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Monday, January 20, 2020

Victim’s brother embarks on his unique journey

By: Jill Bauter
Camden County Tribune
October 19, 1994

    Ernest James Jr. knew something was wrong that night two-and-a-half years ago even before he received the phone call that would change his life.
    “I was nervous all that evening.  I went home from work and hours later I still couldn’t sleep,” said James, a New Orleans resident and former Navy sailor.
    Later his mother called to tell him that his sister Jeanne had been bludgeoned to death, probably by someone she knew.
    “Jeanne was a nurse.  She was really pretty and wouldn’t hurt anyone,” he said.  “I knew I didn’t hug her or tell her I loved her enough.  I always thought my family would be intact.”
    Devastated by the tragic loss, James tried to cope with the range of feelings normally associated with grief which were, at times, overwhelming, he said.  However, the violent nature of her death evoked such anger that he was consumed by pain.
    Only after joining a support group for family members of murder victims, was James able to help free himself from some of the pain.  Today, he travels the country arguing to abolish the death penalty even though the person that killed his sister has never been apprehended.
    Police determined that an unknown assailant entered Jeanne’s home without force and then struck her in the face and head about 15 times before fleeing in her car.  There was evidence that she had fought back, police said, and she had probably suffered a great deal before dying.
    In dealing with his grief, James would have dreams that he was being beaten to death just as his sister had been.  He even dreamed that she came to him in a dream and told him to get past the pain.
    “I resented my mom for looking like my sister or sitting like my sister.  It was hard to just look at her,” James said.  “I hated to go to sleep every night because I’d dream about my sister.”
    Joining a support group helped James begin his journey to recovery.  However, that journey took him much farther than he had ever expected.
    The director of the support group introduced him to Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR), an organization of people who oppose the death penalty despite their personal losses.
    “The first thing that struck me was the compassion.  I knew there was something special about these people,” said James.
    When he first arrived in LaFayette, Ind., to meet the group members, James did not know how he stood on the death penalty.
    While his deep religious faith had helped him cope with his grief, eh had not reached the point where he could have a dialogue with his sister’s murderer as other group members did.  The person who took James’ sister away from him has never been caught, but today James can say that he does not wish death upon that individual in retribution for the crime.
    Through MVFR, James learned many facts about the death penalty that helped him to see the arguments against the practice of capital punishment.
    “I think it has been proven again and again that the death penalty and violent measures do not work,” said Elizabeth Dede, a MVFR representative.  “In the times surrounding executions, the homicide rate actually goes up.  The death penalty has not lowered the homicide rate (in states where it is practiced).”
    Those who are poor and unable to hire their own attorney are primary targets of the death penalty, not those who commit the most atrocious crimes, she said.  Furthermore, the chances of being executed increase when the victim is white and the offender is a minority.
    He now joins the group in its annual Journey of Hope, which targets an area of the country to educate about their cause.  Last week, he came to the First African Baptist Church in Kingsland to spread the MVFR message, which also carries many moral and Christian themes.
    For James, the proof is in the way his newfound attitude makes him feel inside.
    “When I got to the point of reconciliation, it was like a burden was lifted off of my shoulders,” he said.  “An eye for an eye only makes you blind.”