On Monday, January 24, Judge Thomas Hart will enter a Marion County courtroom and carry out his duty as the Judge in the Bruce and Joshua Turnidge case. He will pronounce the final death sentence for the two men. The final sentencing is not the end, rather a new beginning. Judge Hart's January 24 sentencing will initiate a series of appeals that will predictably last for at least 20 years. Based on the cases of current death row inmates, perhaps longer.
The first and most important statements that should be made throughout the discussion of this trial and sentencing are those in sympathy for the victims and their families. Violence in our society sets off ripples that resonate far and wide. Each death sentence also sets off ripples that go on, and on, and on, with little or any closure. Like the judge, the jurors too anguished over their decision-making process, while also doing their duty as citizens.
The supporters of the death penalty promise victims' families "closure" with an execution. As a member of the national board of directors of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, I know hundreds upon hundreds of family members who find no "closure" in the killing of another human being. They find no lessening of the sadness and sorrow of losing a loved-one. They do not feel in any way that an execution honors the memory of their lost loved ones. For them, "closure" is a myth. When asked about executions, they will respond ... "Not in my name."
For some, January 24 and the sentencing of the Turnidge father and son will bring immediate gratification. We need to think about what gratification the family members will have on Jan. 24 five, ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, when the matter is still not concluded. Those family members will have to endure time and time again, more hearings, more trials, more testimony, and each occasion reopening the emotional wounds that they so desperately try to escape.
As the media covers the sentencing on Monday, the reporters and their readers/listeners should think about the laws that Judge Hart and the members of the Turnidge jury have upheld. What is the value of a death penalty? Who does it serve? Why do we have such a law?
I oppose the death penalty for a long list of reasons, and near the very top of my list is the fact that a death sentence provides a spotlight for the defendants and the prosecution, while victims' families languish in sorrow. Maintaining a death penalty system in Oregon costs taxpayers million upon millions of dollars, not to speak of the emotional cost to all involved. By repealing the death penalty those dollars could be directed to benefits for victim families. They could be directed to programs that really do deter violent crime, rehabilitation programs for addicted offenders, early childhood education, intervention into abusive households and more police on the streets to keep us safe.
We should rid ourselves of the death penalty and move toward restorative justice. Oregon has had a long period of time without an execution. Two more men on our death row will be of little value to anyone. The alternative of life without parole is a better solution.
- Ron Steiner,
Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Chair