Karil Klingbeil

Karil Klingbeil
Tragedy struck in the city of Olympia on Sept. 17, 1981 when a man walked into a bank and shot and killed two bank tellers during a robbery. Most people are more familiar with the convicted murderer, Mitchell Rupe, than his victims Candace “Candy” Hemmig and Twila Capron. When he was first sentenced to death, Washington’s only method of execution was by hanging. Rupe, who weighed more than 400 pounds, argued that he was too heavy to be hanged and would be decapitated, which he argued would be a cruel and unusual punishment. He eventually won his appeal and was sentenced to life in prison. Candy’s older sister, Karil describes how and why she transformed her view of the death penalty.
I was totally in favor of the death penalty, having never thought much about it, before this time. The change in my belief system was very gradual, over about 30 years. But once I could step back and assess the entire process, I realized that it was my emotions that were advocating for the death penalty. As I realized and faced that, I began to peel away the anger, the frustration, grief and fear, and what the entire process did to our family, I no longer had reason to support the death penalty.

Candy was the youngest in our family of three children born to my parents. She was the apple of our parents’ eye. Her career was on the upswing and her marriage was happy. She and Dave, her husband, were raising three children: Marlene, Robert and Jason. They had just recently moved into a tri-level house in a new suburb of Olympia and she loved decorating the house. Candy’s life focused on Dave and the kids. She was going to soccer games, and baseball games, chauffeuring the kids, so it was very much a family-oriented existence for her.

During Rupe’s original trial, I wanted him dead. I didn’t want to hear about it anymore, I wanted the death penalty. I was totally in favor of the death penalty, having never thought much about it, before this time. The change in my belief system was very gradual, over about 30 years. But once I could step back and assess the entire process, I realized that it was my emotions that were were advocating for the death penalty. As I realized and faced that, I began to peel away the anger, and frustration, grief and fear, and what the entire process did to our family, I no longer had reason to support the death penalty.

There’s considerable emotional loss that I think the criminal justice system does not understand. In their quest to do their jobs, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and others in the system are doing what the law tells them to do without much benefit of thinking about family members’ feelings. I think this is an area that needs to be quantified and better explored, explained and effectively dealt with, on par with all the other issues like cost, deterrence factors, and the morality of the death penalty.

Starting with the trial, the publicity, and the media coverage and going through it all in painful detail was like reliving the experience. It continued for the next 20 years. We went through appeal after appeal. Another article would be published about the trial or someone in another state would get the death penalty, and they’d bring up the Rupe case again. The repeated hearing of it, adjusting to it, interrupting our lives to hear it over again was very traumatic. It was unnecessary, painful, and immoral. Families deserve a better explanation about what to expect and what it may mean to them in pursuing the death penalty. Many prosecuting and defense attorneys maintain, “You don’t need to be present, you don’t have to be at the trial.” But many family members feel they need to go to the trial and hearings to support the deceased person, or attend for other reasons. They don’t realize how traumatic and upsetting it can be because repetition fuels the anger, which only adds to the grief and loss. I think prosecutors need to be much more sensitive and much better trained in working with family survivors in exploring the ramifications of a trial – what an automatic appeal means and reasonable projections of a time frame.

There’s considerable discussion about the cost of the death penalty being prohibitive; there’s considerable talk about deterrence, whether the death penalty works, discussion around errors that are made in the criminal justice system and the wrong people being executed. There’s discussion about physicians at executions, about inept and ill-prepared attorneys for poor people, and the entire racial issue. But there’s very little discussion about the emotional impact and the morality of it. It doesn’t seem to carry the same kind of weight. It’s not something you can easily quantify and to which you can put a dollar sign.

Candy was a beautiful, bright, caring and engaging person who easily made friends. She was full of life, a life snuffed out too early. I know my mother would agree with my change of heart regarding the death penalty and I’d like to believe Candy would also. Abolishing the death penalty is a more humane stance for me and more in keeping with my philosophy of non-violence. An effective alternative is available through life in prison without parole.