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Hidden Victims

Hidden Victims: The Effects of the Death Penalty on Families of the Accused

Susan F. Sharp
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Hidden Victims
    Book Description:

    "Sharp's book reemphasizes the tremendous costs of maintaining the death penalty-costs to real people and real families that ripple throughout generations to come."-Saundra D. Westervelt, author of Shifting the Blame: How Victimization Became a Criminal Defense

    "Everyone concerned with the effects of capital punishment must have this book."-Margaret Vandiver, professor, department of criminology and criminal justice, University of Memphis

    Murderers, particularly those sentenced to death, are considered by most to be unusually heinous, often sub-human, and entirely different from the rest of us. In Hidden Victims, sociologist Susan F. Sharp challenges this culturally ingrained perspective by reminding us that those individuals facing a death sentence, in addition to being murderers, are brothers or sisters, mothers or fathers, daughters or sons, relatives or friends. Through a series of vivid and in-depth interviews with families of the accused, she demonstrates how the exceptionally severe way in which we view those on death row trickles down to those with whom they are closely connected. Sharp shows how family members and friends-in effect, the indirect victims of the initial crime-experience a profoundly complicated and socially isolating grief process.

    Departing from a humanist perspective from which most accounts of victims are told, Sharp makes her case from a sociological standpoint that draws out the parallel experiences and coping mechanisms of these individuals. Chapters focus on responses to sentencing, the particular structure of grieving faced by this population, execution, aftermath, wrongful conviction, family formation after conviction, and the complex situation of individuals related to both the killer and the victim.

    Powerful, poignant, and intelligently written, Hidden Victims challenges all of us-regardless of which side of the death penalty you are on-to understand the economic, social, and psychological repercussions that shape the lives of the often forgotten families of death row inmates.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-3787-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Michael L. Radelet

    “This is the picture of our son that Richard had in his room before he died,” said the ninety-year-old woman in her thick German accent. The year was 1986. We were in San Francisco, on the top floor of the Fairmont Hotel, there to do a TV show about the fiftieth anniversary of her husband’s execution. As the city lights glistened below, she hugged the picture and sobbed, both her hands clutching my upper arm. After a moment of silence, she slowly muttered, “It still hurts like it was yesterday.”

    Yesterday. Fifty years. Yesterday.

    So said Anna, the widow of...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Chapter 1 Introduction: The Death Penalty, Victims’ Families, and Families of Prisoners
    (pp. 1-16)

    The American public’s understanding of crime is shaped and influenced by the media. Indeed, no other topic garners as much local media attention as crime.¹ This understanding of crime, however, is not based on an unbiased presentation of the facts. Instead, it is often shaped by the concerns and the goals of those Altheide refers to as “the formal agents of social control” (representatives of various aspects of the criminal justice system).² Furthermore, representations of crime are “considered good ways to sell papers and sustain viewers.” The result is that the American public has developed an intense fear of being...

  7. Chapter 2 Dealing with the Horror: “We’re Sentenced, Too”: Families of Individuals Facing a Death Sentence
    (pp. 17-23)

    The chapter title includes a quote from one of the individuals interviewed for this book. The stories and words of sixty-eight subjects are the focus of this book. Unlike most prior studies, this study is not limited to families of death row prisoners. Instead, it takes the approach that the effects of the death penalty startbeforeconviction, when the first discussion of whether or not to seek a death sentence begins. To truly understand the effects of the system of capital punishment on families, we must examine these families’ experiences at all stages of the process. A recent study...

  8. Chapter 3 Trying to Cope: Withdrawal, Anger, and Joining
    (pp. 24-47)

    When an individual is implicated in a violent crime, family members are faced with a variety of emotional dilemmas. How should they react? Should they distance themselves from their relative? Or should they rally to his or her defense? Should they be angry with their relative for engaging in a criminal act or angry at the system that is targeting him or her? Should they reach out to others for support, including those with similar experiences, or should they try to resolve their feelings alone?

    The individuals’ responses to these dilemmas are based on many factors. Personality type, attachment to...

  9. Chapter 4 The Grief Process: Denial and Horror, the BADD Cycle (Bargaining, Activity, Disillusionment, and Desperation)
    (pp. 48-84)

    Grief is one of the major experiences of family members of individuals facing execution. A brief examination of how individuals experience grief may help illuminate the experiences of these families.

