Two stories recently reminded me of how hard it is on the families of murder victims, long after the case has been settled in court.
The stories were about families fighting the parole of the killer. Most people think once a case has been to trial, a person convicted and sent to prison, that it's all over and the victim's family can move forward.
But, the fact is, with a life sentence, they always have a battle in front of them. They always have to be thinking how to fight to keep the killer locked up. There is no "lock' em up and throw away the key." The victim's family must always be vigilant.
One family spends months before the parole date, getting friends, families, politicians and other leaders to write letters to the parole board to deny the killer's release. It was hard enough when the killer came up for parole every three years, but, then it was only 14 months, so the family was in constant letter collecting mode. Just talking about the case, asking for the letters and preparing their testimony for the parole board rips off whatever protection they may have created over their heart and makes exposes the raw, pain all over again.
I interviewed another family this week who not only gets the letters ready, but, also stands out at grocery stores and gas stations, asking total strangers to sign a petition against the release of the woman convicted of murdering their son. They pour out their stories and feel they are begging for names to be added, so they can send a strong message to the parole board.
The hearings themselves are also emotionally draining for the families. They think about it for weeks in advance, hoping the words they've chosen are adequate to express their grief, to describe a life that is now gone, to demonstrate how many people were affected over the long haul by the crime. It's made even worse when they learn there is a total of five minutes to present a case. If a prosecutor goes along to argue, that leaves about two minutes for a family to try to explain how their life was shattered and will never be whole again.
Many families walk away from the process feeling they are the ones who must prove something, they are the ones who are in the crosshairs, rather than the guilty party, the person convicted of the crime and sentenced.
These families do not believe overcrowding is a justifiable reason to release a killer, no matter how many years they've served. Families are hard-pressed to believe murderers should ever be let free. "They took a life; they should give their life." I hear this over and over.
I don't know what would make the process seem more humane; more prompt notification, reimbursement for gas, food and time for the families, more time to plead their case. I just know it's a terrible thing for loved ones to bear, when they have already suffered so much.