Four people involved with death penalty cases argue for repeal
St. Ann Catholic Church’s Salt & Air Committee held an adult panel last month, educating against the death penalty.
The Rev. Walter Everett spoke of his own personal loss — his son Scott, who had been murdered at the age of 24, and how the tragedy caused him to form an unlikely bond with the man who murdered him.
“Nobody should have to bury a son or a daughter,” he said. “When it’s a violent death… that increases the trauma exponentially.”
He was one of four people who spoke at St. Ann on March 13 about repealing the death penalty in the state of Delaware.
Everett said that he and his family had difficulties throughout the entire process — not only dealing with the grief aspect, but with the legal system.
After visiting his son’s apartment, Everett had been given information by neighbors that he thought was pertinent to the case against his son’s murderer. Upon arrival at the police station to share the news, he said, he was not given the time of day.
“They didn’t even have the courtesy to face us. They were busy reading the morning paper and drinking coffee,” he said, adding that, after he began to tell the officers what he had heard, they turned around. “‘Look — you don’t need to do this. We’ve already made an arrest… We’ve had four homicides this weekend, and we’re burned out,’” he recalled them telling him.
Everett said that, after stewing in his anger about his son’s death and the lack of empathy from police, he attended a meeting for survivors of homicide, at which someone who had lost a loved one said that anyone who commits murder “should be taken out and shot immediately — no questions asked.”
“I was angry, and I understood her anger. But I certainly didn’t agree with her conclusion, because I’ve always opposed the death penalty.”
Everett soon found out that the woman had had a loved one die more than 14 years earlier.
“They were saying that after all that time,” he emphasized, adding that he wondered at the time if, years later, he would be just as angry about the loss of his son.
Scott Everett’s murderer, Mike Carlucci, received a plea bargain, reducing his charges to second-degree manslaughter and getting a sentence of 10 years in prison, out in five.
At his trial, Carlucci apologized to the Everett family.
“‘I’m sorry I killed Scott Everett. I wish I could bring him back. Obviously, I can’t. These must sound like empty words to the Everetts, but I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry,’” Everett recalled him saying.
Taking the apology as a sign from God, Everett wrote Carlucci on the anniversary of his son’s death, with the letter concluding, “I forgive you.”
From that, the two men began writing to each other, and eventually Everett visited Carlucci in prison. He would even eventually testify at a parole board hearing for Carlucci’s early release.
“‘You’re not the same guy who killed Scott, You’re not the same guy who went to prison,’” Everett recalled telling Carlucci. “Mike is doing extremely well these days,” he added.
Everett said that Carlucci is a good person and that, had he been executed, he would not have had the opportunity to turn his life around.
“That doesn’t mean Mike should die and another one of God’s people should be killed,” he said. “God doesn’t want us to take into our hands the killing of another human being.”
Kristen Froehlich, president of Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty, agrees. Froehlich’s brother David was murdered in Connecticut in 1995, along with four other young men. He and his roommates had been in a rent dispute with their landlord, who would later shoot them and set fire to the house in which they were living.
“It was the worst of the worst,” she said. “The whole community, as you can imagine, was devastated. We’re all sort of shell-shocked… nobody knows how to feel when there’s been an event like that.”
Froehlich said it took three years for the case to go to trial — something she said she had at one point been overly focused upon.
“When people say, ‘We need to kill that person,’ I can understand that. I can understand that visceral reaction…” she explained. “That wasn’t helping me. It increased the sense of powerlessness I felt.”
Froehlich said that attending survivor groups helped her work through the grief she was dealing with following her brother’s tragic death.
“In my fumbling around trying to live, I started to going to survival groups… That’s what really has helped me heal. None of it had to do with the legal piece,” she said.
Froehlich said her brother’s murderer was sentenced to life in prison, which she said was enough.
“I was satisfied that he was safely away and would not hurt anybody else,” she said. “That would in no way have healed my pain,” she said of the man’s potential execution. “It would not have given me closure in any degree.”
Barbara Lewis, the mother of former death row inmate Robert Gattis, whose 1992 death sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole in January 2012, spoke about the grief and shame she and her family endured throughout.
“I’m ashamed, hurting, and there’s really no one to talk to,” she said of how she felt following her son’s arrest. “Boldly I stand before you today and say: no mother, no daughter should have to live through what we lived through.”
Grattis had taken the life of his girlfriend, in what Lewis described as a “fatal attraction.”
She said that, following her son’s conviction, she had lost two people in her family to violent crimes, but she didn’t know how to process what was happening to her family as a result of her son’s actions.
