Family members of murder victims speak out against the death penalty
Last year, an attempt to repeal the death penalty in Wyoming failed to pass the legislature. This year, a similar bill has been introduced once again and there's a group of people working to help end the death penalty. The group may be a surprise to some as it's made up of conservatives.
"In 1993 when my mother was kidnapped and raped and murdered, I was eight years old," states Christal Martin.
Martin lost her mother as a young child. Now -- as an adult -- she's speaking out to end the death penalty in her home state of Wyoming.
The trauma of losing her mother meant years of struggles and counseling well into her teenage years. She explains at age 26 "my mother's offender was up for a parole hearing because in the state of Wyoming they were allowed to have a parole hearing after serving 10 years."
Her mother's killer had been sentenced to five consecutive life sentences, but Martin met with the parole board to tell them she had forgiven the man. "I got in the shower after the call and just cried my eyes out, and didn't know what true forgiveness was," she adds. "So, it was my mission at that point in time to figure out what forgiveness is."
To learn what true forgiveness is she decided to go to school and study criminal justice. During an assignment, she learned about restorative justice which aims to repair the harm caused by crime. However, she felt that to understand just what restorative justice really meant she needed to meet the man who had changed her family's life in person.
Sadly, before that could happen, tragedy struck again. "I actually had lost my husband in October of 2014." she explains. "He was shot in the head and burned in a fire pit by his boss (who was) under a meth-induced psychosis. Where both of them had been using that day and paranoia kicked in."
Initially, Martin wanted vengeance for her husband's death, but that soon changed. "I did not want this man to die," she states. "This man had a five-year-old daughter, and a wife and family. I didn't want them to be victimized by losing a family member just as our family had."
Martin is now part of Wyoming Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty and actively participates in the Wyoming Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Many members of the organization have similar experiences to hers.
In 1990, Su DeBree was working as a pastor in Cheyenne when got a call. Her oldest daughter had been killed in a domestic violence situation.
"This incident, and her loss, and the injustice that came about following that is going to dominate my life," DeBree says. "Or, I'm going to find a way to keep moving on so I can be there for my other children, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren."
Just like Martin, DeBree found the only way to move on from the tragedy of losing a loved one was through forgiveness. Both women began focusing on capital punishment and the question of whether it aligns with conservative principles and values.
For different reasons, they don't believe it does. Whether it be religious beliefs, the idea of limiting the government's size and power, excessive government spending, or wrongful convictions which lead to the deaths of innocent prisoners. "To date," explains Wyoming State Coordinator for CCATDP Kylie Taylor, "there are over 170 individuals that have been exonerated from death row since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1973 -- which is huge. So, that equates to about for every 9 individuals on death row, one has been exonerated."
Martin and DeBree (and other supporters of CCATDP) hope they can use their personal stories to help the state legislature decide to pass Senate File 150 which would eliminate the death penalty in Wyoming.
To read Senate File 150 click here.
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