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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Murder victims’ families decry death penalty

By: Adam Fike
Journal Messenger
October 4, 1996
Members of “Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation” march down Church Street past the courthouse complex on Thursday afternoon.
    Waving signs that read “Don’t Kill Because of Me” and “Say No to Death,” death penalty protesters lined Va. Route 28 in front of the Prince William County Courthouse Thursday.
    Murder Victim’s Families for Reconciliation, a national group of those who have lost someone they love to murder and yet rejected the death penalty, rallied across the area yesterday as part of their Journey of Hope, according to Pat Bane, executive director of the group.
    The journey is part of a two-week educational tour of states along the East coast promoting the idea that killing is wrong in any form, Bane said.
    “We are calling on legislators and prosecutors and everyone involved in the system to provide alternatives to the death penalty,” Bane said.
    Prince William County has put eight people on death row since Virginia’s acceptance of the death penalty in 1978, according to Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert.  This is more than any other county in Virginia, he said in a phone interview Thursday morning.
    The death penalty is usually pursued by prosecutors in cases where murder is accompanied by another crime, such as rape or robbery, Ebert said.
    The death penalty is not always pursued, however, even in cases where it may apply, such as those in which the accused are very young, Ebert said.
    “I believe in the death penalty,” Ebert said, “But not in all cases.”
    The anti-death penalty group met with Ebert today as part of their area events, which also included a rally at George Mason University and a dinner at the Church of the Brethren in Manassas, according to Bane.
    During the meeting with Ebert, the group discussed the needs of the family members of murder victims and whether the death penalty meets those needs – especially right after the crime occurs – Bane said.  The group suggests that the state establish a place for family members to find help immediately after the crime.
    “After the crime they deal with the prosecutor and the police,” Bane said.  “They are dealing with the crime and not dealing with the grief.”
    Discussion also concerned what is known as the “21 day rule,” Bane said, which, according to Ebert, is a rule that precludes the reopening of a murder case after 21 days, no matter the discovery of new evidence that might clear the guilty party.
    “We understand that there has to be a limit on trials but don’t think they should be in death cases when someone’s life is at stake,” he said.
    The daughter of one rally participant, Ann Coleman, was shot in Los Angeles in 1985 and was found drowned to death in her own blood.  Though the killer was never found, and Coleman’s son later died of an overdose of antidepressants due to the incident, she says that if the murderer was located and then found guilty by a jury, she would want the killer’s penalty to be incarceration and not death.
    “By making it so that we expect vengeance instead of justice, then we are sending the wrong message completely,” said Coleman, who runs a support group for death row inmates in Delaware.