Arleen Williams

Arleen Williams teaches English as a Second Language at South Seattle College. She has authored three books, including The Thirty-Ninth Victim, a memoir about her family’s journey before and after her sister’s murder.
Killing another person doesn’t bring justice to anything. Taking the perpetrator’s life, thinking that somehow that would pay for the life of a victim, just doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t seem moral; it doesn’t seem ethical; it just doesn’t make sense.

Maureen was the baby of the family. She was blonde with big blue eyes, and she really looked like a little Goldilocks. I remember her as a little tiny girl with ringlets that we used to wrap around our fingers. My favorite memory of her was when she came to visit me while I was living in Mexico. I left home before she turned 10, so it was really special when she made the decision to seek me out. We were able to get to know each other as individuals and not merely as siblings. She made the trip when she was 18, right before she was killed.

Maureen was Gary Ridgway’s 39th victim. We’re talking about a case that went on for 20-some years. The process was very painful. Among my family, there was no discussion at all around Maureen’s case. For a long time I had no idea what happened to my sister because nobody wanted to talk about it. I think the shame and embarrassment silenced them. Sixteen years after my sister disappeared, Gary Ridgway was identified as the perpetrator.

I can’t honestly say that I even had a position on the death penalty as a teenager or young adult. But I have always thought that killing is wrong and believe that violence begets more violence. For as long as I can remember consciously thinking about the death penalty, I believed it was wrong. Maureen’s death firmed my resolve. Even while prosecutors were deciding whether to pursue the death penalty, I knew that taking Ridgway’s life was not going to make a bit of difference to how I felt about what happened to him, about my sister’s death, or about what it did to our family. Killing him would have been just another murder, as far as I could see. Whether it is state-sanctioned or not, the death penalty is still murder.

From my personal experience, I can tell you that killing another person doesn’t bring justice to anything. Taking the perpetrator’s life, thinking that somehow that would pay for the life of a victim, just doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t seem moral; it doesn’t seem ethical; it just doesn’t make sense.