As a family, we have always been opposed to the Death Penalty. That belief, however, was theoretical; we never dreamed that our family would be touched by violent crime.
On January 10, 2001, our only daughter, Laura, was murdered while home on winter break from college. Laura was filling in as a receptionist at the Nevada County Behavioral Health clinic when a mentally ill client opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun and shot Laura four times, killing her instantly. When the rampage at the clinic and at a nearby restaurant ended, three people lay dead, three were severely injured, a community was shaken, and the world was diminished by the loss of an incredible young woman.
Laura had extraordinary capabilities, kindness, and spirit. She was an outstanding student, graduating as high school valedictorian and was at the time of her death a college sophomore, and in the midst of her campaign for the student body presidency. Laura was extremely organized, disciplined and motivated. Couple these traits with her positive energy and she was a natural leader. At age nineteen, Laura was already living a life full of service; she wanted to make a positive difference in the world…she had unlimited possibilities and the brightest of prospects. Laura was preparing to dedicate herself to a life of social service, social justice, and world peace through the practice of respect, non-violence and social equality. Her life was witness to her beliefs, as she touched and inspired the lives of those around her.
As Quakers, our family, including Laura, had always been opposed to the death penalty. In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, while still in disbelief and shock, we leaned on our long-held beliefs; we remain opposed to the death penalty. As we continued our journey as grieving parents and endured the criminal and civil proceedings, we experienced a wide range of emotions but never wavered in our opposition to the death penalty. In fact, our feelings against the death penalty have been strengthened.
In the days after Laura was killed, we were searching to find sense and meaning. It was incomprehensible that someone as good and innocent as our dear Laura could be killed by an act of violence. Comments such as “Fry the Bastard” or “I hope he gets what he deserves” were loudly expressed in our community, but did not comfort us. We were in need of a restored faith in the goodness of people. The support, care, and concern of friends and strangers warmed our hearts and rekindled our faith.
The death penalty is often justified in the name of the victim’s families. Advocates claim that it will bring justice and closure. However, true justice is something we can never achieve, as we can never have our daughter back. In our view, the lengthy process of trials, appeals and anticipated execution would only impede coming to terms with our horrible loss. If closure means healing, that healing must come from within, not from the fate of the murderer.
We believe the man who killed our daughter must be held fully accountable. He cannot be trusted to be free in society again without continuing supervision. However, further feelings of him would give him a hold on our life that we do not wish to grant. We have no control over what happened to our daughter but we can choose how we respond. We know what Laura would want. We lost our daughter and life as we knew it, we do not intend to lose our values too.
We understand that victims who oppose the death penalty are frequently marginalized and ignored by the court, thereby perpetuating the harm. In our case, we were fortunate to meet with the District Attorney regarding our feelings and were assured that the death penalty would not be sought even though the special circumstances of multiple and premeditated murder might have applied. Our daughter’s killer was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity, and committed to a state mental hospital. We agree completely with this outcome.
From a purely analytical perspective, the death penalty might be justifiable if it deterred crime and saved lives, or if it resulted in a reduction in State costs. Studies have shown that it does neither of these things. The death penalty, therefore, can only be viewed as an institutional expression of revenge and retribution. Rather than focusing on the offender, it must be asked what the death penalty says about us as a society. Our nation cannot afford the death penalty; the cost, both morally and financially, is too high. We say, not in our name.
Amanda and Nick Wilcox