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Summer 2003

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Matters of life and death

Five Americans whose lives were darkened by the death penalty spoke powerfully of grief, rage, and compassion at Skidmore last March. Gathered for a forum called “Voices for a New Justice,” the panelists included a victim of violence, relatives of both perpetrators and victims, and an innocent man sent to death row. Each told his story straightforwardly, in a series of monologues that riveted the audience in Gannett Auditorium.
     “Bear with us,” urged spokesman David Kaczynski, brother of convicted “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski. “We offer a sense of connectedness to restore the wounded human fabric, and some of what we’ll talk about is heavy, difficult, and painful.”
     Unabomber victim Gary Wright described surviving a blast that blew him across a parking lot. Bill Babbitt, like Kaczynski, had led authorities to his mentally ill brother, who was arrested and later executed for murder. Bud Welch frankly recalled how, shortly after his daughter’s death in the Oklahoma City bombing, “I realized why suspects in cases like this are dressed in bullet-proof vests and rushed into cars—I would have killed them.” Kerry Max Cook served twenty-two years on death row in Texas before DNA evidence proved him innocent; his story is one of six dramatized in the Off-Broadway play The Exonerated. Each speaker described finding healing through forgiveness. As Cook said, “I found out on death row that hate only hurts the person it’s in.”
     Part of a speaking tour organized by New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, the forum was arranged by Skidmore sociologist David Karp. In September, Skidmore will co-sponsor a major academic conference exploring the impact of the death penalty on victims’ families. —BAM

 


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