Villanovans Against the Death Penalty hosted anti-death penalty advocate Bill Piper, who gave the lecture, “What About the Family” on Nov. 30.
Ashlee Shelton, director of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, introduced Piper.
Shelton works to ban the death penalty in Pennsylvania in favor of life without parole.
She explained Pennsylvania’s death penalty laws, noting that the state has the fourth highest number of inmates on death row. However, no one has been put to death here in a decade.
Shelton referenced Cameron Todd Willingham, who recently received national attention because he was executed for arson and murder on Feb. 17, 2004 yet was just found innocent.
Piper recalled his own experiences with the death penalty. His mother was raped and murdered in 1999 at the age of 74 by a 26-year-old man who Piper described as “borderline mentally retarded.”
He stated firmly that he remained staunchly against the death penalty before and after his mother’s murder.
“Even as a kid, I was mind-boggled by the fact that the country could kill you if you committed a certain crime,” Piper said. “How can you take a person’s life that isn’t yours?”
The man who killed Piper’s mother was identified by genetic testing a year later. Most of Piper’s family sought the death penalty for the newly identified murderer.
At the trial, Piper said the accused man looked lost and not fully there. He heard stifled cries and realized the man’s mother was sitting behind him.
“I have never felt that level of pity in my life,” he said.
From that moment, he vowed to do something to help the mother. Family members automatically become secondary victims, and the death penalty enforces this unfortunate ripple effect. Piper then challenged the audience to try to imagine their children being led away to their execution. Ultimately, the district attorney left the decision up to Piper and his sister. Because of Piper’s influence, the man was sentenced to life without parole.
“There is a time when we need to take responsibility for who we are, what we do to people and how we treat those around us,” he said. “We are responsible for each other.”
Revenge makes great television, but in reality, revenge does not bring closure, according to Piper.
“My mother is dead, and she’s not coming back,” he said. “You get over it by realizing it’s done and you are not in control. By realizing such a thing, you are put back into control.”
Piper is one of 66 family members of murder victims who signed a statement and helped to convince the New Jersey Congress to end the death penalty in that state.