Austin American-Statesman, October 28, 3005

The families left behind

We hardly give them a second thought — if we notice them at all. But the family members of people who have been executed are no longer willing to suffer in silence. Their stories of survival after their parents, children or siblings were executed should give the public yet another reason to abolish the death penalty. At the very least, it should spur debate about whether executions are creating a class of victims who are being traumatized by state killing machines.

It goes without saying that family members and loved ones of murder victims deserve sympathy and support. They deserve justice from the courts, which should hold killers accountable, and if necessary, lock them away for life.

But the criminal justice system is imperfect; innocent people facing execution have been freed by post conviction DNA evidence. Some prosecutors have engaged in unethical tactics to win murder convictions; many poor defendants have been represented by incompetent lawyers; and some courts, including the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, are focused on process — whether appeals were filed on time, for example — rather than on justice.

On Thursday, family members of people who were executed gathered in Austin to launch an initiative called, "No Silence, No Shame." The event kicked off this weekend's conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Robert Meeropol, whose parents were executed in 1953, said no one has studied how children are affected when a parent is executed or whether society pays a cost for that. Meeropol founded the Rosenberg Fund for Children to honor his parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in the 1950s for conspiring to pass atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

"Nobody ever talks about the children of those who have been executed," Meeropol said. "Nobody seems to care about them or know what impact this will have on them. I have a particular mission to bring to the attention of the American public that there are an untold number of children who are victims, and we have no idea what toll executions are taking on their lives."

If we needed another reason to abolish the death penalty, then families, particularly children, of executed people have provided a good one.