Since an inhumane death sentence was carried out in Oklahoma on April 29, 2014 there has been much talk of Clayton Lockett. It reportedly took Lockett 43 minutes to die. Every time I read that I think about Stephanie Neiman, the woman Lockett buried alive. How long did it take her to die after being raped and shot by Lockett and his accomplices? Why was the suffering of young Stephanie Neiman not national news? The President, while saying he agreed with the punishment, said he found the execution deeply troubling and intended to look into it with the Attorney General. Was there a president talking about how to make the world less troubling for the family, friends and community of Stephanie Neiman?

As the family member of a murder victim, I think of victims first. From what I understand, the necessity of the law is to make right for those who have been wronged, to set a balance back in society, and for there to be finality. It seems to me, that the execution of Clayton Lockett has not achieved any of those goals. This case has inflamed the issue of the death penalty, it has set society out of balance, and those who have been wronged have not been made right or whole. More wrong continues to occur.

When I read about Stephanie Neiman, I am reminded of myself. She and I both played saxaphone, we are close in age, and she worked with churches as a teenager. In a statement attributed to Stephanie’s parents, Susie and Steve Neiman wrote that they were “thankful this day has finally arrived and that justice will finally be served.” While no one knows exactly when this was written, the language suggests it was prior to all of the media attention that subsequently followed Lockett’s execution. Her friends and residents of the town where she grew up in, Perry, Oklahoma, have said they have no sympathy for Lockett. A woman named Marilee Macias told an Oklahoma television station His little 30 minutes of lying there in anguish, if he was even feeling any anguish for 30 minutes, does not compare at all to anything Stephanie went through or her family.” 

Even when an execution is carried out ‘correctly’ according to the law, the family of a murder victim is regularly re-victimized. This happens through countless hearings, appeals, more hearings, more appeals, and much of the time the families go, to insure the voice of their loved one is not lost. The process for the Neiman family to find what they thought would be justice, the murder of Lockett in return for his murder of their daughter, has already taken 14 years, and unfortunately with this botched execution still in the news, it does not seem to be over for them yet.

Law makers on all sides of the death penalty issue are talking about how to proceed, including in Missouri where a man so set on hurting his ex-girlfriend he escaped from jail (he was there for domestic violence) to beat her with a hammer may be executed Wednesday May 21st. A Utah representative says he intends to bring back firing squads as an option to avoid issues with drug injections. There is really only one answer to how to solve all of the issues surrounding capital punishment. Abolish it.

Trials, hearings, appeals, they can go on for decades. These things force families to relive probably the most horrific moment of their lives over and over, and the legal system promises that if they do this they will see justice, but the constant reliving and re-victimization in itself is not just. When life without the possibility of parole is an option, this problem of constant re-victimization is solved. Once a person admits their guilt or is irrefutably found guilty, the families should be allowed to focus on honoring their loved one as best they can and moving on as peacefully as possible to their new lives.

When my cousin was murdered, the death penalty was not an option. The man who killed her was released into his town, the town where my aunt still lives, in 2010. The state of Vermont gave my cousin’s life a clear value, ten years of life from the person who killed her. It will never seem fair or just. Mine is not the only family to feel this way. There is a story I once heard of a young woman in Delaware, who jumped in front of her brother when someone set out to kill him. Had her brother been the one killed, the premeditation of the crime who have brought a capital case, but since the young woman was a bystander and not the intended target, since she interfered in her brother’s murder, her murderer spent maybe a decade in prison. I’m not sure of the exact time, but when the father of the murder victim told me the story, the man who killed his daughter and attempted to kill his son was already back on the streets. And all of these families went through the same: trials, hearings, appeals, and then paroles.

All states, and even the federal government, should be working from the perspective of restorative justice and protecting the rights of victims. Too often I encounter the families of murder victims who have been terribly disillusioned by the system of law meant to assist and protect them during their most vulnerable and difficult times. Too often the true meaning of justice is lost with process, the victims’ names are lost within procedure, and a life is given worth by those who have the least say in assessing that life’s value. It is time we start working harder for the victims of murder and their families. They deserve it.

 

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