Montana’s death penalty satisfies nothing

As a victim of violent crime, I am committed to the abolition of the death penalty.

In 1973, my 78-year-old father was murdered in a foiled robbery attempt. He was sitting in his car in a grocery store parking lot reading his evening newspaper when he was shot and left for dead in the front seat of his car. The perpetrators fled to a waiting automobile. My mother finished her shopping and was returning to her car when she witnessed the ambulance attendants removing my father’s body from the vehicle. Witnesses were able to identify two teenage youth who were apprehended within a matter of hours and charged accordingly.

No words can adequately describe the emotions and trauma when one receives “that” telephone call. There is first disbelief, then sheer physical grief of a loss, then reality, then hatred. Three days earlier I had spent the holiday with my father. I had not realized that I would never see him alive again nor would I be able to tell him I loved him or to say goodbye. I became angrier.

I addressed the hate issue for some time. It was only with the gift of my family, my faith and my friends that I was able to overcome that consumption and release it before it destroyed my life and that of my family. You can forgive the sinner but not the sin.

In 1978, I was asked to participate in a four-day retreat program for the inmates held at our prison in Deer Lodge. My initial response was a definite “no.” Why do I want to go to a prison and be with all those “people?” Eventually, I went, then I went again, and soon I became consumed with sharing the testimony of my family struggle. Many of my listeners were guilty of a similar crime and had never heard from a victim, let alone experienced the discourse of what happens to a victim’s family. Some have apologized to me, perhaps for the first time, realizing what they have done to others.

Nothing yesterday, today or tomorrow will bring my father back. I accept that. Taking the lives of the two minors who murdered my father will satisfy nothing. I believe perpetrators should be held responsible for their actions with a sentence of life in prison, no years of pleadings or hearings or extensions — simply life without parole.

Today and every day, I wear my father’s wedding band as a reminder of the many fond memories of him in our 40 years together. He lived life to the fullest and set many a good example as a man of deep faith. By his death he would not seek vengeance to those who took him from us. I seek to honor my father’s legacy by supporting the abolition of Montana’s death penalty.

Ziggy Ziegler is a former Yellowstone County commissioner and board chairman of the Montana Catholic Conference and Catholic Social Services of Montana. He is one of the speakers at an event focused on abolishing the death penalty, “Beyond Repair: True Stories of the Death Penalty,” Sunday at 1 p.m. at Holy Rosary Church in Billings. The free event, open to the public, is sponsored by the Montana Abolition Coalition.