Shared from the 11/6/2022 San Antonio Express eEdition

Parkland verdict was proper; death does not serve justice

Jessica Hill/Journal Inquirer/Associated Press

Renny Cushing, right, executive director of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, opposed the death penalty even though his father was murdered. “If we let those who kill turn us to killers, then evil triumphs, and we all lose,” he often said.


The Parkland, Fla., jury made the right decision last month when it sentenced Nikolas Cruz to life in prison without parole.

Cruz is the mass murderer of the 17 people killed in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He could have received the death penalty, but the jury did not reach a unanimous decision, which is required to impose it.

Understandably, many victims’ parents were outraged by the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Cruz was officially sentenced last week.

Dr. Ilan Alhadeff, whose daughter, Alyssa, was killed, was “disgusted” with the verdict. If Cruz didn’t get a death sentence, “what do we have a death penalty for?” he asked.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis reported that a death sentence was appropriate “in this case.” His Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist, tweeted the case was one where “the only just penalty is death.”

The sentence and reaction to it reminded me of my friend Renny Cushing, who died this past March in New Hampshire at age 69. Cushing’s father, Robert, was murdered by a psychologically troubled off-duty police officer in 1988.

Cushing could have responded with demands for the death penalty, but he did not. Instead, as a state legislator, he led the effort to repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire and became a national advocate for its abolition.

“Filling another coffin doesn’t do anything to bring our loved ones back. It just widens the circle of pain,” he said.

He also frequently said, “If we let those who kill turn us into killers, then evil triumphs, and we all lose.”

His father’s murderer was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Cushing went on to become the executive director of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation in 1998. In 2004, he helped found Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, which views the death penalty as a human rights violation and advocates for its worldwide abolition.

He served nine terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. In 2019, after three decades, Cushing’s crusade prevailed. New Hampshire abolished its death penalty.

Cushing often said the death penalty was “state-sanctioned, ritualized murder.” And he was correct. That’s why the Parkland jury made the right decision. There was no rational reason to “widen the circle of pain.”

The Parkland verdict of life without parole was not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a life sentence is handed down in a case of mass murder.

In 2015, a Colorado jury sentenced James Holmes, the shooter at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater who murdered 12 people, to life without parole. Five years later, Colorado abolished its death penalty.

Colorado and New Hampshire are not Texas. We have a different political culture and a different social history. However, there is something to learn by listening to other voices from other places.

I am reminded of the words of the Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother and cousins were victims of the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. The shooter, Dylann Roof, received a death sentence in federal court.

Risher said the death penalty in that case keeps living victims and survivors “still suffering in ways that could have been avoided.”

“Rather than helping us heal,” Risher said, “it keeps reopening our wounds.”

There are 24 states that have the death penalty, 23 that don’t and three with governor-imposed moratoriums. Over the last 15 years, 11 states have abolished the death penalty; the latest was Virginia last year.

Since 1976, the year the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for executions to resume nationally, Texas has executed more inmates, 576, than all other states. Oklahoma is second with 117.

Trends suggest that even in Texas, the death penalty is losing its appeal. Life without parole is increasingly the preferred choice of juries. And executions are way down. Texas had three executions last year and only three so far this year.

Maybe Texas is coming face to face with the warning of J.R.R. Tolkien about judgment: “Deserves it! I dare say he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

Roger C. Barnes is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of the Incarnate Word.

See this article in the e-Edition Here
Edit Privacy