“The District Attorney assured me that the execution of the man responsible for Catherine’s murder would help me heal, and for many years I believed him. But now I know that having someone murdered by the government will not heal my pain. I beg the government not to murder in my name, and more important, not to tarnish the memory of my daughter with another senseless killing.”
Aba Gayle’s 19 year old daughter, Catherine Blount, was murdered in the fall of 1980. Douglas Mickey was convicted of this murder and sentenced to death. He is currently on death row in California. For 8 years following Catherine’s death, Aba Gayle was consumed with a desire for revenge.
Aba Gayle began a four year spiritual search and encountered a number of books and enlightened teachers that helped her learn about forgiveness. Twelve years after Catherine’s death, Aba Gayle wrote a letter to Mr. Mickey telling him she forgave him. The act of mailing that letter resulted in instant healing. Gayle then realized that she did not need to see another person killed so she could be healed. She found that love, compassion and forgiveness were the way to healing.
Aba Gayle has established a relationship with Mr. Mickey and considers him her friend. Gayle travels all around this country and Europe teaching the healing power of forgiveness. She and all her family oppose the death penalty under any circumstances.
“I decided to become an enemy not of my son’s killer [Tony] but of the forces that put a young boy on a dark street holding a handgun. Tony now writes letters from prison that we use in our programs and that we see having a positive effect on other kids. Think of how many kids he may save. That is going to bring a lot more healing than if he had gotten the death penalty.”
Azim Khamisa’s son, Tariq, was a young college student when he was shot by a 14 year old gang member, Tony Hicks. Tony became the first juvenile in California to be tried as an adult. He was sentenced to 25 years to life. After the murder of his son, Azim recognized that there had been “victims on both ends of the gun.”
Azim reached out to Tony’s grandfather, Ples Felix, in an act of forgiveness. Ever since their initial encounter the two men have worked to break the epidemic of youth violence through programs that teach children there is an alternative to violence. Tony has helped them send this message through letters and messages he sends from prison. Azim recognizes the effect of Tony’s message, and knows the message would have been lost had Tony been subjected to a government mandated execution.
“Rather than focusing on the offender, it must be asked what the death penalty says about us as a society. Our nation cannot afford the death penalty; the cost, both morally and financially, is too high. To execute Laura’s murderer for an act he committed while delusional with a severe disease is, to us, simply wrong. Our prisons are now filed with mentally ill and in many instances the only way someone can receive proper medical care is by committing a crime. The financial resources now spent on implementing the death penalty would be better spent if redirected to treatment of those with serious mental illness, thereby preventing future acts of violence.”
Amanda and Nick Wilcox lost their 19 year old daughter, Laura, when a mentally ill patient opened fire at the behavioral health clinic where Laura was working while home on winter break from college. For her entire life Laura had been committed to social justice, non-violence and equality. Both her and her family had always been opposed to the death penalty. Following Laura’s death, Amanda and Nick leaned on these values and never questioned their long-held anti-death penalty beliefs.
In fact, the experience of losing their daughter served to strengthen their convictions because they realized that years consumed by trials, appeals, and an anticipated execution would be an obstacle to their healing. Since losing Laura, they have testified in front of the California Senate in favor of a death penalty moratorium, and have advocated for improved mental health care in California. As a result of their efforts they have helped pass two bills, one allowing for court-ordered out patient mental health treatment, and a second increasing funding for mental health services.
Derrel Myers’s son JoJo White was known for his activism, he counseled at risk-youth at Martin Luther King Middle School. JoJo was opposed to the death penalty.
Jojo White died when he was shot to death by an enraged stranger. JoJo’s killer has never been found, however JoJo’s parents, Derrel Myers and Naomi White, believe society bears some responsibility for instilling anger and hatred in the man who killed their son. They do not believe that putting JoJo’s killer to death would bring them closure or fill the absence they have felt since JoJo’s death.
Derrel Myers and Naomi White, have honored JoJo’s life by continuing to spread the messages that were so important to their son—messages of justice and non-violence. Derrel Myers has spoken against the death penalty at the California state legislature, Northern California Conference of ACLU Youth, the 2006 National Convention on the campaign to end the death penalty, and many anti-execution vigils at San Quentin Prison.
“The death penalty is not just an individual issue of crime and punishment; it’s connected to the larger social problem of racism, inequality, and poverty. If we were a truly just society, one that respected all children in all their great diversity, one that offered real opportunity, liberty, and justice for all, our son JoJo would be here living a hopeful, generous, and loving life. And so would the young man who killed him.”
My brother, Robert James Kerr, was found lifeless, shirtless, barefoot and without identification on July 12, 2003 in Everett, Washington. It took weeks for investigators to identify him. I spent that time becoming increasingly worried and finally alarmed when he did not arrive for a scheduled visit and when my calls to his cell phone were answered by a stranger.
Bob was brutally beaten and strangled. His financial accounts were used for weeks after his murder. Bob had given up his PIN number and other personal information on the night of the crime. The coroner’s report confirmed the horrible circumstances under which the information is presumed to have been obtained.
In the days and weeks that followed my brother’s murder I was immobilized by the trauma. I craved information about who killed him. I wanted this person, this criminal, brought to justice. I wanted to be able to tell my daughter that society would find a just way to respond to this merciless act.
I am still waiting, four years later, for a suspect to be named and for justice to take its course. It has been agonizing for me to go through the pain and grief of Bob’s violent death. But the possibility of the death penalty for the murderer is an additional burden and a cruel twist that adds to my sense of victimization.
I have never and will never support the death penalty. I know now, more than ever, that killing is wrong. Revenge will not bring my brother back and it will not bring me peace. I honor my brother’s life and my memory of him by standing against the practice of delivering justice through execution.