- Published: 08 November 2009
- Written by Ron Keine
Editor's note: Ron Keine is a much sought after speaker dedicated to the eradication of the death penalty in the United States. Speaking engagements can be arranged through www.witnesstoinnocence.org/index.htm where you will also find a good bio on him. Ron's personal website is www.ronkeine.org.
One of the most overlooked and seldom mentioned effects of the death penalty is the horrible victimizing of innocent people. This collateral damage is most disheartening when one looks at the immediate family of the death row denizen. What they suffer through is truly cruel and unusual.
Even though I was Innocent--exonerated after two years on death row after the confession of the law enforcement officer who was the real murderer--my family suffered greatly.
My mother would not come out of the house for two years because of peer pressure. She had a son on death row. Even her closest friends did not know how to greet her at the super market, drug store or on the street. What do you say to a mother who is grieving as the state prosecutor gets to kill her son? It will not be alright. Time will not heal these wounds. Tomorrow or next week or next month will not be better. Others, mostly strangers, but also a few so called friends were not so kind to her and did not remain silent.
She quit church when someone sitting in the back row of pews loudly called out, "Murderer! Rapist!" As she walked out of that church, in tears with her shawl over her head in shame, she probably never heard the people admonishing the loud mouth.
She was shunned by the local society that had, in the past, respected her and relied on her outgoing personality to bolster the morale at community and social gatherings. She became a recluse. Even after I was exonerated she remained so. She died in sadness, never recovering her love of life and former status as a pillar of our community. I wonder if she ever understood that she shunned society more than they shunned her. My grandmother was a little stronger. She, at least, went to church. Some say that Grandpa went to church only to defend Grandma from the ridicule. I think it was so he could argue with people who talked about me, and so he could shake his ever present cane at them. I really loved that old man. He taught me how to fish.
Execution is not a death such as a car accident, a sudden mishap or an accidental death. A death that can be easily forgiven or excused. This killing is slow and calculated. It takes an average of ten years to execute a man and they start killing him the day he is put on death row. Throughout the appeals, which last many years and cost an average $3,200,000.00 per person, I wonder if families of the executed are aware of the indignity of even having to pay for that death with their tax dollars. Several times these men were innocent and the family knew it.
My father planned his suicide for months, having already purchased a gun. He was saved, just in time by the news of my exoneration.
Probably the worst effects of all were inflicted on my kids.
Peer pressure is perhaps the most profound on school age children. Children can be cruel and outright vicious. "Your daddy is a murderer." "Your daddy rapes people." "They should have killed him." "How do we know he did not do it?" "My dad says that your dad got out because of a slick lawyer." "My mom says she better not see him at any school functions or she will give him a piece of her mind." "Our parents are watching him when he is around kids." This all happened even though my daughters were born years after my release. I would get that phone call from the school to come and pick up a daughter as she was in distress. As she sat crying, waiting for me to leave work to come and get her she didn’t know that I was also wiping the tears off my face. Some time I would have to sit in the school parking lot a few minutes so I could compose myself before entering the place. I had to be strong for her.
These were innocent little girls. What did they ever do to deserve this? How can God let this happen to them? It became an ordeal to make them go to school every day. They shuddered at the thought of it. Changing schools (six times) worked only for a short time until the punishment started again. They never did graduate. They both quit when they became old enough to do so. What a total waste of a human mind. One of the girls has an IQ of about 160.
My only thanks are that this did not happen when I was on the row. They did not have to live through the debacle of a justice system that is allowing the state to kill their daddy. Thousands of other innocent children were not so lucky. I wonder what it is like for them to have to carry that burden. I wonder how mothers answer that much dreaded question, "Why do they have to kill my daddy".
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