Tuesday, July 17, 2007


From Both Sides

What if your child or loved one was murdered? Would you then desire revenge, desire retribution, desire the death penalty?

I always find it tough to answer this question because I have not been through the experience of having a family member murdered. I try to imagine the pain and anger that would fill me up if my mother or my sister were to be killed and I have to stop because I know that anger would consume me. So when I tell you from the bottom of my heart that if my mother was murdered that I would fight to the bone to ensure the murderer did not receive the death penalty, would you believe me?

Celia “Cici” McWee knows this pain and she shared it with us on Monday at our Middle Tennessee State University panel. On New Years day in 1980 her daughter, Joyce McWee, was murdered in a crime of passion by her husband. The husband was let off with one year of probation and retained custody of the children due to his family’s appointment of an excellent attorney and their general wealth. Twenty years later, her son Jerry McWee, was executed on death row for a murder of a convenience store clerk. After the first robbery, Jerry witnessed his partner in the crime randomly killing another individual and Jerry foresaw things getting out of hand so he turned himself in. However, the partner, a younger man with a long criminal history, struck a deal with the state and was able to avoid the death penalty if he testified against Jerry.

Celia McWee knows what it is like to have a loved one murdered…twice. She knows that money buys power in our justice system as she saw this two times over. Jerry couldn’t hire excellent attorneys to save him from execution and Joyce’s husband could. Celia knows that killing, in any shape or form, by the state or by a husband, causes pain--pain that she will experience every day for the rest of her life.

We are frequently challenged to address the rights of victims, to acknowledge their pain and their right to retribution. Celia has had a daughter murdered and a son executed, she’s a victim twice over. It will be easy for me to address that issue because of beautiful people like Celia who know firsthand how broken our system truly is and share this with the world.

Come back tomorrow for a story on Juan Melendez, a man that served on Florida’s death row for 17 years 8 months and 1 day for a crime he did not commit. Juan was also here in Tennessee this past weekend and did an incredible job kicking off our Jackson moratorium resolution campaign which I will also talk about in tomorrow’s blog.

Comments :
Ike, I hope you don't mind, but I am going to get very personal with this one.

First, the idea that you would fight to the bone to save your mother's murderer from death is sick. It is one thing to oppose the death penalty and maybe even mention it to the prosecutor, but it is quite another to actively fight to help someone who killed a loved one. It's disloyal and has a "hey everyone look at me quality" to it. You don't help those who kill the person who birthed you--period.

As for Jerry McWee being "murdered" by the state, that is hyperbole and a smear of the people involved in his death sentence. People who are executed are not "murdered". Why you choose to smear law-abiding folks on behalf of a cause that is trying to help murderers is simply immoral. By calling McWee's execution, you are calling the jurors, the prosecutors, the judges and the executioners "murderers". That is completely wrong. You should apologize.

Is McWee more beautiful than Maureen Faulkner, a woman who has endured much to see that her husband's murderer faces the music for his crimes?
While Celia McWee's capacity for grace is touching, who are we, the fortunate ones who have not felt her pain, to say that her way is the best or most righteous? John Collins knows something of the grief caused by the murder of a child. His 19 year-old daughter, Suzanne, was abducted, severely beaten, and sexually mutilated with a tree branch that penetrated her some 19" deep, destroying various organs in its path. Medical evidence established that she was concsious and lucid during her ordeal. Last year Sedley Alley was executed for the murder of Suzanne. Was John Collins wrong for believing that Sedley Alley deserved the ultimate punishment? Could you look him in the eye and tell him he was wrong? If you could, then I would suggest that your zeal has deprived you of compassion. I suggest that, in the interest of balancing your perspective, you attempt to contact John Collins. In all likelihood he has tried to move on with his life and will have no interest in speaking with you. Perhaps, though, he might say that Alley's death brought him no solace, and that he regrets his resolve to see him executed. Or, he might say that Alley's execution was deserved and that, while it will not bring back his daughter, it has brought him the satisfaction of knowing that Tennessee cared enough about his daughter to mete out its ultimate punishment to the one who brutalized her so horribly. In any event, there might be more than one reaction to unspeakable grief that is deserving of our respect.
I once heard a US Congressman say, "You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts." The fact is that when the state executes someone, the cause of death written on the death certificate is "homicide." Homicide is murder, like it or not. I don't believe Ike was pointing the finger of blame at law enforcement, jurors, judges, etc. but instead, highlighting the reality that every time an execution occurs, every single tax payer in the state participates in a murder, like it or not. Even if one believes the execution is justified, that doesn't change the hard truth that we all kill another human being when the state takes a life. If we as a society are going to have the death penalty, we need to call it what it is: murder. One of my biggest problems with the death penalty is that it makes all of us murderers, participants in the very act that we are supposedly condemning. I can only speak for myself when I say that I don't want to participate in anyone's homicide, no one's.
Homicide is not murder. If I kill someone in the course of defending my children, if the killing is justified, it is a homicide, just not a murder. The death penalty is authorized by law--ipso facto, it is not murder.
Homicide and murder are not synonyms. "Murder" is the unlawful killing of a human being. "Homicide" is the killing of a human being.
I guess I would argue that just because something is authorized by law does not make it legitimate or moral, ie. slavery, segregation, etc. I will accept the differentiation you point out between "homicide" and "murder", though according to at least one defintion I found, there is room for debate. In the end, the state has alternatives to taking a life, whether one calls the death penalty homicide or murder. Executing someone is the premeditated, killing of another human being...whatever we choose to call it.
This is in response to the first anon post, the one who called me "sick."

Once again, you have missed the underlying point to the post and focused in on what validates your position as a proponent. I will do the best that I can to respond to your post.

Murder victims families have REAL experience. I do not. I have discussed this issue with my mother (who I love so much, I was born on her birthday in fact!) and she is in support of my position. She would not want someone else to die to somehow right her death--no matter how inhumane or gruesome her death might be. Obviously, I feel the same about my own life. But, I don't have REAL experience.

Hector Black, James Staub, Clemmie Greenlee, Regina Hockett, Bud Welch, Renny Cushing, all have done what you described in your response as "sick." I have had the pleasure of meeting Hector, James, Clemmie, and Regina and I can tell you that they are not "sick" people. I am offended...actually more so saddened that you would say that about them. Of course I can assume that your response is that you said it about me, but remember, my family members have not been murdered. So really, what validity do I have.

Those folks did not want people to look at them, they wanted to save a life. That's how I feel as well. If there is someway that my personal actions can save a life than I will do all that I can to do that. If you were referring to what you derive as sensationalism because I have no real experience I can understand that. But please, do not accuse REAL murder victims families who want to save lives as having a "hey everyone look at me quality."

From the bottom of my heart I will pray for you--I will pray that you see forgiveness, mercy, and compassion--just as the murder victims families sought for those facing punishment.
I dont need your prayers. Nor do I need your condescension. I do find Welch's spotlight grabbing offputting as hell, by the way.
Jesus asked that His Father forgive those who were murdering him. I guess he was sick, too, eh?
Forgiveness is one thing--taking time to fight for the guy who killed your relative, quite another.
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