Family of slain sisters speak out as death penalty reinstatement pondered
Our daughter, Christy, grew up in Clinton and is now a professor of education at Coe College. She wrote the following statement to the Iowa Senate subcommittee considering, once again, an awful bill to reinstate the death penalty in Iowa.
She gave me permission to forward her statement, which reads:
“My sisters Suzy and Sarah Wolfe were murdered in Pittsburgh 7 years ago. After an investigation and arrest, the jury trial loomed. This required some hard discussions by our family, as the defendant was charged with capital murder and faced the death penalty.
“Having been raised to value human life, we thought of ourselves as against the death penalty. We knew that the murderer of my sisters would have a chance to argue against a sentence of death. We also knew that our opinion – the opinion of the family left behind to mourn their loved ones – would be sought by the prosecuting attorney’s office as part of the process.
“My parents, my remaining five siblings and I, as well as our own spouses and children, had to turn a hypothetical into a real-world question: would we want to see the person who murdered two people we loved so dearly killed by the government for his acts? We knew his death would not resurrect my sisters. We knew his death would not “fill a hole” left by the loss of my sisters. All we knew for sure is that his death would be justified as the “cost” of killing my sisters, a cost that ultimately we would not support.
“We know the problems with capital punishment: the innate racial discrimination in our criminal system and particularly in the sentencing of the death penalty, the unholy financial cost to taxpayers to house the convicted until his death, the endless appeals we would endure in the name of “justice” for our sisters. And for all those reasons, we do not support the death penalty. But when faced with our unique situation – should the murderer who killed my sisters die for his crime? – we still said no. We refused to tarnish our sisters’ legacy of love and hope and care by supporting the State in killing the man who murdered them. We were relieved when the jurors sentenced him to life in prison. We were grateful we would not endure more headlines about appeals, more challenges to the original case and evidence, more graphic press about what my sisters endured.
“Please do not assume that all victims’ families would welcome death by the State in the name of their loved one. To each family, a murder is the worst thing that could ever happen. But it should not be up to the legislators to decide that some acts are worth a punishment that has been abandoned by almost every civilized nation on earth. Please leave the decision on punishment to the judges, attorneys, and juries of Iowa. Many families do not want to see more death, especially in the name of those we loved.”
Pierrette Wolfe, Clinton