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Midlands Voices: Death Penalty can Wreak Havoc on Victims' Families

By: Miriam Thimm-Kelle | Published Thursday, November 17, 2011

The writer lives in Beatrice, Neb.

In 1985, my brother, James Thimm, was murdered. To be more accurate, he was brutally tortured to death.

When Michael Ryan went on trial for taking Jim away from us, I supported the death penalty. I knew that’s what Michael Ryan deserved. I loved my brother so much, and I thought that whatever justice the state could offer to my family was justice we should have.

My son, Spencer, was an infant when his uncle died. Jim never met him. Spencer is now married and expecting his own child.

He has spent his entire life traveling back and forth to court, hearing the horrific facts of his uncle’s death over and over again. Every hearing, every appeal and every attempt to execute Michael Ryan put him prominently in the news.

I try to tell my son about his uncle, even though the media and the state, in effect, make Michael Ryan a household name while Jim remains in the background, practically forgotten. Every time state senators defend the use of the death penalty, they again recount the gruesome details of my brother’s murder to their advantage, with no regard for how it further traumatizes my family.

If Jim’s murderer had received life in prison without the possibility of parole over 25 years ago, we likely would never have heard Michael Ryan’s name or seen his face again. We would have been able to mourn Jim’s loss as a family and recount our positive memories of him together.

For a while I wondered if this long, horrible process was unique to Nebraska’s system, until I got involved with national support groups for victims. One of the most troubling things I’ve seen is that states spend an enormous amount of money, time and resources trying to pursue executions while providing virtually no support services to families of victims.

Families all over the country report financial problems because they cannot afford the funeral arrangements, necessary counseling services and other costs incurred after a traumatic loss, while the state spends millions of dollars to get one execution.

States that study the true cost of the death penalty system are finding it costs three times as much to pursue the death penalty as it does to keep offenders in prison for life.

These enormous amounts of money could be used for support services for victims and to give law enforcement the necessary resources to solve cold cases and prevent violent crimes.

I am tired of reliving the horror over and over and watching my family suffer through this.

I am tired of my brother being forgotten and seeing his killer’s name and face in the news.

I am tired of watching other families struggle to find the support they need, while politicians use their cases to support the death penalty.

Enough is enough. The death penalty is not worth it. Lock them up, throw away the key and leave my family and me in peace.


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