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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Murderer’s death doesn’t ease loss, group says

By: Maria M. Lamelras
October 11, 1994
    Kidnapped from her tent during a family camping trip in Montana in 1983, 7-year-old Susie Jaeger endured a horrible death.  She was raped, strangled, decapitated and dismembered.
    Susie’s family agonized for 15 months before the FBI arrested the man who eventually was convicted of the crime.
    In her own words, Marietta Jaeger, Susie’s mother, said she “would have been happy to kill the man with my bare hans.”
    Over time, however, her anger gave way to her Christian beliefs that killing of any kind is morally wrong.
    Thus, when FBI agents worked the case and arrested a suspect, Jaeger insisted that authorities seek life imprisonment with psychiatric care for the man instead of the death penalty.
    Subsequently, the man confessed to Susie’s murder and to the murders of a young woman and two boys in the same county.  After he was convicted, the man committed suicide.
    “The bottom line for proponents of the death penalty is that they believe it would be a relief for families of murder victims to get that justice, but we’re saying no.  It isn’t justice for us and it doesn’t heal us, it just exacerbates the problem,” Jaeger, a board member for the national organization Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, said in Columbus Monday.
    Jaeger, who is from Detroit, and other members of the group are in Georgia through Oct. 16 on the group’s Journey of Hope, a two-week public education tour explaining the group’s stand against the death penalty and for mercy and forgiveness.
    Backing up their personal beliefs regarding the death penalty, Jaeger and other members of the organization produce facts that belie the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent against murder.
    In a fact sheet from the group, the FBI Uniform Crime Reports Division “Crime in the U.S.” 1992 report shows that murder rates in states that have the death penalty average 9.1 murders per 100,000 population, while in states that have abolished the death penalty, murder rates average 4.9 murders per 100,000 population.
    Also, a 1987 study published by the Stanford Law Review found that at least 350 people were mistakenly convicted of potential capital crimes between 1900 and 1985.  Of those, 139 were sentenced to death and 23 were executed.
    “There are certain crimes that warrant the death penalty, but I’m not sure in today’s society if the death penalty is a deterrent (to violent crime),” Columbus Police Chief Jim Wetherington said Monday.
    Wetherington instead believes life without parole sentences for repeat offenders would be more effective in deterring violent crime.
    “It’s a personal issue,” he said of the death penalty.  “Either you’re for it or against it.  There’s not a middle ground.”
    For her part, Jaeger is appalled that the United State is the only Western democratic country that still has the death penalty.  Also, the United States joins Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as the only nations in the world that allow the death penalty for people under age 18.
    “We don’t want anyone else killed in our names.  We’ve had violence destroy a life in our families and the death penalty can be no compensation.  It can never make up to me the loss of my little girl,” Jaeger said.  “I’ve had a chance to see other parents who have had that type of justice and after it was done, they were left just as unhealed, just as unsatisfied as before.”
    Teresa Mathis, whose 21-year-old brother was beaten to death by an acquaintance in Washington state in 1983, said she has seen how the death penalty is used as a political pawn and not a vehicle for justice.
    A few weeks before her brother was murdered, the local district attorney’s office had avidly pursued the death penalty in the case of a young pregnant woman who had been murdered during a robbery in an upper-class section of town.
    However, when Mathis’ brother was killed, the district attorney’s office told the family that they “weren’t angry enough” and that the office couldn’t spend time on such a “small-scale murder.”
    The man arrested for the crime eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter.  He has since been released from prison.
    However, even at the time of the murder, Mathis opposed the death penalty and when a friend of the family came up after her brother’s viewing at the funeral home and said that the person who committed the murder should be put to death, she held her tongue, afraid her family would disagree with her anti-death penalty beliefs.
    She was surprised when her mother spoke up and said “No. There’s been enough killing.  I don’t want any more of it.”
    Since then Mathis has been active in working with groups to abolish the death penalty in Washington and other states.