All Victims Deserve Dignity and Respect

The Colorado Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty has been working to support the family of Eric Autobee whose murder was likely preventable. He was killed while at work as a prison guard by a mentally ill prisoner in plain view of a control station that was unstaffed. Bob Autobee, Eric’s father, and a former prison guard himself, has been shut out of the process by prosecutors seeking to execute the man who killed his son because he opposes the death penalty.

We were outraged and so we have launched a petition. Our goals are to both stand with Bob and Lola during this incredibly challenging time for their family as well as to support them in their quest to seek broader change in Colorado. The petition specifically calls on the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council to meet with the Autobees and other victims’ family members to develop a protocol for all district attorneys in the state which reinforces the following principles:

  1. There is no right or wrong way for victims to feel about the death penalty—all victims are entitled to respect and dignity;
  2. Opposition to the death penalty is an equally valid position for a victim’s family to have;
  3. There should not be two classes of victims: victims who oppose the death penalty should not be treated as second-class victims;
  4. All federal and state constitutional rights to all victims of crime should be guaranteed on an equal basis, and notwithstanding any provisions of laws on capital punishment, the right not to be discriminated against or have their rights as a victim denied, diminished, expanded or enhanced on the basis of the victims support for, opposition to, or neutrality on the death penalty.

Several years ago, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty created a program called Rachel’s Fund in honor of a colleague who sought to build common ground between victims of homicide, family members of people on death row and advocates for ending the death penalty. A key feature of that effort was to educate, and raise awareness among those of us who advocate for an end to capital punishment.

We learned that some of our attitudes and actions perpetuated and aggravated the harm that victim survivors of homicide suffered. We learned that we too often left the victim survivors working with us to end execution feeling isolated and alone because we had too little understanding of their experience. We committed ourselves to making a change in the way we thought, talked and worked on this issue. I am personally indebted to so many of the gracious, patient teachers that I have learned from in the movement, those associated with Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation and the Journey of Hope and well as others in the broader victims’ rights community such as Mothers in Charge and Healing 4 Our Families.

They taught first and for most: that there is no right or wrong way for a victim of homicide to feel about the death penalty. There are not good victims or bad victims depending upon whether they happen to agree with your point of view. And most importantly—victims must speak for themselves. No organization, government entity or government employee, like prosecutors, are entitled to stand in the shoes of a victim and claim to know or do what is best.

I know that I and many of us working to end the death penalty, still have more to learn and to do to truly honor the lessons these extraordinary people have taught. And we intend to continue our journey to build a world where the focus is on healing not destruction.

In the meantime, we believe that it’s time to set members of the prosecution community in Colorado on this same course, by urging them to meet with Mr. Autobee and others in the community hear how all victims are not treated equally. We hope that the outcome of such a meeting will be a statement from the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council which sets out the principle that all victims will be treated with respect and dignity and provided with fair and equal treatment—period.

And certainly victims who oppose the death penalty, like Mr. Autobee should never again be treated as second class victims.

It will take many voices to accomplish this major shift in policies for District Attorneys in Colorado. Sadly we know that this type of behavior is the practice in many death penalty states. Let’s make this change in Colorado first and then wherever this misguided practice persists.

Source: National Coalition to End the Death Penalty