For most of her life, Christina Lawson was in favor of the death penalty. Christina’s father was murdered when she was a young girl of 9, and she remembers responding with a combination of withdrawal and aggressiveness as she struggled to absorb what had happened. The men convicted of killing Christina’s father served brief jail sentences, and as Christina grew up she maintained that she believed in the death penalty and thought it was what her father’s killers deserved.
When her husband, David Martinez, was convicted of capital murder in Texas many years later, Christina still felt that someone who committed a murder deserved to die in return. “I couldn’t stand the idea of losing him and of what that would do to me and our children,” she recalls, “but I did believe he deserved to die for what he did.”
Yet even as she believed in execution as a legitimate punishment, she also couldn’t quite believe that it would take place. “It’s hard to explain,” she says now. “I believed it should happen, but I also believed it wouldn’t actually happen. A civilized society doesn’t go around killing people. You don’t believe they’re going to take your healthy husband and walk him to his death. You just don’t do that.”
It wasn’t until the day of the execution that the reality of the experience hit Christina – on many levels. “A guard asked me if I’d brought my tickets to the show,” she says, beginning to recount the litany of dignity violations that she experienced as a family member of the person being executed. “Then they wouldn’t look us in the eye when they frisked us. And afterwards, they were pushing us out the door and I looked up and saw that not even a minute had gone by since his death. I didn’t even get to stand there and realize what had happened. Then we started walking out of the administration building and my whole world started spinning. The activists were packing up and leaving and the pro-death penalty side was yelling at us and I kept thinking, why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do anything. I realized I was being punished for something David did.”
Christina’s children have suffered in the aftermath of the execution, and they continue to struggle to make sense of the logic of the death penalty. Her daughter, 10 years old as the execution date approached, asked, “They’re going to kill him because he killed somebody, so when they kill him, who do we get to kill?”
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.