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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fundraising for an Execution

There is a very interesting video posted on CNN today (along with another story here) about Tina Curl, whose 9-year-old daughter was raped and murdered in 1990. Donald Moeller, convicted in 1997 of this atrocious crime, is due to be executed between Oct. 28 and Nov. 3rd. It means everything to her to be able to attend the execution in person. The only problem is getting there. Curl can't fly because of a heart condition, and so she has to drive, but she estimates that the cost of the trip from New York to South Dakota will be between $3,000 to $4,000, and her husband was recently laid off. She has attempted to fundraise, but has not had much success given the rather grim subject of the fundraising efforts. Curl says she wants to see Moeller die because he watched as her daughter took her final breaths, and that she knows it is not going to bring her daughter back. Media coverage terms the execution "the only hope she has for catharsis," and that she wishes that Moeller would be able to see her there in his final moments.  Yet, an execution witnessing fundraiser seems incongruous on several levels.  We usually see fundraisers as associated with trying to save lives, human or animal—not associated with efforts that will take a life. 

Curl’s remarks caught my attention, however, because she does not speak of of “closure” in the stereotypical sense of absolute finality—the kind that mass media commonly links to “closure” but that murder victims’ family members almost unanimously assert does not exist.  Executions after all do not resurrect loved ones.  But from her remarks, it seems that Curl is after something different here—a procedural justice, a tying-off of loose ends, a confrontational satisfaction.  She wants to see Moeller’s end.  This is different from expecting the execution to provide a “closure” that is more subtle—allowing her to shut a door to a chapter in her life.  Curl’s expectations for Moeller’s execution seem much more realistic—she wants to be there for the final proceeding, and doesn’t seem to expect that the execution will have a “sunshine and rainbows” effect. 

While I certainly regret the need for her fundraising efforts, I feel very sad that she is in the position in which she currently finds herself, since it is not of her own making.  While capital punishment, lethal injection, and executions are certainly controversial, I believe that, so long as they occur, victims’ family members should be permitted to witness.  Based on interviews with victim advocates, I know that there are some jurisdictions (either county or state) that do assist murder victims’ family members with travel expenses, and I would be surprised if certain pro-death penalty organizations do not step forward and help Curl achieve her objective.  (As an aside, the amount of $3,000-$4,000 seems a bit high for travel expenses, including gas and hotel accommodations, for a week-long trip from New York to South Dakota, but maybe there are other costs I don’t know about).    But while the fundraising subject matter doesn't have the appeal of, say, the fundraising efforts of our local animal shelter, it is true that this all started with a little girl’s rape and murder, and this is how the parents want to set the record straight.  The saddest thing of all, of course, is that this family has been tied to the murderer through criminal justice proceedings for 22 years, when legal proceedings could have been over long ago in a system that offered life without the possibility of parole.

Posted by Jody Madeira on August 22, 2012 at 10:39 PM | Permalink

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She could take a berth on Amtrak from NYC to near her goal for much less than that. I personally oppose the death penalty, but won't begrudge her a "family" visit.

Posted by: Jimbino | Aug 22, 2012 11:15:28 PM

To be fair, her ordeal would also be over in a criminal justice system which has more limited, and arguably more rational, limits on criminal procedure afforded the condemned.

Posted by: Jesse | Aug 22, 2012 11:32:43 PM

Barbara, you remark hits a very big nail on the head--the thought of televised executions fills me with trepidation. I sense the reply was tongue-in-cheek. The airwaves were full of talk of televising executions around Tim McVeigh's execution back in 2001. People raised the (good) point that the execution would likely appear to be so banal that it would actually diminish the controversy surrounding the death penalty.

I myself am not a supporter of the death penalty, or of typical "closure" arguments, of course, but I can understand and empathize with the longing of victims' families to see their loved one's murder executed. I think we can lay resposibility for these emotions more at the foot of a criminal justice system, mass media, culture, and society that encourages these types of expectations and emotions than at the feet of family members themselves. I'm not sure Curl is after "therapuetic catharsis"--this is more typical closure rhtoric, the type that family members normally do not find after executions. Instead, I think from watching the video that she simply just wants to watch the entire process end, to know that it is over with. She wants to feel free.

For me, the fault lies in the death penalty itself--so long as the death penalty is on the books, family members may want murderers to pay the "highest price" for their crimes. In capital punishment, that price is death. A lesser sentence may say somehow that the victim is less deserving. These types of insidious comparisons will be permissible so long as lethal injection is an option. And of course once death is on the table additional procedural safeguards are called into play as well, leading to year after year of painful uncertainty for everyone involved.

Posted by: Jody Madeira | Aug 23, 2012 11:57:07 PM

Why not televise the execution for the benefit of the family? It seems to me that one benefit of having a death penalty option is that it discourages people who feel that "an eye for an eye" is the only appropriate penalty from carrying out "justice" themselves. If we really believe that is a benefit, why shouldn't witnessing justice be made possible for the poor?

Posted by: televised execution | Aug 24, 2012 8:15:01 AM

I don't know why it would cost that much to drive there & that is considering the cost of lodgings, which might be addressed by some local (perhaps a religious group) who can take them in for a day or a few days.

I don't think televised executions are a panacea here either, that is, if we take that as a serious proposal. I think there is a certain emotional value in actually being there. After all, the family already can entrust the execution to their "agents" -- state officials. But, physical presence is a special value here. And, yes, I think it reasonable to think the family members should have a right to be there.

I am not for the death penalty but respect the OP's stance that IF it is in place, we should consider certain things like that a responsibility. As to things being over with LWOP, that might be true up to a point, but litigation is possible there too and as long as the person is alive, and even after he is not, the family is still tied to them in an unfortunate way.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 25, 2012 10:49:06 AM

I don't buy the idea that victims' families ought to be guaranteed the opportunity to view executions. That seems to make the whole process too personal, which undermines the distinction between the criminal and civil systems. We don't let victims prosecute crimes specifically because criminal prosecutions are about the relationship between the accused and society, not the accused and the victim.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Aug 27, 2012 11:55:22 PM

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