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Tested on death penalty


When I give talks about my opposition to the death penalty, somebody always declares that I wouldn’t feel this way if somebody I loved had been murdered. Unfortunately, I got put to the test.

In February 2005, in Texas, my precious 21-year-old niece, Heather, was tortured, raped, mutilated and murdered. Somebody destroyed her dreams and her life, and destroyed our family’s hopes for her. I am desperate for justice. I want the Texas Rangers to find the man who committed this horror. I want him caught so he won’t do such a thing to anybody else. I want him found so that Heather’s mother can sleep again instead of worrying about her other daughters. I find myself praying that he will just plead guilty because I don’t want the hideous things he did to Heather talked about in a public trial.

But I don’t want him executed. That would be revenge, not justice. I believe the words of the Bible that say revenge is God’s, not ours. I shudder at the idea of government imitating this killer by killing him. All the talk about the “closure” given by an execution is a myth. Heather is gone. Her chair is forever empty, and killing her murderer will not change that. The closure I want is his incarceration. I don’t want to be jolted back into horrible memories whenever there is an appeal to a death sentence And I don’t want his family to be forced into grief and sorrow. Why create another family of another slaying victim? Executions are the most premeditated of all killings, and shamefully, they are legal in 38 states

I know firsthand from my work with Death Row inmates that a family can maintain a loving connection with a prisoner. A child can bond with, and love, a parent or grandparent who is in prison.

As a Christian, I am facing one of the hardest challenges of my life to forgive the man who took Heather from us. I know I must forgive, and I know it can be done, but it is going to be unimaginably difficult. I keep remembering when I bought Heather her computer for college. I remember showing her the sights in Washington, D.C. I remember how adored she was by her younger sisters. Oh my… it is going to be so hard to forgive.

And as a Christian, I want the man who took our Heather to be redeemed. He is a child of God and God loves him as much as He loves me. My church, the United Methodist Church, begins its statement of opposition to the death penalty with this sentence: “We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings.” I can’t say it better than that.

My opposition to the death penalty has not wavered because of this horrible murder. I have joined two associations of families of murder victims that oppose the death penalty. And it is now common, when I am speaking about the death penalty in Arkansas, for a family member of a murder victim to identify himself or herself, also stating opposition to the death penalty.

Betsey Wright, whose career as a political adviser included a decade of work for Gov. Bill Clinton, lives in Rogers.



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