In 2007, there were more than 100 people murdered in Connecticut. The murders of the Petit family women rocked our state to its core. However, the murder of my 18-year-old son, Tyler, went virtually unnoticed.
Dr. Petit’s loss was horrible, but so was mine, and so were those of every single one of those other 100 murders — each a tragedy in their own right. Each leaving behind loved ones whose lives can never be the same.
For the last few months I have been speaking against the death penalty. I’ve been joined by 82 others who have lost children, siblings, parents, and spouses and have said that the death penalty hurts victims’ family members – all of us – because of how it treats those entrenched in the death penalty system, as well as those who are left on the outside without the attention and care that capital cases receive.
If we are serious about helping surviving victims — all of us — we need to see the bigger picture. The bigger picture is that the death penalty is given in fewer than 1 percent of cases, yet it sucks up millions and millions of dollars that could be put toward crime prevention or victims’ services. What I wouldn’t give for a tiny slice of those millions to give my grieving daughters some professional help to process the death of their brother.
If we are serious about helping surviving victims — all of us — we need to acknowledge that the death penalty in our state is a cruel hoax. In 50 years we have executed one person. Despite good intentions and earnest efforts to reform the system, we have remained unable to find a way to have a fair trial without torturing the victims’ families. With any other sentence, the surviving victims walk away confident that the offender is serving his punishment. With the death penalty, the promised punishment never comes, but surviving families vigilantly wait and fight. How absurd that in a quest to help them we would sentence them to this purgatory.
If we are serious about helping surviving victims — all of us — we need to face the ugly truth that the death penalty sets some crimes and some victims apart as more important than others. How do we make these decisions? Is it quantity of lives lost? The location of the murder? The death penalty attempts to identify “the worst” crimes. There is just no way for us to reasonably do this, and it is hurtful that we try.
I feel for Dr. Petit, and I understand his pain better than most. The last thing I want is to appear to be “against” Dr. Petit – and I assure you, I most certainly am not. But that is the illusion that the death penalty system creates. It has said to us that some cases are different, some cases are worthier of our attention, some hurt is deeper. And this just adds to my pain.
If our legislators are serious about helping us — all of us — they will repeal the death penalty and do so as soon as they possibly can.