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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Executing the killer doesn't help victim's family heal

Houston Chronicle  05/29/98                         By CELESTE DIXON

YOU'D feel differently if it happened to someone in your family," is a remark I often hear. Many people see the pain of the family members left behind by murder and think that executing the murderer will help them heal. As the daughter of a woman who was murdered right here in Harris County, I would like to say that execution is not the solution.
On Aug. 18, 1986, my mother, Marguerite Dixon, was murdered in Hockley. The man who did it was caught within days and the prosecutors decided to try him for capital murder. To say that I was in a state of confusion at the time would be a gross understatement. I was numb and totally unable to think of anything but the enormous pain I was feeling.
In that state of mind I never questioned the prosecutors' decision to seek the death penalty for this man. In fact, the more I dealt with them, the more I came to believe the death penalty was something which would benefit my family and me. There seemed to be an unspoken promise that his death would make us feel better or would somehow compensate us
for the loss of our mother. I say unspoken because no one in the district attorney's office ever said, "When we kill this guy for you, you'll feel better," but they certainly implied this sentiment. When everyone around me was talking about the murderer in derogatory terms, using expressions like, "He'll get what's coming to him," or "We'll make him pay for what he did," my aching, broken heart could not help but respond. Since all I really wanted was for the pain to go away, I naturally assumed that what they were doing and saying was right, that
a death sentence and execution would help take that pain away. Later, I came to realize that those statements weren't taking my pain away. Instead, they were feeding my anger and hatred, which seemed to intensify the unbearable pain in my heart. The more I concentrated on my hatred for the murderer, the more I missed my mother and the angrier I
got over losing her. I looked forward to the beginning of the trial and the promise of a death sentence which would bring an end to the pain for me and my family.
During the trial something happened that really surprised me. I watched the man who robbed my family of our mother. But I also watched his mother. I began to see that murderer as another human being, even though the prosecution constantly ridiculed him as a low-life, good-for-nothing monster who deserved to die. I learned what a terrible childhood he had
suffered and how his father had abused him for years. This did not excuse what he did, but it helped me realize that he is a human being and not a monster as the prosecutor would have us and the jury believe. After the verdict, I saw the man's mother standing outside the courtroom, sobbing. I hugged her and I cried with her. Through my experience, I have come to believe that the greatest disservice you can do to victims' family members is to expect them to want the murderer to die. This is a tremendous burden to carry because
it forces us to keep our anger alive and put our compassion aside, when for our own sakes we need to do the opposite.
I eventually reached a point where I could let go of my desire for the murderer to die, and then actually forgive him for what he did. It was those two things that finally helped me heal and get relief from the pain and to let go of the anger and hatred that is necessary to support capital punishment. Some people may think I am unique in my opposition to the death penalty, but among murder victims' family members, I am not alone. Over the next two weeks, from today through June 14, Texas will be hearing about The Journey of Hope . . . From Violence to Healing, an organization of murder victims' family members united in our pain and spreading our message of forgiveness and peace. We will speak in churches, schools and to other groups about the hate and bitterness that served to feed our pain instead of making it go away. We will share about how forgiveness and reconciliation have been more healing - and more constructive - than a desire for revenge and retribution. The two-week program starts in Houston. This is important because Harris County has sent more people to death row than any other jurisdiction in the country. Many people in Texas are suffering from the loss of a loved one to murder. The Journey of Hope is designed to help them recognize
the need to go beyond the reaction of anger to one of reconciliation and healing. Its message is that there are alternatives to the death penalty, alternatives that protect society, punish criminals and encourage healing.  
Houston Chronicle  05/30/98  By LISA M. CHMIOLA, Staff