Murder Victims’ Family Members and Derrick Sean O’Brien

Derrick Sean O’Brien is scehduled to die tomorrow for his role in the brutal 1993 gang rape and murder of two teenage girls: Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Peña, 16. After attending a party, they were walking home along some railroad tracks as their midnight curfew approached.

The Houston Chronicle’s article on this nearing execution included remarks from the two girls’ fathers:

“I hope the son of a bitch rots in hell,” Ertman’s father, Randy, said last week. “He deserves it.”

“It doesn’t make me happy,” Peña’s father, Adolfo, said in a recent interview. “But this is the punishment he was given, and it’s justifiable. … I kind of feel numb in a way, knowing that I’ve been waiting so long for this day to come. … I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.”

I’m afraid that neither Mr. Ertman’s anger nor Mr. Peña’s numb feeling will be assuaged by O’Brien’s execution. Closure is a myth. The rip caused by murder can never be repaired and the pain can never be healed by executing the one who brought such injury to families.

I find insightful Mr. Peña’s comment, “But this is the punishment he (O’Brien) was given, and it’s justifiable.”

He seems to indicate that he would accept whatever might be the maximum possible punishment. What if that were life without the possibility of parole? There is a point Fr. Gov. George Ryan of Illinois has made several times that I think is true: murder vicitms’ family members often feel an obligation to seek the maximum possible punishment for those who killed their loved ones. To do otherwise is to dishonor their memory.

Let’s take the death penalty off the table and begin a real conversation about what the state and communities can do for vicitms and their families.