Monday, December 18, 2006

Creating more victims

Today Abolish the Death Penalty, in conjunction with the holiday season and with the assistance of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR), launches a new series.

We know that each execution involves and affects many people. The murder victim, though no longer present, is always part of the story. The family members of the victim are affected. The inmate facing execution is of course affected. And so are the family members that the executed inmate leaves behind.

But we seldom think about this latter group. We have had more than 1,000 executions in this country since 1976. How many thousands of people have lost loved ones to execution? Where are their stories? Why don’t we hear, see, and read about them?

MVFHR, in a breathtaking and groundbreaking report, recently closed this gap. Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind tells the stories of dozens of family members – daughters, mothers, brothers, others – and what they endured as the result of their loved one’s execution.

Today, in the first of a 10-part series over the next two weeks, we bring you one of these stories.

“Watching my brother be executed was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life,” says Tina Duroy. Tina’s brother, James Colburn, was executed in Texas three years ago, and Tina still has flashbacks of the event, especially when she sees a photo of a gurney on the television news.

What is especially painful for Tina is that she knows her family tried as hard as they
could to get help for her brother when he was alive. James was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age 14, and was in and out of hospitals throughout his teenage years. “But when he turned 18, he was no longer covered by the family’s insurance,” Tina explains. “My grandparents drained their entire savings, but when they ran out of money there was no hospital that would take him without insurance. Texas has no state-funded mental facility.”

James’s death sentence took a toll on the entire family. “My mother couldn’t face it,” Tina recalls. “She probably blamed herself, even though she couldn’t do any more than she did. She told me she couldn’t watch them murder her first-born.” Tina’s mother died two years before the execution.

Tina speaks about the death penalty’s affect on surviving family members whenever she can, and she continues to question why her brother couldn’t have received treatment that might have prevented both the murder he committed and the execution that took his life. She says, “I don’t understand how they can execute mentally ill people when they don’t try to treat them first.”

To read Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind, go here, scroll down to near the bottom of the front page of the web site, and click on the report.

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