Victim’s Family Support Sought by DA Candidates in San Antonio

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

4 thoughts on “Victim’s Family Support Sought by DA Candidates in San Antonio

  1. The death penalty doesn’t serve the needs of the victims’ family members, wow how do you know that? I know several victim’s families and I can guarantee you they are quite happy with the sentence. I would also like a breakdown on how you think the death penalty costs more than LWOP.

    • The families of victims don’t “need” to see their perpetrators killed by the state. You should know this if you’ve talked to any number of family members of the victims. We need a support system, legal council, and money. A good group of people to talk to about this is Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation. If anyone should have a voice in this matter, it’d be the families.

      Also, here is a blurb from July 2010 on cost analysis for capital punishment vs LWOP. My advice, however, is if you are pro-death penalty, pick another stance rather than cost benefit, because you’ll lose every single time. It’s been proven without fail to be cheaper than the alternatives again and again.

      A recent state analysis of the costs of the death penalty in Indiana found the average cost to a county for a trial and direct appeal in a capital case was over ten times more than a life-without-parole case. The average death case cost $449,887, while the average cost of a life-without-parole case was only $42,658. The study, prepared by the Legislative Services Agency for the General Assembly, found that even while factoring the longer incarceration period for those sentenced to life without parole, the cost of the death penalty still outweighed the cost of life without parole. The study also noted that Indiana was following the national trend of declining use of the death penalty. Indiana prosecutors did not file a single new death penalty case for more than a year from August 2006 through December 2007, according to the public defender council. Between 1990 and 2000, prosecutors requested the death penalty in 153 cases from the 4,617 murders and homicides reported in the state. From those 153 cases where the death penalty was sought, 48 went to trial, 25 resulted in death sentences, and 4 actually resulted in an execution. Clark County Prosecutor Steven Stewart stated that, while he agrees with the death penalty, it does cost more than life in prison without parole.

  2. My mother was murdered in 1991, and I am against the death penalty. Many people who go through the legal process say that it just reopens the wound each time the offender comes up for execution, and it is put off by an appeal. More than one victim I met over the years said that the only thing the death penalty does is create another grieving family. I have met many people who have lost someone to homicide, like myself, who believe that killing another person is not the answer. I respectfully disagree with you on this issue.

    Concerning LWOP, there are hard facts we can rely on. The real difference between a sentence of Life without the Possibility of Parole and a case in which the death penalty is pursued is the upfront trial level costs for seeking death. Everything is more complex and costly. Some examples are that to qualify a death penalty jury, every juror must be carefully questioned about their stance on the death penalty and their ability to met out the sentence if it appears warranted. This extends the time and cost of the process. The trial itself is bifurcated meaning that the guilt and punishment phases are done separately. This double process increases the cost of the process. Defendants are supposed to be given qualified counsel and access to needed resources to defend themselves properly. This is costly upfront and more costly when it must be done years down the road because corners were cut in the original trial. Less than 1% of those eligible for the death penalty are actually executed. However, every defendant tried in a death eligible trial, whether it is obtained or not, costs the state immense dollars. Though Viola Barrios’ family didn’t want the death penalty for her killer, death was sought but a life sentence without the possibility of parole was meted out. The State of Texas paid a tremendous price to go against the wishes of the Barrios family. It is time for the counties in the State of Texas to be freed from these unfair and unjust costs, let’s hold offenders accountable using the alternative punishment of Life without the Possibility of Parole.
    Chris Castillo, MVFR Texas / Regional Organizer

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