“Every day I got up knowing, ‘They’re going to kill my son’… Every individual became a possible person who was going to execute my son,” she said, recalling herself asking, “‘God, what good am I supposed to get from this?’”
She said that the trial, and later impending execution, cast a shadow on her entire family, even when taking her granddaughter to college as a freshman.
“We’re standing there and she said, ‘Grandmom, are they going to execute my uncle?’”
Lewis said that, although she is a woman of God, a great deal of her strength came from a support group she attended.
“It gave me life when I was sinking deep and sad — not the church where I was a member. They didn’t know what to do because they don’t deal with this issue… I never thought I’d be standing here… We were good people, raised in the church. We had moral values, but my son got on a road and he didn’t know what to do. He got into a bad relationship.”
Lewis said she wasn’t seeking pity but wanted to encourage others to take the time to consider that “You can’t kill one person and fix the world.”
“We want to live in a community that has a place for forgiveness, reconciliation, moral values and people who will talk to each other,” she said. “Get onboard and morally talk about it — ‘What do we really want in the state of Delaware?’ Give it real deep thinking.”
Brian Boyle of the Delaware Repeal Project said that he has met people who are for and against the death penalty.
“I try to find a place where we can agree,” he said, noting that everyone seems to agree that citizens want safe communities and innocent people shouldn’t be executed, and that Senate Bill 19, to repeal the death penalty, should be debated and receive a vote by a full House.
Boyle said that the death penalty is not needed in order to have safe communities.
“That’s not a deterrent,” he said, noting that Delaware is the third highest state in executions per capita, and also for crime. “The death penalty does not keep us safe in Delaware.”
Boyle also said that death penalty cases are, on average, three times more costly than those that don’t include a potential death penalty.
“Legal costs for a death penalty are astronomical,” he said, stating that, in Maryland, an average death penalty case costs $3 million, while a case seeking life in prison costs an average of $1 million. “I would posit to you that there are better things we can spend our money on.”
He added that there has been a 10 percent failure rate with execution sentences in the United States, meaning that 10 percent of death penalty sentences could involve a suspect who might be exonerated of the crime of which they were convicted.
“We shouldn’t execute innocent people,” he said. “For every 10 people we kill in this country, we exonerate one person. I don’t know if there is an acceptable fail rate when it comes to someone’s life, but certainly 10 percent is unacceptable.”
In speaking to human rights, Boyle said that everyone agrees that justice should be fair.
“That’s not the case,” he said of the death penalty in Delaware. “We have the highest minority population on death row, at 78 percent — higher than Texas. When you look at the race of the victim, the bias is even stronger. A study by Cornell University found that a black defendant who kills a white victim is 6.5 times more likely to receive the death penalty than a black victim.
“The majority of murder victims in Delaware are African-Americans, but the majority of people on death row are there for killing white victims. So, what does that say about our value of life?”
Boyle pointed out that, last year, Senate Bill 19, which would repeal the death penalty in Delaware, passed in the Senate by a vote of 11-10. The bill was reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee, but after debate it failed to make it out of committee by a vote of six to five.
“I would argue that, even if you agree with the death penalty, you don’t agree with that when we live in a democracy,” he said. “It deserves a vote from all… We think Senate Bill 19 deserves a vote.”
Following their individual presentations, members of the audience spoke to the panel.
“I think, as a citizen of the United State of America, that is mournful that we present ourselves as the moral leaders of the world but we have this tremendously flawed system and this terrible error,” said Jeannie Fleming. “That it just destroys our credibility on speaking about human rights.”
Boyle agreed and said that the United States currently ranks fifth in the world in executions, along with countries including Iran and Iraq.
“Those countries are not democracies. They are certainly not human-rights champions.”
Daniel Cowell, a psychiatrist, thanked the panelists for their time and said he believes that change must come from within.
“If you work with people, you will learn after many years, unless change comes from within — maybe by providence, maybe by insight, maybe by exposure by a good loving role model — if it lasts, it has to come from within.”
He spoke directly to Lewis and said there are no guarantees, but that the world needs more loving homes.
“We need more homes like yours, with involved and caring people who try their very best to do… That’s where it begins.”
Ann Crawford said that, earlier in the evening, she hadn’t been sure if she would brave the cold to attend the panel.
“I wasn’t sure I would come tonight, but I’m so glad I did,” she said. “It really has made an impact on me, and I want to thank you so much. When you hear the impact, it makes all the difference.”
Froehlich urged those who attended the panel to take what they had heard about the death penalty home with them and to start a conversation.
“Take what you hear tonight and have conversations… and keep the conversation going.”