Journey of Hope Members Speak Out About the Death Penalty

October 22, 2010  

By Christina Clark

Most people will never know what it’s like to make a best friend on death row. Or how it feels to sit in a cell for 21 years for a crime you did not commit, a crime that had clear evidence to prove otherwise.

Curtis McCarty has felt all these things and more. He was one of seven speakers at the Thursday night “Death Penalty Matters” series hosted by the Embrey Human Rights Program. The two and a half hour program included speeches from Journey of Hope members. This organization is made up of people who have family members on death row, people who had family members killed, and people who were exonerated from death row.

Rick Halperin, Director of the Embrey Human Rights Program, introduced Journey of Hope’s speakers, and then led the audience in a moment of silence for an inmate who was sentenced to die that night, calling the death penalty “a great disease.”

There have been 43 executions in the U.S. this year.

Marietta Jaeger-Lane, a tiny woman with white curls, tottered to the podium from her seat to share her family’s story. Her daughter Susie was kidnapped from their tent on a family camping trip in Montana and murdered a week and a half later. She was seven years old. And yet, Jaeger-Lane thinks the death penalty is “barbarous.”

In sharing her story, Jaeger-Lane noted that her first response was rage. However, Jaeger-Lane used her Christian faith to help her through the time period after her daughter was taken.

“I gave God permission to change my heart,” she said while describing the transformation in her feelings. Coming from Michigan, where there is no death penalty, she felt that such a punishment was “a state sanctioned violence that doesn’t solve problems.” She told the audience that having the killer, who was later charged with the murders of three other girls, sentenced to death did not bring her Susie back.

Marilyn Grant heard about the series through Facebook. Her son, who has been given the death penalty, was at the scene of a robbery and homicide. While not having taken any of the items or having shot the victim, he still sits on death row. His partner, having taken a plea bargain instead of going to trial, is spending his life in prison.

Grant thought the speeches were wonderful. “Families in this situation don’t get the support that they need. This is the support that there needs to be more of,” she said. “It is my wish that the United States government knows that this unjust law is not a law that we need to have.”

Elizabeth McElhaney is a law student studying criminal justice at SMU. Having always been interested in human rights, she feels that there is “no justice” in the current United States criminal justice system.

“[The government] wants to see the pound of flesh,” she said, gripping her heart. “I’ve never met someone who felt better after knowing that a murderer they were connected to died for his crime.”

All of the speakers had one common theme in each of their stories—forgiveness. Ron Carlson, Journey of Hope’s first speaker, said that his life completely changed when he forgave the killers of his sister and his father.

“Forgiveness can change your life,” he warbled as shaking hands gripped the microphone. “I never received closure until I forgave.”

After recovering from a drug and alcohol addiction, he picked up after his family members were murdered, and he turned to the Christian faith to help him. When he forgave Carla Fay Tucker, the woman who drove an ice pick through his sister’s skull, he “started to see a human being.” The two became close, and Carlson made the six-hour drive every week to the prison to visit her for the four hours of visiting time allowed to death row inmates.

“Death Penalty Matters” is a nine-part series running throughout the fall. For more information on Journey of Hope, visit their site, and for more information on the series, contact Rick Haperin at

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One Response to “Journey of Hope Members Speak Out About the Death Penalty”

  1. Dudley Sharp on November 20th, 2010 9:49 am

    It is troublesome, that with all of these speakers, that SMU chose to exclude all pro death penalty voices.

    But, here are some:

    “Death Penalty Support: Religious and Secular Scholars”

    “The Death Penalty: Not a Human Rights Violation”

    “The Death Penalty: Neither Hatred nor Revenge”