Victims, lawmakers discuss personal, financial costs of death penalty
"To be hit with a tragedy of this magnitude … is like filling a house with a gas. It permeates every corner, every nook and cranny of every room. It just permeates it. And you open the door and you try to clear it out. You plant flowers. You, in that very hyper way, pursue hobbies and volunteer in the community and stay close to friends.
"You cling to family. You try to breathe the healthy air. Then the door's slammed. With all of the appeals, all of it, it's slammed," she said.
Noriega's mother was famous for her cinnamon rolls and the way she served endlessly. Potts endured the deaths of two husbands with aplomb and had a way of "making you feel like you were the most important thing on two legs." Tiede was also beloved by Noriega, who thought her sister "beautiful, fun to be with."
"They lived. They're not abstract things. They lived and they were loved and adored by this family," she said. "Our family feels the death penalty actually represents a reverence for the sanctity of the lives of the innocent."
But Peggy Ostler asked the committee to consider the lives of other innocent people — those who have to live with the terrible decisions of their loved ones. She told of her brother, Michael Anthony Archuleta, who was sentenced to death in connection with the Nov. 22, 1988, murder of Southern Utah University student Gordon Ray Church, 28.
Ostler said Archuleta was adopted into their family at age 5 after being born to a mother involved with drugs, alcohol and prostitution and suffering abuse and neglect in his early years. Her parents loved and accepted him as their own.
"If love alone was enough to compensate for his beginning, he would not be where he is today," Ostler said, noting the ongoing love her parents have. "The final blow to them would be to see the execution of their son. He has made terrible, terrible choices in his life but I see him as a son and a father and a friend and a little brother and it's that circle of people who would be most affected by his death."
She said her family is haunted by the knowledge that they may someday "experience the nightmare of his execution" and have also ridden the roller coaster of appeals and ongoing hearings. She asked the committee to consider the impact of the death penalty on all affected families.
"I believe that life with no chance of parole might be a more appropriate sentence for him," Ostler said. "The concept of the death penalty is not a matter of not wanting him to die, but of sparing those innocent people that are emotionally connected to him from that painful experience."
Ralph Dellapiana, a public defender and director of Utahns for an Alternative to the Death Penalty, said there are other costs than those presented to the committee, including the additional time spent on potential death penalty cases before they even go to trial. He was adamant that the costs to the state and families would decrease if the maximum penalty was life in prison without the possibility of parole. He said those cases typically take closer to one or two years to adjudicate.
"One thing I wish to reiterate, is a lot of the suffering family and victims go through in my experience is due to the fact that on these death penalty cases they are carried out and dragged out, 20-25 years," Dellapiana said. "And every time there's an appeal, the stitches to their wounds are ripped open again."
Death penalty cases take so long because of the appeals process, which he said can't be shortened because of what's at stake. He pointed to the cases of those exonerated on death row nationwide that make the appellate process vital.
"The process, as long as we're going to try and kill people, is going to be long," he said.
Watson pointed to Gardner's case, especially the fact that Gardner committed two murders following or during escape attempts. Life in prison doesn't necessarily mean safety, he said.
"Our prison system is super but (Gardner) still figured out ways to escape and he still figured out ways to kill people," Watson said. "And you know what? With the death sentence, there are no recurring offenders and we can go on with our lives."
Handy said it is unclear what, if anything, will come of Wednesday's discussion. Archuleta's attorney, David Christensen, said he believes "any open and honest engagement of this issue to be beneficial."
Ostler was just glad to have participated.
"It helps us to be able to air our feelings," she said. "(Archuleta) left me a message on Sunday saying, 'Thanks for doing this for me and the other men up here.' There's another side to it. We're all innocent. We've all been impacted by his decisions. … It's been 23 years of waiting."
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