Death penalty system discussed

Via the Lake County Leader:

PABLO — Carolyn Madplume knows a thing or two about death. Her 20-year-old daughter, Catherine, was killed in Feb. 2005 when three men robbed and killed her boyfriend, an act of violence south of Ronan that shocked the community.

The killers take? $193.

All three men were convicted for their roles in the homicides and will spend the next several years in prison. But Madplume has no desire for more death, despite the heinous crime that took the life of her young daughter.

“You can’t have all these lives on you,” she said. “You’re loved ones wouldn’t want it.”

Madplume, who now lives in Heart Butte, was one of two guests of the Montana Abolition Coalition that spoke at the Salish Kootenai College on Monday evening. Both had had young daughters killed in senseless acts, acts that “an eye for an eye” can never repair. Rather, both woman hope they can actively speak out against the death penalty and abolish capital punishment, a penalty that the Coalition believes would be better replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“It’s a fallible, fatal system,” Marietta Jaeger Lane, whose daughter was killed in 1973, said. “I’ve not only forgiven the killer but I absolutely want to get rid of the death penalty.”

Such strong anti-death penalty sentiment, from someone with such a close connection to pain and death, may seem an anomaly. But Lane realized long ago that vengeance is just a waste of time.

Lane and her family had planned a trip to Montana, by way of Michigan, in the summer of 1973. The family of seven was undeniably excited.

“This was the vacation we would talk about for the rest of our lives,” she said.

Lane was right about that, but for all the wrong reasons. The dream vacation quickly turned into a nightmare when the family woke up to find 7-year-old Susie missing from the children’s tent. A hole was cut in the fabric and the little girl had been pulled into the night, without a sound.

The family woke up frantic, and a wild, statewide search ensued. Two weeks later, with no sign of her daughter, Lane became angry, despite her Catholic upbringing that taught her it was a sin to be angry.

“I was terrified, I’d never allowed myself to feel that way,” she said. “I knew I could kill that man with my bare hands with a smile on my face. I felt absolutely justified in my rage and desire for revenge.”

Before she knew it, Lane’s faith in God, including a divinely inspired moment, calmed her down. As more time elapsed and the family returned to Michigan, Lane began to pray for the kidnapper, despite still not knowing what had become of her child. A call from the kidnapper to the family house demanded a ransom, but when the trace of the phone line fell through, a promising lead went nowhere.

A few days before the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance, a quote in a newspaper article blew open the case.

“I’d give anything to have a chance to talk to the kidnapper myself,” Lane had been quoted as saying.

On the one-year anniversary, Lane got her wish. The kidnapper called, taunting the family and again asking for a ransom. But Lane remained cool and calm, and kept the man on the line for more than an hour, at one point getting him to break down and cry.

The phone call was the big break, and eventually the FBI caught the man, who admitted to kidnapping Susie and killing her no more than two weeks after. David was a local from Three Forks and had even been part of the original search team. He’d been interviewed as a suspect but had passed all tests, Lane said.

“You pray and pray for an answer and it’s not quite the answer you’re looking for,” she said.

David eventually admitted to killing Susie, as well as three other young girls in Gallatin County. The crimes would undoubtedly make David eligible for the death penalty, but Lane lobbied the prosecutor to offer life in prison without the possibility of parole instead.

“How do I best honor Susie’s memory?” she said. “To become one that I abhor would be to dishonor her memory. It wouldn’t undo what happened to Susie.”

Hours after confessing to the murders, David committed suicide in his jail cell. Lane visited David’s mother, when the two women wept in each other’s arms. Both had lost children, Lane said, and her ability to forgive overrode any other emotion.

“The execution does not heal the victim’s family,” she said.

15 states do not have the death penalty, including Lane’s home state of Michigan, which became the first to abolish capital punishment. The Montana Abolition Coalition hopes stories from families of murder victims like Madplume and Lane can spread the word that the death penalty is not the answer.

Those that missed Monday’s presentation can come to another talk at 7 p.m. tonight at the Polson Catholic Church. Lane will speak again, as will Diana “Weezee” Cote, of Arlee, whose daughter was murdered in 2007.