American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
"This started in tragedy and is ending in tragedy"
Maria Hines, a member of Murder victims Families for Reconciliation, lives in Louisville, Kentucky.
In 1989 my brother, Jerry Hines, who was a Virginia state trooper, was shot and killed in the line of duty. He had stopped a car when he had suspected a case of drunken driving and was killed by an occupant of the car. He was my baby brother and only sibling, born when I was eight, and I was devastated by his loss.
Shortly after Jerry's death, Dennis Eaton was apprehended and charged with his murder, as well as the murders of three other people whom he had killed during the same crime spree. For those three murders, he received three life sentences and waived his right to parole. For killing Jerry, he received the death penalty.
As a result of this death sentence. I began a great deal of soul-searching as regards what I believed about the death penalty. One thought that continually came to mind was the fact that, through Dennis Eaton's being put to death, another family would have to suffer as my family had. My search brought me only one answer, that killing another human being is wrong even when it is done in the name of justice-even when that human being was my brother's killer.
Having come to terms with this, I had to make my next decision. I have always thought that, if we really believe in something, we should be willing to state our beliefs publicly; but I agonized for two years about this decision to go public. My reluctance was based on the fact that other family members didn't hold the same beliefs, and I felt especially that Jerry's three children had already suffered enough without my causing them further suffering. So I was immobilized in terms of coming to a decision. Then in the summer of 1996, my husband and I went to see the movie, "Dead Man Walking." During the execution scene I began to cry, then started sobbing, and continued to sob uncontrollably throughout the entire execution scene.
Afterwards I realized that my feelings about the death penalty were much deeper than I had thought and that I had to do something and do it now. The next day I called and inquired about the meetings of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and began attending the meetings. I told myself that I would work behind the scenes in Kentucky and then, when it was time for the execution of Dennis Eaton, I would decide what to do.
The only problem was that I didn't stay behind the scenes very long. I was asked to tell my story at a death penalty rally at the State Capitol in Frankfort and, after that, continued upon request to give my talk to various groups.
In November 1997, while attending a death penalty conference, I realized that, although I had forgiven Dennis Eaton in my heart, forgiveness is not in the abstract but rather, whenever possible, face to face. So I wrote to Dennis telling him of my forgiveness. This is part of what I said: "It is also difficult to forgive one who has hurt you so deeply but I believe that, for me, forgiveness is the only way. I grew up as a Catholic and, from my earliest years learned the teachings of Jesus-the main one being that our lives must be governed by love and forgiveness. Hell has been defined as the absence of love and, likewise, with hatred instead of love in my heart, my life would be a living hell. So forgiving you is not only for you but also for me-and what it would do to my own soul if I refused to forgive."
He answered my letter and we continued to correspond for several months. Finally came the day that I had so long dreaded. I learned that the State of Virginia would execute Dennis Eaton on June 18, 1998. Dennis wrote to me and asked if I were coming to visit him, and whether I would be at his execution. I told him that I would do both.
On Memorial Day week-end of last year, my husband and I drove to Virginia for my visit. Over the two-day period, Dennis and I talked for ten hours and what I came to realize was that he was no longer the same person who had killed Jerry and three others. He had experienced a religious conversion after going to prison and I saw that Dennis was a living example of what Christians refer to as redemption. This was evident during part of our conversation.
Two days before I visited Dennis, he had been interviewed by Frank Green, a reporter with the Richmond Times Dispatch, who was working on a story about Dennis and me. After the interview, Frank said to me, "Dennis wasn't what I had expected." I asked him what he meant by that. He replied that he didn't seem to be some monster, despite the fact that he had killed several people. As I talked with Dennis during our visit, I told him what Frank had said and asked, "Tell me, Dennis, where is that other person?" He smiled and replied, "He isn't here anymore. He's gone and won't be back." This is transformation, when the old self is gone and won't be back.
Several days before the scheduled execution, my husband and I returned to Virginia. Prior to this, through Dennis' attorney, I had requested clemency for him from the Governor of Virginia. The day before the execution, I again visited Dennis-this time for the last time. The following day, he called me at the motel where I was staying and, during the brief conversation, once again apologized for what he had done. He also said, "This started in tragedy and is ending in tragedy, but I'm glad I got to know you."
Several hours after this conversation, clemency was denied by the governor and, as immediate preparations were made for the execution, I took part in a prayer vigil held in a field outside the prison. We later learned that Dennis had died at 9:09 pm.
The following night there was a memorial service. Several of us who had known Dennis gathered to remember him. It was a special time for me, made even more so by the fact that his 23-year-old nephew was present. This gave me the opportunity to express personally my sympathy to the Eaton family. In so doing, I felt that forgiveness and reconciliation had come full circle.
In closing, I want to comment on the relationship, as I see it, between forgiveness and the death penalty because I believe that, before the death penalty can be abolished in this country, we must become a nation of forgiveness. Instead, we are to a great extent a nation of vengeance, with so many of us having the need for revenge. In a word, if someone wrongs us, we want to do the same thing back.
I have observed other murder victims' family members who are filled with vengeance. They, including some members of my own family, say that when the person who did this to their loved one is killed, they will feel better and will find closure. To say, however, that vengeance and closure can exist together is a contradiction in terms because the other side of the coin of vengeance is anger and, as long as we are holding onto our anger, our grieving isn't over. It's over only when we come to the stage of acceptance and understanding which may, in turn, lead to forgiveness. It is only then that we can find the peace which we are seeking. For when we have forgiven, we truly have no need to kill.