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Another murder victim's parent speaks out against death penalty

February 21st, 2011

Mary Shaw

Whenever I write or speak about my opposition to the death penalty, I invariably hear from death penalty proponents who argue that killing the killer serves the best interests of the victim's family, giving them closure.

But not all families are thirsty for revenge. In fact, there are at least two organizations in the U.S. - Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) and Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) - which actively work for abolition of the death penalty.

And there is Margaret Hawthorn, the mother of a murder victim who testified in New Hampshire on February 1 in opposition to a bill that would expand that state's death penalty.

Below are some excerpts from Hawthorn's moving testimony, followed by a link to the complete text.

I am Margaret Hawthorn, mother of Molly Hawthorn MacDougall, who was murdered in her home on April 29, 2010.

Molly was two weeks from graduating from nursing school....

[...]

As tragic and senseless as Molly's death is, I am relieved this is not a capital case. Another death would only increase my family's trauma, and would not bring Molly back. I understand the bill being introduced today would make a case like hers capital because her murder was a home invasion.

As a child I came to my own conclusion that the death penalty was wrong. But, like anyone who believes the death penalty is wrong, I later had to consider the question, “Easy for you to talk of non-violence, but what if it were your loved one?”

Now it is my loved one. As a grieving mother, I have a voice I would never have chosen....

[...]

Revenge is tricky, self-destructive. It doesn't turn out sweet, seldom plays out the way one thinks it will. Too often family members find the execution of their loved one's murderer doesn't bring the hoped-for closure. I don't want to allow room for revenge to impose its disappointment on me.

I can't begin to describe how painful it is to learn to live in a world devoid of Molly's physical presence. I haven't begun to approach forgiveness. Trauma still wraps its armor around me, protecting me from taking in more than I can survive. In the meantime, I trust the state to make reasoned decisions that show compassion for all while I ride an emotional roller coaster I wouldn't wish on anyone.

There may never be a turn around in the murderer's heart, and I know not to count on it. My healing can't rest on what happens to or within another person. The state can best help me by funding ongoing private counseling and support groups with professional facilitators, and allowing me to go about the work of healing ... free from the specter of another death.

I do believe some people are so broken that for the safety of others they need to be contained, permanently. I am not naïve enough to think everyone can be rehabilitated and returned to society. On and off for nearly twenty years I have served as a facilitator with the Alternatives to Violence Program, a Quaker initiative that helps inmates - and groups on the outside - seek non-violent ways to respond to conflict. Having been inside New Hampshire prisons, I'm aware it is a grim existence. Eliminating the death penalty is not synonymous with letting people off the hook.

[...]

When I think about how to best honor Molly, I am certain it is by living into the values she embraced. She trained to do life-supporting work. Her love for people and deep compassion led her to choose a career of caring for others. She would not want anyone killed in her name.

What an amazing testimony by an obviously very strong woman!

>> Read her full testimony at: http://tinyurl.com/4tvwbef

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: mary@maryshawonline.com

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