In the past I supported capital punishment because I was a conservative and hadn’t heard any convincing argument to the contrary. The issue became personal when my father-in-law, Thomas E. Gober, was the victim of a senseless street crime in which he lost his life. Thomas was in many ways closer to me than the father who raised me, always referring to me as his son. He believed in God and the United States, and defended the country during the Korean War in the United States Marine Corps, remaining in the reserve after the conflict. He was also an active member of the International Lions Club and was instrumental in creating, funding, and sustaining the Michigan Home for the Blind.
Thomas had recently retired in 1994 and, along with his wife of over 45 years, looked forward to many relaxing years of golf, travel, and spending time with his grandchildren. This future was suddenly taken from him on Valentine’s Day. Two of the three individuals who perpetrated the murder were apprehended and subsequently convicted of capital murder. In Michigan, where the crime occurred, the mandatory sentence for capital murder is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. To be honest, at the time, I felt as if I was cheated out of justice. I know my entire family felt the same. I really wanted blood for the blood of this man that I loved.
Reading Sister Helen Prejean’s books Dead Man Walking and Death of Innocents, as well as Lori St. John’s The Corruption of Innocence, changed my views on the death penalty. Like many citizens, I never gave much thought to the justice system as it is applied to the indigent and poor. To me, justice existed and was available to everyone. Since then, I’ve observed that that death penalty is typically reserved for individuals who are marginalized in our communities: racial minorities and people with less income. As I read, for the first time, about the mechanics of the death penalty, I made the decision that I no longer wanted capital punishment to take place in my name.
Coming to this mindset was, for me, was a long process and required a great deal of research and soul searching. Like many families of murder victims, my family members are divided in how they feel about the death penalty. Some support it, as I once did, while myself and at least two others are against it. Personally, my views prohibit me from supporting the death penalty in cases of murder in any form. This year marked the 20th anniversary of my father’s death; a day never goes by but that I don’t think of him. Knowing my father as I did, I do not believe he would support capital punishment for his murderers.