei Guillory, the mother of a 6-year-old Iowa boy murdered 11 years ago. Guillory wantsto be allowed to ask jurors for mercy for the man who allegedly molested and killed her child. Judge Al Gray said he will allow Guillory "to testify and ask for mercy if she wishes" during any penalty phase, but prosecutors are appealing the decision ot the Louisiana Supreme Court. Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation filed an amicus curiae brief in the Louisiana Supreme Court in support of Lorilei Guillory's effort to testify in the penalty phase of the trial of the man who murdered her 6 year old son Jeremy and to express her opposition to the execution of her son's murderer. Read the brief.

    The Empty Chair: Death Penalty Yes or No
    The Empty Chair: Death Penalty Yes or No is a documentary film produced and directed by Jacqui Lofaro and Victor Teich that tells the stories of four families confronting the loss of loved ones and voicing different perspectives on the death penalty. The movie also features Sister Helen Prejean, an author and spiritual advisor to those condemned to die, and Donald Cabana, a former death row warden in Mississippi. Watch a clip of the film or find out more about the film.

    San Diego Chapter of California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty - Victims Group
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