This past March, when a sentence of Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) was given to the killer of Viola Barrios, one chapter of the tragedy for the Barrios family ended. Sadly, the Barrios family finds themselves in the news again as candidates for Bexar County District Attorney vie for their support in the upcoming election.
Louis Barrios’ mother Viola was taken from her family by a senseless murder in 2008. Shortly after the crime, Louis expressed his sense that his mother wouldn’t have wanted her killer to be executed. My Mom, Pilar, was also taken from our family by a senseless murder. Though Mom’s killers were never apprehended, I would say the same: she wouldn’t have wanted an execution, either. Though Barrios didn’t want the death penalty, it was sought unsuccessfully anyway. In her recent article titled “Questions Raised on the Death Penalty”, columnist Jan Jarboe Russell of the San Antonio Express-News argues that respecting the wishes of the family AND saving some money for Bexar County would have been the better choice. I agree. Read more.
Though I agree with the conclusion of the article, I was dismayed to see Russell suggest that a LWOP sentence might have been obtained because the death penalty was on the table. The truth is that states without the death penalty have the highest rates of LWOP sentences. Prosecutors in New Jersey have found that abolishing the death penalty there in 2007 has had no affect on their ability to pursue LWOP sentences (see: Rudy Lardini, “A year later, state assesses justice without death penalty,” in The New Jersey Star Ledger, December 15, 2008). Worse than the fact that it is not effective as a bargaining chip is the fact that using the death penalty as a threat has increased the number of wrongful convictions.
Case in point: Chris Ochoa was sentenced to life for the 1988 rape and murder of Nancy DePriest in Austin, Texas. He was threatened with the death penalty. On the advice of his attorney, he pled guilty to the murder and fingered his friend, Richard Danziger, for the rape. In 2001, DNA testing revealed that both Ochoa and Danziger were innocent. They were exonerated and released from prison, but Danziger never really got his life back – he was severely beaten in prison and remains brain damaged to this day, in the care of his sister. (see: http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/Richard_Danziger.php)
The death penalty doesn’t serve the needs of victims’ family members, wastes money, and increases the possibility of wrongful convictions. It is time to replace the death penalty with the alternative of life without the possibility of parole in Texas.
-Chris Castillo, Texas/National Organizer, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation