Texan and murder victim family member Carol Byars passed this week. She was a leader in the victims’ movement to abolish the death penalty and a powerful voice for the healing power of forgiveness. Carol was a member of the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death penalty, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She will be greatly missed.
Here is Carol’s story:
When I met Jimmy, little did I know how knowing him would change my life. He was the love of my life. Although I was barely more than a child, I also knew I would marry him someday. And I did, at the age of eighteen. We had our first child less than a year after. At twenty-one I was pregnant with my second child. Even at so young of an age, I knew this kind of relationship was rare.
It was the Labor Day of that year when everything so drastically changed. Since I was pregnant and not up to the usual BBQ and such, I went to my mom’s to rest and Jimmy went to his mom’s to watch the game. Sometime during that day there was an argument with his mother’s neighbors. I have had some conflicting stories through the years so there are details that I still don’t know. But this is what happened as I know it.
When the altercation started, there was the usual anger and name calling. It was said, “Wait till John Earl gets home, and he will take care of this.” When he arrived home, the argument started again. He got his gun and first shot Jimmy’s ten year old brother Sonny. He then shot Jimmy’s sixteen year old brother Bryan. I think there was a scuffle with his other brother Pete and he was beat with the butt of the shotgun.
All of this happened very quickly. The gun had just been turned on Jimmy’s mother when he ran and opened the front door and yelled to stop. That’s when John Earl turned and shot Jimmy. He was shot from twenty feet with a twelve gauge pump shotgun through a screen door. So he not only had all of the scatter from the shot gun, he also had a lot of screen from the door.
They didn’t think Jimmy would make it past the first night but he lived almost a year. He was awake and alert in ICU for most of that time, so he felt every pain and disappointment in his attempted recovery. But he was an amazing man. During all those months in the hospital, he came to the realization that he had to let go of all of the anger he felt towards this man. Even with the knowledge that he would never see his daughters grow up, he let go. I know he did this for my benefit as well. It also gave me permission to let go, heal, and move on with my life, though it took me a little longer than it did Jimmy.
Now I have forgiven and moved on. For me it means trying to stop that circle of violence. That includes state executions. Healing will never happen by holding onto the pain of the past. That is where an execution holds us, focused on the pain of the past. I think it’s time to find a new way of dealing with our crime problem. There has been enough pain to go around.
Carol Byars Quotes:
“It is past time for being silent about the death penalty. In Texas, we’re executing record numbers each year. Things have gotten so bad because people have all been silent and let things get bad. We are told many times that we are not supposed to forgive – that when people do horrible things to us we should do something just as bad in retribution. Those of us who know better – those of us who know the power of forgiveness – need to speak up. Every chance we get, we need to challenge the mentality that compassion is a weakness. Compassion is the toughest thing of all, but it’s the only thing that works to restore peace in our live.”
“When my husband was killed a piece of me died with him, but in time I discovered the only way to heal was to let go of the pain and anger. I chose to honor his memory through compassion and forgiveness, not by creating more victims.”