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OP-ED | Murder Victim’s Mother Suggests the Big Picture Is More Important

by | May 13, 2011 3:18pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Opinion

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.

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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. 


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(4) Archived Comments

posted by: MissC | May 14, 2011  7:29am

When Senator Prague said she would not vote for repeal because she couldn’t put Dr. Petit, she clearly didn’t know what she was talking about. Maybe if she had given Victoria the same consideration she gave Dr. Petit, she would have understood that.

posted by: dudleysharp | May 24, 2011  3:31pm

My sympathies to Ms. Coward and Dr. Petit.

It would, certainly, make sense that the Petit case would have much more influence on the death penalty debate, legislatively, than would Tyler Coward’s, as one is a death penalty case and the other not, respectively.

One involved 3 murders of a mother and her two minor daughters, with rape/torture/kidnapping/bank theft/strangulation/being burned alive and the husband/ father nearly murdered by being beating with a baseball bat, crimes which took place over a 10 hour period.

How many similar crimes have occurred in CT? None.

Tyler was shot to death, murdered by a “friend” on the street, for reasons unknown.

How many similar murders by “friends”, acquaintances or rivals have occurred in Ct?

Sadly, it is an all too common occurrence.

Of course, the Petit case will have much more influence on death penalty legislation. In context, it should.

Yes, the disparity in media coverage is unfair. The media will pick and choose that which is likely to generate the most attention and, therefore, the most revenue. It is what the media does.

Was Tyler’s murder less of a tragedy, was his life worth less than any of the Petit girls? Of course not.

But, the differences in circumstances of the crimes are obvious.

posted by: dudleysharp | May 24, 2011  5:19pm

Ms. Coward:

All disparate sentences “may” put a wedge between some victims or their survivors.

But it shouldn’t. No crimes are “equal” and, with murders, as with all crimes, many different sentences may be given.

With murders, sentences can range from none, where the case can’t be legally made and the murderer remains free, to probation, to any length of prison time from time served, pre trial, all the way up to life and the death penalty.

By your reasoning, we should get rid of all sentences, because varying sentences will always occur with similar crimes and/or very different ones.

Of course, we know it is not different sentencing that you real care about, because that must be the norm in many cases. You are simply against the death penalty.

I have a better idea, victims and victim survivors should support each other regardless of the sentences given.

All victims are important, equally.

No matter the sentence, that should be the real message, because its true.

posted by: dudleysharp | May 24, 2011  5:33pm

Ms. Coward:

If numbers matter and your point is that they do, why would your 83 murder victim survivors, who are against the death penalty, be more important than the 83% of Ct citizens who have supported the death penalty since 2000, as shown by polls.

Those same polls find that 16% of those in CT oppose executions for all crimes. 16%.

If a scientific poll could be conducted, that only polled murder victims families whose loved ones were murdered in a death penalty eligible crime, I suspect there would be about 95% death penalty support.

So, again, by your reasoning, shouldn’t you and those other 82 be supportive of the death penalty, if the numbers are truly meaningful?

Of course.

In addition, the only reason that the death penalty takes so long and is so expensive is because anti death penalty activists and their proxy anti death penalty legislators have, for many years, obstructed serious death penalty reform.

It is the fault of anti death penalty folks. Tell them to get our of the way and to vote for responsible death penalty legislation.  For example, Virginia executes in 5-7 years.

Justice matters and 83% of those in Ct find the death penalty just in some cases.

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