You are here: on tour / Annual Journeys / 2003 Ohio / 10-02 Campus Report
Monday, February 17, 2020

10-02 Campus Report (University of Dayton)

By: Michelle Tedford

A murder victim's widow spoke against the death penalty this week at Keller Hall. Her presentation was part of Journey of Hope campaign for a national moratorium on capital punishment.

In 1977, Jimmy Hapney was shot in the chest with a 12-gauge pump action shotgun fired through a screen door. The holes it left failed to heal and, after eight months of pain and infection, Hapney died.

Carol Hapney Byars lived through every excruciating experience with her husband and continued to suffer after his death, fed by fear, hate and sorrow.

As she told her tragic tale to students in Keller Hall on Sept. 30, as part of the Journey of Hope, rays of forgiveness and compassion were evident in her eyes and in her words. Since 1998, she has traveled with other family members of murder victims, speaking out against the death penalty. Her campus talk was part of the Gilvary Symposium, which continues discussions on the death penalty Oct. 9-10 at the law school.

Her slow process of recovery started with an act of grace from her husband.

"He gave me a very special gift before he died; he forgave the man who did this and by doing this he gave me permission to heal," Byars said. "That was very important because sometimes the last connection we have to a person is the pain and the violence."

Pain is perpetuated by a judicial system that benefits from angry, confused family members, she said. Unstable relatives create a climate for seeking capital punishment, while healing might turn families against further death, the way she did.

"We leave so many damaged, hurting people along the way," she said.

Her own path to recovery included prison ministry, where she visited death row inmates every Monday for seven years in her home state of Texas.

"We execute everybody and anybody in Texas - we do not discriminate," she said, relating a story of a man so mentally deficient that, when given his last meal, asked to save his dessert for when he got back. "I stopped a couple years ago because everyone I visited was dead."

Hapney's murderer was convicted of aggravated assault for the shooting of three Hapney brothers. He died in jail before Byars was able to share her husband's forgiveness with him.

The death ofthe murderer, she said, does not provide the healing it promises. It also does not reduce violent crime, as seen by Texas' zealous execution rate and rising crime statistics. Therefore, she said, we must ask why the death penalty is still being used.

“I urge you to educate yourself on this issue,” she told the audience.  “It affects us all.”

The Journey of Hope is credited with influencing former Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s death penalty moratorium and commutations.  Journey of Hope is traveling throughout Ohio for three weeks as part of a national moratorium campaign.  While on campus, the group also spoke at an evening event sponsored by UD’s Center for Social Concern.