Monday, 26 March 2007

Church hosts forum on death penalty

Church hosts forum on death penalty

Activists call for end to capital punishment

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 03/26/07


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MANASQUAN — Vicki Schieber redefines closure. To her it was not the promise from prosecutors that her daughter's killer would be put to death but knowing he will spend a lifetime in prison.

For it is that promise of capital punishment, followed almost inevitably by years of tortuous waiting, that can tear a victim's family apart, Schieber said.

"I was shocked and amazed talking to these families who describe getting dragged back in it while they wait and wait on appeals, never knowing whether the execution will happen and they will get this closure they were promised," she said. "Whereas two and a half months after Shannon's murderer was caught, he was sent away forever, and I had such an immense feeling of freedom."

Schieber calls it "re-victimization," and it is why she has for the last year devoted herself full-time to traveling the country advocating against capital punishment.

Saturday evening she spoke to a dozen residents at the Manasquan United Methodist Church as part of a forum put on by the lobbying group, New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"We were raised on the belief that human life is sacred and that seeing Shannon's killer dead is not part of the healing process," said Schieber, 62, at the church, which happens to be down the street from where 9-year-old Charlie DeMichele was found murdered Tuesday.

One attendee, Lucille Petti, 53, of Brick, said she has been for abolishing the death penalty ever since having an epiphany on the matter one night several years ago after hearing Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking," speak.

"I would love to see it done in my lifetime," she said.

The forum comes as the state legislature weighs a report released in January by the New Jersey Study Commission that recommends the death penalty be replaced by life imprisonment without parole.

The commission was established by then-Gov. Richard J. Codey in January 2006. At the same time the state put a moratorium on executions while the issue was examined.

Following five public hearings in which several family members of murder victims such as Schieber testified, the study group found that the punishment does not serve to curb crime and that its costs far outweigh the costs of keeping convicts in prison.

"As long as people control the system, it can never be perfect," said attorney Kevin Haverty, who spoke at the forum and was among the 13-member commission that included clergymen, prosecutors, a former judge and a police chief.

Shannon Schieber, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, had been up late studying for finals and was about to take a bath on May 7, 1998, when a man pried open a balcony door to her second floor apartment and attacked her. The assailant, later discovered to be the same Center City rapist who had assaulted at least four other woman in the area, raped then strangled Shannon. Her brother, Sean, found her body 12 hours later.

Since then, as the rapist, Troy Graves, was caught four years later and sent to prison with a life sentence, Vicki Schieber has refused to take the vengeance route. Instead, she has put Graves behind her and honored her daughter by erecting memorials, creating a scholarship at Shannon's alma mater, Duke University, and started an endowment fund to replace roofs on inner city homes.

The Maryland resident also joined the board of the national nonprofit Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. Since quitting her job last year as an executive director for a trade organization outside Washington, D.C., she has traveled to more than a dozen states and given at least a hundred talks to religious, political and victims' rights groups on the negatives of capital punishment.

Saturday was the second time Schieber was invited by a group of Manasquan area churches to speak. The 13 churches, which make up the Manasquan Area Ministerium, have long been active in pursuing death penalty's abolishment.

As she said in testimony to a U.S. Senate subcommittee last February: "Killing Shannon's murderer would not stop the unfolding of the world around us with its constant reminders of unfulfilled hopes and dreams."

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