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Repeal the death penalty for victims’ family members

Many times, we hear and read stories in the news about violent crime and think, ‘that only happens to other people.’ The reality is, it can happen to anyone. I was impacted by the murder of a loved one — twice. As a child, my mother was kidnapped, raped, and murdered at the hands of a man that had already been to prison and was out on parole. As an adult, my husband was murdered by a man that shot him point-blank in the head and burned his body in a fire pit while in a meth-induced episode.

People impacted by violence react and cope in many different ways. For me, my mother’s murder brought so much uncertainty into my childhood. There are entire years of my life back then that I don’t even remember. In my teens, I was consumed with grief and sadness and became self-destructive. I was also consumed by anxiety and fear — fear of ever having to see the man who murdered my mother, fear for my father and his grief, fear of allowing people into my life because there was a possibility that they too could be viciously ripped from me.

I can hardly imagine what would have happened if the man who murdered my mother was sentenced to death. As it was, the trial took over a year to reach a final verdict and sentence. (Keep in mind, this was with a confession in hand.) I don’t think I would have survived those teenage years if we were dragged back to court year after year, hearing after hearing, appeal after appeal, as happens with capital cases. And I’m not sure I could have handled the state putting another family through the kind of loss that my family had endured.

My husband’s murder had a completely different impact on me, though still very traumatizing. I knew — because of my own experience as a child — that I needed to focus on my children, to try to help them cope and heal in ways I was never able to. I also knew to seek out victim services to help us get through the emotional and financial toll of both the loss and also the eventual trial. But those services are perpetually underfunded and extremely difficult to navigate.

Each time I walked into a courtroom for another hearing or had a conversation with the prosecutor’s office about the next steps in the case of my husband’s murder, my children and I were re-traumatized. The vision of what happened to my husband replayed over and over in my mind.

In the years since my husband’s murder, I have been able to learn about and seek restorative justice to address the violence that my family and I have endured. Going through the process has reaffirmed for me just how much our current justice system fails murder victims’ families, right at the moment when they need support the most. Murder is traumatizing on families and isolates survivors in their pain. Many survivors face trouble just getting out of bed (I know I did), much less figuring out where to find grief counseling and other needed services.

It’s time to end the Wyoming death penalty. Instead of maintaining a costly death penalty that throws millions of dollars at just a few cases, Wyoming should commit to providing adequate support to families of murder victims like mine. Cost savings from ending the death penalty could be used towards programs that actually keep our communities safe, preventing violence before it occurs, and that provide healing resources for victims’ families like mine.

All murders are horrible and leave families in grief and overwhelmed by heartache. But I don’t believe calling for someone’s death is the solution.

The emotional and financial costs are too great for Wyoming to bear. Repeal Wyoming’s death penalty for victims’ family members like me and my children.

Christal Martin resides in Green River, Wyoming

This op-ed was reposted with permission from the author. It was originally published in the Casper Star Tribune on October 17th, 2020.

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