Melanie Hebert was about to enter high school when her uncle, Spencer Goodman, was charged with capital murder. Spencer, the adoptive son of Melanie’s paternal grandparents, was only seven years older than Melanie and felt to her more like a brother than an uncle.
“Everyone at school knew we were related,” she remembers. “I had such a hard time in high school because of it. I was taunted: ‘I know who you are.’ I wanted to defend him, but also felt such shame that I wanted to agree.”
“I vividly remember when Spencer was sentenced to death,” Melanie continues. “It was my dad’s birthday and we were all gathered at my parents’ house when we heard it announced on the news. I had a physical reaction; I just felt so sick. I remember everyone scattering to different parts of the house, nobody talking about it but everybody having to process it by themselves.”
A young woman by the time the execution date was approaching, Melanie wanted to be able to witness Spencer’s execution, but she had to figure out how to request the necessary time off from work. “That was a really difficult thing to do,” she recalls. “I had to lie and say I had a death in my family – but in fact, I hadn’t yet had that death.”
“The experience tore my family apart,” Melanie reflects now. “I think maybe the
hardest thing about losing someone to execution is that there are people who cheer about it.” Melanie now speaks to university classes about her experience, and she finds the audiences receptive to her personal story. “Some of the students come up to me in tears afterwards and say they never thought about the family of the executed person before.”
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.