(This column by Florida murder victim’s family members: SueZann Bosler, Kathy Dillon, Darlene Farah, and Marietta Jaeger Lane was recently published in the Tallahassee Democrat)
This past spring, each of us wrote Florida legislative leaders, with one of us, Darlene Farah, visiting them in their offices in Tallahassee. We urged them not to pass the death penalty law just struck down by the Florida Supreme Court.
We knew that the death penalty harms murder victims’ families by prolonging the legal process, and that passing a constitutionally suspect law would only exacerbate that harm by creating more legal uncertainty.
For us, these concerns over Florida’s death penalty are close to our hearts. Each of us lost a loved one to murder.
One of us is still waiting – now more than three years after the death of her loved one – for the trial to start because of delays related to the death penalty. So from firsthand experience, we know that the death penalty does not help murder victims’ families. It makes the false promise that it will provide justice, then puts families through hell as they endure years of uncertainty and delay.
Florida’s broken death penalty only makes things worse. It has been struck down as unconstitutional three times, and twice just this year. The most recent ruling by the court comes as no surprise.
Many legal experts warned lawmakers what would happen. But they didn’t listen.
They chose to pass a bad law that, in contrast to almost every other death penalty law in the country, does not require a unanimous jury recommendation to sentence someone to death. Now murder victims’ families are the ones who will suffer because of the legislature’s short sightedness and will face potentially years of court delays. Florida lawmakers should be embarrassed.
What we find particularly troubling about the legislative debate was how lawmakers defended passing such a questionable law. They told the public that the law would provide justice to victims’ families. What justice exactly did this law provide? From our perspective, it has caused nothing but harm.
Perhaps in some cases lawmakers had good intentions in voting for the ill-advised law. But intentions alone don’t cut it. The death penalty takes a toll on families – we know that too well – and good intentions cannot justify such a destructive policy.
Frankly, we’re tired of lawmakers and prosecutors championing the death penalty as a solution, while misrepresenting how it functions in reality. The legal process takes years, often decades, to come to a conclusion. And in most cases, the death sentence ends up being overturned. So taxpayers pay for a drawn-out legal process and victims’ families suffer through it – all for what ends up being a life without parole sentence in many cases.
In the few cases that do end in execution after many years of waiting, murder victims’ families often still feel empty, unhealed and unsatisfied. The execution fails to restore what was lost, and often never delivers the closure promised.
When Florida lawmakers return to Tallahassee next year, they will have to decide the future of the state’s death penalty. There is no doubt that we’ll hear more rhetoric about it being justice for victims’ families.
Such rhetoric will not persuade us, because we have seen the death penalty’s actual effects. The Florida Legislature’s handling of the state’s death penalty has only caused more harm to murder victims’ families.
We are far from alone in concluding that the death penalty is failing our state. Recent polling finds that a majority of Floridians prefers life without parole to the death penalty.
If lawmakers are serious about passing legislation that best serves murder victims’ families and the state as a whole, their choice is clear: End Florida’s death penalty for good.
SueZann Bosler’s father, Pastor Bill Bosler, was murdered. Kathy Dillon’s father, Trooper Emerson J. Dillon, was murdered. Darlene Farah’s daughter, Shelby Farah, was murdered. Marietta Jaeger Lane’s daughter, Susan Jaeger, was murdered.