Statements From MVFHR Members at the Inaugural of "No Silence, No Shame"
I want to talk about the
connection between mental illness and the death penalty. My brother Manny
served two tours of duty in Viet Nam with the United States Marine Corps. He
fought in five major battles.
During the siege at Khe Sanh,
Manny picked up severed arms, heads, and legs of his fellow Marines. Then he
got wounded and medevacked out in a helicopter on a pile of dead bodies.
Ever since he returned home, he suffered from post-traumatic symptoms. It
was like he never really left Viet Nam. He would hallucinate; he would act
as if he was still on the battlefield.
Manny was sent to a state
hospital in Massachusetts, where he was diagnosed as paranoid
schizophrenic. After he was released, he came to live with Linda and me in
California. We gave him money and tried to help him get work. But I was
worried. He was acting strange. I saw that his demons were coming to the
Then something terrible
happened. A 78-year-old woman died during an intrusion into her home. When
I began to suspect that Manny was responsible for that womans death, I
agonized over what to do. One option I thought I had, as his older brother
who loved him, was to give Manny a bus ticket and just get him out of there.
But if I did that, I would have the dear grandmothers blood on my hands. I
couldnt live with that. I couldnt live with the risk that there was
someone else out there who might become a victim of my brother and his
I went to the police and told
them what I suspected. They promised me that Manny would get the help he
needed. I agreed to help lead them to Manny. After they arrested Manny, an
officer said to him, Youre not going to go to the gas chamber or anything
I believed that. My mother
believed it. We never really thought he would be executed, right up until
the last half hour when I watched my brother be put to death at San Quentin
on May 4, 1999. Mannys 50th birthday was on May 3. I was
inside witnessing the execution and my mother was outside the prison at a
vigil that was taking place while Manny was being killed. I was always
remember how she looked that night. I pray my mother forgives me for taking
part in her son Mannys demise.
For the rest of my life I have to
live with the fact that I turned my mentally ill brother in and that led to
his death. I wish we had been able to get Manny the help he needed.
I wish that as a society we would devote our resources to treating people
like Manny instead of imposing the death penalty and creating more funerals,
more grief, more tears.
I promised my brother that I
would work to end the death penalty. Im proud to do that by working with
Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, an organization that recognizes
the grief caused by all kinds of killing, and Im proud to join with other
family members of the executed today as we say let there be no silence and
was born and raised in El Paso, and raised my three children there. I live
in Georgia now. I have lost children to two different kinds of killing.
In 1979, my
daughter Joyce was murdered in Florida. Fifteen years later, my son Jerry
was executed by the state of South Carolina for the 1991 murder of John
Perry, a clerk in a convenience store.
In both cases,
I lost a child, but there is such a big difference between the two kinds of
losses. When they call you and say your child has been murdered, you dont
know anything about what happened. You dont know if she suffered or if she
tried to get help.
Thats how it
was with my daughter. But with my son, I knew that the day was coming. I
knew that he was going to be killed. In the weeks before, I went to visit
him every single day, but even though we knew what was going to happen, it
was so difficult to talk about it. We couldnt even talk about things like,
what hymn would you like them to play at the service. When somebodys ill,
you can discuss that sort of thing with them, but with Jerry, we just
couldnt do it. I had to fight with him because he didnt even want me to
be present at the execution. He didnt want to see me cry. He said,
Youve cried enough, and I said, I promise I wont.
When the day
of the execution came, I kept my promise to Jerry. In the one instant that
he turned to look at me, I wiped my tears away so he didnt see them.
I dont know
how to explain to you that when the state executes someone, they are killing
someones child. Jerry was my son, the child of my body, and I sat and
watched him strapped to a cross not a gurney, because what it looks like
is a cross, with the arms straight out and I saw him take his last look at
me and then I saw all the blood drain from his face.
know that this experience has had a big effect on me. A huge effect. Some
days I wonder about my ability to go on. But I have seen that many families
of death row prisoners withdraw from everyone after the execution takes
place. I know that I dont want to live it like that. I know that I want
to help others who have gone through this. I know that we are stronger if
we join together. I know that ending our silence and moving away from our
shame will help us heal ourselves and help us bring about a better world.
Meeropol now, but I was born Robert Rosenberg. My birth parents, Ethel and
Julius Rosenberg, were executed in Sing-Sing prison on June 19th , 1953 when
I was six. I believe my brother, Michael, and I are unique in American
history. We are the only people to have both their parents executed by the
I was three when
my parents were arrested and six when they were executed. How does a child
who has just turned six understand such events? How does something like that
affect a six-year-old?
distinct memories of my parents are of visiting them on death row. I have
even clearer memories of the last week of my parents lives. On Monday June
15, 1953, when the Supreme Court adjourned for the summer, my parents were
scheduled to die that Thursday. On Tuesday a special petition was presented
to Justice Douglas as he left for vacation. On Wednesday Douglas stayed the
execution and went on vacation. On Thursday the Supreme Court was recalled
into special session. On Friday morning Douglas stay was overturned by a
6-3 vote. My parents were executed that evening, Friday June 19, one minute
before sundown so as not to desecrate the Jewish Sabbath.
I saw this on TV
and heard about it on radio. My six year-olds interpretation of these
events was that the Supreme Court Justices asked my parents lawyer to give
them ten reasons why my parents should not be killed and he did. So the
Supreme Court stayed the execution. But then they recalled the court and
asked the lawyer for an eleventh reason, and he was unable to provide it. So
my parents were killed. I think I confused repeated radio references to
eleventh hour appeals with giving an eleventh reason. I pretended not to
understand so adults would not fuss over me, but I got the essence.
What impact did
this have on me? Clearly, I didnt understand what was going on, but I had a
sense that they were out there, they were very powerful, and they were
attacking us. Of course I didnt know exactly who they and we were. So
I had a generalized sense of anxiety, an incomprehensible sword of Damocles
hanging over me. I was frightened, angry and grew up with a suppressed need
to attack those who had attacked my family. I survived because a supportive
community surrounded me, but what about other children who do not have such
a support system?
As far as I know no
one has studied how the execution of an immediate family member impacts
children. We dont even know how many children have an immediate family
member on death row in the United States today. Worse, we dont know the
effect that having a parent executed will have upon their impressionable
lives, and the cost society may pay, for that impact. As far as I can tell
no one has bothered to study this even though these children are all
innocent victims of the states efforts to kill their loved ones.
And this disregard
is matched by apparent indifference to the families of the executed. I was
also unaware of their needs. But Ive begun to redress that ignorance today.
Although Ive helped initiate the No Silence No Shame campaign, until today
I knew almost no one who shared my experience outside of my immediate
family. This is true even though Ive been speaking publicly about my
parents execution for over 30 years.
But Ive spent the
day with dozens of people who have endured one of the most emotionally
painful experiences a human being can bear the execution of an immediate
family member. Ive met my brothers and sisters of shared suffering. Weve
been isolated for too long. Weve been silent for too long.
We have gathered
here to end our isolation, and to proclaim to Texas, the USA and the World
that we will bear our victimization in silence no longer.