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Monday, January 20, 2020

Families of victims stress reconciliation

By: Tony Lee Orr
    Marietta Jaeger relives the worst moment of her life up to four times a day.
    In hope of saving the lives of those awaiting execution for murder, Jaeger recounts the story of her 7-year-old daughter’s kidnapping and subsequent rape, strangulation and decapitation to any group that will listen.
    “Sometimes they almost have to scrape me off the floor,” she said during a rally at Johnson Square held noon Friday.  “It is really tough to drag up those memories, but I do it with a smile of my face.”
    Jaeger is an active member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, a national group of about 150 members who are opposed to the death penalty.
    The group is taking a two-week “Journey of Hope” throughout Georgia aimed at educating the public about the group’s call for reconciliation rather than what it terms “state-sanctioned murder.”
    Jaeger maintains that criminals sentenced to death should instead receive a lifelong incarceration coupled with counseling.
    “I’m not saying they should be turned loose,” Jaeger said.  “Some of these people are very sick and need to be locked away.”
    Death sentences cater to feelings of hate and revenge, but working through thse violent emotions to forgive someone responsible for ending another’s life forsters healing, mercy and compassion, Jaeger maintains.
    She speaks from experience.
    During a camping trip to Montana in 1973, Jaeger’s daughter, Susie, was snatched from her tent.  The child’s killer, who later confessed to murdering a number of other children, tortured the girl before killing her.
    “At first, I would have willingly strangled him to death with my bare hands, smiling while I did it,” she recalled.
    Jaeger said he Christian beliefs were not compatible with the feelings of rage she initially felt.  She knew she had to forgive her child’s killer or become another victim of the murder.
    “I had no idea who he was, but, as a Christian, I had to realize that he was just as precious to God as Susie,” she said.  “It took time, I had to deal with the fact that no matter how I felt about him, God loved him.
    “I started to pray for him each day.”
    On the anniversary of Susie’s death, Jaeger’s phone rang.  The killer had called to taunt the grieving mother, Jaeger told him that she forgave him for the murder of her daughter.
    The call led to the man’s capture, but he refused to confess to the crime.
    “It wasn’t until I urged them to offer him life in prison that he confessed,” she said.  “He refused to admit that he had done it and previously passed lie detector tests.”
    The murderer committed suicide shortly after pleading guilty to the crime.
    If federal prosecutors had ignored her request and successfully sought the death penalty, her daughter’s memory would have been smudged, Jaeger said.
    “Every thing about my little girl was wonderful and precious to me,” she said.  “To execute a malfunctioned person in a loved one’s memory is to insult the worth of our loved one’s life.”
    Today, she will only use the murder’s first name –David.
    “Every time his name appears in the paper, his family suffers,” she explained.  “His family has suffered enough.”
    “I know you can get the name from the state of Montana, but you won’t get it from me,” she said.
    During the conversation, Jaeger’s eyes became slightly damp when she speaks of her long-dead daughter.  The softness is replaced by a quiet, contained urgency when she talks of the need to abolish the death penalty.
    “Families who wanted the execution for revenge see when it’s done that they’re just as empty and unsatisfied as they were before,” she said.  “And they’re dealing with the guilt that they bought into the idea of compensation.”
    “I saw a button once that asked ‘Why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong?’” Jaeger said.  “That’s a good question.”