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Group offers hope for murder victims’ families

By: Don Fletcher
Americus Times- Record
October 12, 1994

    To most, the idea of violent criminals being put to death as a means of compensation for the lives they took seems a valid form of compensation.  But for one group whose members have suffered the tragic and violent loss of a loved one, the key to vindication lies in reconciliation and forgiveness.
    The Journey of Hope, a two-week public education tour of eight major Georgia cities and the communities surrounding them, is led by such a group.
    Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, a group of people who have experienced the murder of a family member, will conduct public forums in Americus today and Thursday.  MVFR members will speak to local and area citizens about their experiences with murder, grief, revenge, and forgiveness.
    Members are united in their belief that capital punishment is not a solution to violent crime.  They contend instead that understanding the perpetrator of the crime is a more Christian and civil way to deal with their personal tragedies.
    Marietta Jaeger, a Detroit woman whose 7-year-old daughter was kidnapped from her family’s tent during a 1973 outing in Montana, then raped, tortured and strangled, has acted as one of the group’s most vocal spokesmen.
    She said that her initial feelings of outrage and her desire for vengeance gave way to her religious upbringing.
    “I readily admit that initially I ran the gamut of outraged reaction,” said Mrs. Jaeger, who was among MVFR members who spoke informally during a dinner at Koinonia Community Tuesday.  “I would have been happy to kill the man with my bare hands, but my Christian upbringing – taught me that forgiveness was not an option, but a mandate.  I struggled with a desire for revenge, but I was convinced that the only healthy and holy response was to forgive.”
    Mrs. Jaeger said that the desire of most family members for revenge upon the individual who took the life of their loved one can diminish the quality of the family member’s life.
    “The families of murder victims who retain an attitude of vindictiveness are tormented, embittered people who have no peace of mind,” she said.  “The quality of their lives is diminished and, in effect, they have given the offender another victim.”
    Also among the group is Sam Shepherd, whose father was charged with the murder of Shepherd’s mother, but was later found innocent.  The elder Shepherd’s attempts to prove his innocence was the basis for the television series, “The Fugitive.”
    Journey of Hope’s Georgia tour was initiated by Ed Weir, who invited the group to the state after witnessing their forums in other areas.  Weir has never lost a loved one to murder, but he feels that groups like MVFR are the most effective anti-death penalty advocates.
    “The death penalty is a violent way to respond to violence,” said the Lamar County resident.  “I think it perpetuates the cycle that violence is a way to solve problems.  It seems to me that these folks, at least in their personal journeys, have found more of a healing way.”
    Group members are scheduled to address the public today, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., at First United Methodist Church, 200 S. Lee Street.  They have three sessions scheduled for Thursday: from noon-1 p.m. at Georgia Southwestern College’s Presbyterian Student Center; from 3-4:30 p.m. at the GSW’s Marshall Student Center; and from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Habitat for Humanity Center, Church Street.
    The group began its tour Sept. 30 with a gathering at Hard Labor Creek Park, near Atlanta, before moving on to a rally near Death Row at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson, and has continued through Atlanta, Athens, Macon, Brunswick and Savannah.
    After its stopover in Americus, the group plans to hold similar forums in Columbus and Albany.  The tour will move to Indian Springs Park, near Jackson, Saturday, and will conclude in Atlanta on Sunday.