Thursday, July 19, 2007

In her honor

Vicki Scheiber is a friend and supporter of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She also is a board member of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. She recently was profiled in Bethesda Magazine. Here is the beginning of her story:

In Her Honor
When Vicki Schieber of Chevy Chase lost her daughter to a brutal rape and murder in 1998, she was encouraged to seek the death penalty for her daughter’s killer. She chose forgiveness instead, and launched a crusade to end capital punishment

By Kathleen Wheaton

On a Saturday morning in February, Vicki Schieber, a motherly woman of 62 with soft brown eyes, wavy brown hair and a gentle Midwestern voice, drives from her home in Chevy Chase to Baltimore to visit a death-row inmate.

At the prison, a guard leads her down narrow cement corridors, steel-barred doors automatically slide open and then clatter shut behind her.

The visiting room is scarcely wider than a phone booth, bisected by thick panes of Plexiglas. Unlike some of the other six men awaiting execution in Maryland, the man on the other side of the window hasn’t claimed to be innocent of the contract killing for which he was sentenced to die 11 years ago. He’s 36, small and slender, with an open, boyish face that lights up when he sees Vicki—they’ve exchanged several letters, though they’ve only met once before.

In the car on the way up, Vicki tells me she’s befriended a murderer whose guilt is not in question because she “wanted to try and understand how someone could do something like that.”

Her desire to understand is born of personal tragedy. In May 1998, her beautiful and accomplished 23-year-old daughter, Shannon, a first-year doctoral candidate at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was raped and strangled by an intruder who climbed in through the balcony of her Philadelphia brownstone apartment. Four years later, Shannon’s killer was caught, and confessed to the rape and murder of Shannon and the rapes of 13 other women.

In Pennsylvania, as in many other states, the wishes of a victim’s family can determine a murderer’s fate. Vicki and her husband, Sylvester (Syl), had always been opposed to capital punishment based on their personal and religious beliefs. But confronting the man who murdered their daughter put that abstract principle to an excruciating test. In the end, principle triumphed over anger, and—despite intense pressure from the district attorney and the Philadelphia news media—the Schiebers asked that their daughter’s killer not be executed. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In the nine years since the murder, the principles that guided the Schieber’s decision have become a much larger cause. Vicki, in particular, has devoted her life to trying to abolish capital punishment in Maryland and the rest of the country. As a founding member of MVFHR, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, Vicki regularly gives speeches in churches and law school classes, testifies before legislative committees and appears before editorial boards.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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