Former death row inmate shares story - By David Singleton Pub. Nov 22, 2008
LA PLUME — One is a former death row inmate who shared a story of redemption. The other is the father of a murder victim who recounted a tale of forgiveness.
Together at Keystone College on Thursday, death penalty opponents Shujaa Graham and the Rev. Walter Everett used their personal experiences to challenge conventions of justice in general and capital punishment in particular.
“No one ever has to die to prove that killing is wrong,” said Mr. Graham, 58, of Takoma Park, Md., who spent four years on death row in California’s San Quentin prison before being exonerated in the killing of a prison guard.
The Rev. Everett, 74, a Methodist minister who lives in Lewisburg, said his ability to set aside his anger and not only forgive but embrace his son’s killer showed him reconciliation, not retribution, is the path to healing.
“The death penalty does nothing for the family of victims,” the Rev. Everett said.
The two men spoke to an audience of mostly students and faculty as part of Keystone’s Concerts and Lectures Series. Their presentation, “The Death Penalty: Voices of Experience,” came three weeks after Michael Blakey received life in prison for killing a 7-month-old child when a Lackawanna County jury deadlocked on whether to sentence him to death.
Another capital case looms in the county. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty for Randal Rushing, accused of murdering three people in Scranton in July.
The Rev. Everett recalled his rage after his 24-year-old son, Scott, was murdered in Bridgeport, Conn., in 1987. But when the killer, Mike Carlucci, stood with head bowed at his sentencing and stated, “I’m sorry I killed Scott Everett,” the minister said it was “like God nudged me.”
On the first anniversary of his son’s death, the Rev. Everett wrote a letter to Mr. Carlucci in which he talked about his anger but then included, on the second page, three words that would change both their lives: “I forgive you.”
“Those were the hardest words I have ever written,” the Rev. Everett said.
He would later learn, he said, that Mr. Carlucci cried when he read the letter — no one in his 28 years “had ever said those words to him before — no parents, no teachers, nobody.”
The Rev. Everett later visited Mr. Carlucci in prison and eventually spoke on his behalf when he sought and received an early release from prison. As much as Mr. Carlucci’s life was transformed, the Rev. Everett said his was, too.
“I no longer live with that tremendous anger I lived with before,” he said.
Mr. Graham, who grew up in Louisiana before moving to California as a young teen, had already spent three years in juvenile institutions before he went to prison at 18. In 1973, he and another inmate were accused of killing a guard; three years later, they were convicted and placed on death row.
After their fourth trial on the charges — the first and third had ended in hung juries — they were acquitted, and Mr. Graham was released from prison in 1981. At the time, there were only a handful of exonerated “death row survivors” in the United States; now there are about 130.
“Here I stand wounded by the blows of capital punishment, but not slain,” Mr. Graham said, adding he thinks every day about the death penalty and the years he spent as a condemned man living on borrowed time.
He left the students in the audience with an admonishment to stand up for social justice and human rights, regardless of the career they chose.
“By standing up for social justice and standing up for human rights for all the people, it will make a better doctor, a better teacher and a better lawyer, and when you become a better teacher and a better lawyer, you will make America a finer land for all the people,” he said.
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(Find also under left column 'Death Penalty' at Axis of Logic)