    Some debate exists about whether or not grief is experienced similarly by all individuals—whether the bereaved experience some type of process. Over thirty years ago, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described the five stages that a dying patient goes through: Denial, Anger, Bargaining with God, Depression, and Acceptance. Numbness and disbelief are characteristic of the Denial stage. Stage 2 is characterized by rage and anger, including anger at oneself. In the Bargaining...

  10. Chapter 5 Facing the End: Families and Execution
    (pp. 85-99)

    For many families, the day they fear eventually arrives. Their relative receives an execution date. All appeals are exhausted. Clemency, if sought, has been denied. Hope is gradually extinguished, and the family must prepare to deal with the death. Many family members choose to be present during the execution so that their loved one will see the faces of people who do not hate him or her, not rejoicing in death. The closer the bond between the condemned person and the family member, however, the more difficult this task may be.

    Until the third decade of the twentieth century, executions...

  11. Chapter 6 Aftermath: Picking Up the Pieces
    (pp. 100-110)

    After the execution, life goes on for the surviving family members. However, trying to find meaning again and let go of the matter that has been the focus of one’s existence for many years is not an easy task for most. The days and weeks immediately following the execution of a relative may be overwhelming. The family member often finds it necessary to relive the experience through talking about it repeatedly.

    In chapter 3 the different ways of coping were explored, and in chapter 4 we examined the grief process that many experience. The research literature on grief suggests that...

  12. Chapter 7 “But He’s Innocent”
    (pp. 111-130)

    Some family members have the added burden of believing that their relative is not guilty yet is facing execution. Their concerns are not unfounded. Recent research has indicated that approximately 1 percent of all death sentences are the result of a wrongful conviction with legal innocence later established.¹ Over the past twenty-five years, 112 persons have been freed from death rows around the country.² Compelling evidence of innocence has been brought to light in these cases, including DNA evidence in a number of recent cases. This has a strong impact on some families, who believe their relative is innocent.


  13. Chapter 8 Double Losers: Being Both a Victim’s Family Member and an Offender’s Family Member
    (pp. 131-141)

    The policy of focusing on the “needs” of victims’ family members for some kind of resolution ignores the fact that many of the victims’ families are also family members of the offender. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, nearly 13 percent of murders that occurred in the United States in 2002 were murders of family members.¹ Actually, this number minimizes the relationship between victims and offenders because the relationship is not included in the data in over 40 percent of the cases. Perhaps it would be more accurate to state that in the 8,039 cases where the relationships between...

  14. Chapter 9 Family after the Fact: Fictive Kin and Death Row Marriages
    (pp. 142-161)

    Not all death row prisoners have family actively involved in their lives. For example, Scott Allen Hain, who committed his crime at age seventeen, had minimal contact with his parents during his years on death row. Until the week of his execution, he had neither seen nor spoken to his parents for ten years. Letters were infrequent, averaging about one each year. His parents did come to visit him but did not stay for the execution. If he had not had the support of his legal team, he would have been alone. Hain is not unique in being abandoned by...

  15. Chapter 10 The Death Penalty and Families, Revisited
    (pp. 162-177)

    The families of persons facing the death penalty face many challenges and fears, ultimately including the death of a relative. While many family members do not have contact with the condemned relative, even those individuals are not always immune to the effects of capital punishment. One has only to recall the fears of Jason, whose brother had been executed, that others might find out and reject him. Likewise, Lisa and her sister have suffered greatly over the years despite the fact that they went for years with no contact with their condemned brother. Martha, who had made no contact with...

  16. Chapter 11 Conclusion
    (pp. 178-184)

    It is difficult to do research of this nature and to maintain complete neutrality at the same time. When the idea for this project first started to emerge, I had not thought a lot about capital punishment. I knew that I opposed it in principle, but my opinion was not strong, nor was it well supported. The preparation for my class started me on a journey of learning more about capital punishment. In turn, the class led me to this project. That journey and this research have changed my life. I now find myself engaged in the type of “sociologically...

  17. Appendix A. Death Row Visitation Policies (Social/Family Visits)
    (pp. 185-186)
  18. Appendix B. Interview Schedule for Initial Interviews
    (pp. 187-188)
  19. Appendix C. Demographics of Interview Subjects
    (pp. 189-192)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 193-206)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-218)
  22. Index
    (pp. 219-224)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-225)