In 1997, my brother, James Nero, was brutally gunned down in a road-rage incident in Canton. After a minor accident, James insisted that the other driver provide his insurance information. Instead, the driver returned from his car with a gun and shot my brother in the face. Then he shot James again, point-blank as he lay on the pavement.
James was just 20, and a proud father to an 18-month-old son. He was engaged to be married to his son’s mother. Like every 20-year old, he had many plans and dreams. I thank God that I saw James on the last day of his life, because during our last time together, he hugged me and told me that he loved me. At least I have that to remember him by.
When the court case about his murder was over, James was still dead. My family had never experienced the intense trauma of losing a loved one to murder, and we had no idea how to deal with the pain. No state or city agency ever provided our family with any information about resources available to help us deal with the situation. We had only ourselves and our church community. We were on our own, as far as the state of Ohio was concerned.
The death chamber at the Southern Ohio Corrections Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.
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This is why when state officials and others say we have executions so that victims’ families can have “justice,” or “finality,” or “closure,” I say that’s just political grandstanding.
Most cases in which the death penalty could be imposed do not end in a death sentence or an execution. There have been thousands of murders in Ohio since our capital punishment law was enacted in 1981, but only 53 executions. How can it be true that executions are for victims’ families when we use them so infrequently? What do politicians say to the vast majority of us, for whom the so-called “justice” of an execution is never even possible? The silence is deafening.
In any case, I know that an execution wouldn’t have helped my family heal. Among other issues, Ohio does a disservice to families when the killer is sentenced to death, because the family has to put its healing process on hold for decades through the capital punishment appeals process. We have 27 prisoners currently scheduled for execution. Eight of them will have been on death row longer than 30 years by the time of their scheduled execution. Twelve will have been there longer than 20 years. All those years are years the family is holding its breath and suffering through court date after court date, newspaper article after newspaper article.
Without a death sentence in our case, we began our healing process as soon as the trial was over. If there had been a death sentence, we would probably still be waiting.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich
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Terry Freeman put two bullets in my brother’s head. But killing Terry Freeman won’t bring my brother James back. We don’t want the state using our pain to justify another family losing a loved one — even if he is guilty. There is no such thing as “closure” because there will always be that empty seat at the table when family members of a murder victim gather.
With Ohio about to embark on executions again after three and a half years without them, I will no longer sit by quietly while elected officials tell us that we must have executions so that murder victims’ families can have “closure” in their case. We must reject the myth that executions always help victims’ families.
Instead of wasting resources trying to execute a handful of killers, Ohio can do better for all victims’ families. My family could have used counseling and other kinds of support instead, which I believe would have helped our recovery and grief. Ohio does provide some support to victims’ families, but it varies greatly among Ohio’s 88 counties. Fix that. Trained, certified, qualified mental health professionals must be available to any family experiencing homicide. They should be available to all, without disparity of access based on race, economics, geography, or prior unrelated encounters with law enforcement. Fix that too.
Gov. John Kasich has an opportunity to be merciful here — to all families affected by homicide in Ohio. Stop wasting resources on executions, and do better for all murder victims’ families.
LaShawn Ajamu co-chairs the Murder Victims Families Support Project of Ohioans to Stop Executions. She lives in Richfield, Ohio.
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