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10-03 The Flyer News (University of Dayton)

Victim's sister speaks against death penalty
By: Hilary Ross
Staff Writer
University of Dayton’s Flyer News Volume 51, Number 8
October 2, 2003


Standing up for one's beliefs is something that shouldn't be hidden, according to an anti-capital punishment advocate who visited campus this week.

"I have always thought that if you believe in something, you should go out and share it with the public," Maria Hines said in Boll Theatre Tuesday night.

This is exactly what Hines has done since her brother's murder in 1989. As an active member of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Hines has traveled the nation spreading her views of forgiveness and hope. Recently, Hines could be seen as part of the Ohio Journey of Hope tour.

"Because I believe that the death penalty can be abolished, we must be a nation of forgiveness," Hines said. "But instead, we are a nation of vengeance."

The Journey of Rope is a touring lecture series led by family members of murder victims who oppose capital punishment. It is making its way through Ohio from Sept. 26 to Oct. 12, making four stops here at UD.

Brian DeRouen, graduate assistant in the Center for Social Concern, was in the audience to hear Hines share her personal story.'

"Because my brother-in-law is in a similar situation, it is always good to hear from someone who is in a similar situation," DeRouen said. "Because of the personal nature of the debate, with speakers like Maria Hines, it is more than a political issue. It's about victims and murderers who have families."

On Feb. 20, 1989, Jerry Hines, a Virginia State Trooper, was making a routine vehicle stop. That night, he was shot to death by Dennis Eaton. Eaton was charged with the murders of four individuals, found guilty and was sentenced to death.

Hines remembers her younger brother as a journalist, father of three, news anchor and police officer. Most of all, she remembers her brother as a hero and inspiration.

"Jerry the police officer was my hero," Hines said. "But the 8-year-old girl inside of me wanted her baby brother back."

Despite her grave personal loss, Hines started a crusade in December 1996 against the death penalty. After watching the movie "Dead Man Walking," Hines was inspired to take action.

"The person who had changed my life so profoundly, I did not even know," Hines said. "When I found out that [Eaton] was sentenced to death, I searched my soul for other answers."

Hines, a former school teacher and psychotherapist, feared that her family might react adversely to her anti-death penalty stance. Despite this, she decided to take action. Not only is Hines a former board member of the Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation (MVFR), a national anti-death penalty organization, but she also directs the Kentucky MVFR.

"In cases like that of Maria Hines, the transition from vengeance to forgiveness and reconciliation shows that violence truly isn't the answer-whether it be state sanctioned or a criminal act," DeRouen said.

As part of the healing process, Hines began writing letters to the killer of her brother. She began corresponding with him regularly, and arranged visits to see him at the Virginia correctional facility where he was being housed.

Hines was even present when Eaton was baptized as a born- again Christian. She even described Eaton as a "ro1y poly teddy bear," with no front teeth and an eighth-grade education.

"I realized that forgiveness is not in the abstract," Hines said. "It is person to person."

Hines went to rallies and sent letters and e-mai1s to people asking them to pray for Eaton. She sent requests to the governor to be present at Eaton's execution as his spiritua11eader. She also sent requests to be present at Eaton's hearing with the governor. Both requests were denied.

On June 18, 1998, at 9:09 pm, Eaton was executed. Hines held a prayer vigil outside

Mecklenburg Prison where Eaton was held and executed. She attended the memorial service of Eaton, which was held the following day.

"This started in tragedy and ended in tragedy ... but I am glad I got to know [Eaton]," Hines said. "My oldest nephew had told a reporter that night that as far as he was concerned, I was no longer a part of the family. I had lost my brother, my family and Dennis. I had lost a family, but I had gained a circle of friends."

In addition to Hines, Sr. Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking," made an appearance at 00 this week as part of the Journey of Hope circuit. Anti-death penalty advocates Bill Pelke, Carol Byars and Hines also made appearances at UD.