There is a pending case in Colorado that may baffle a lot of folks. You see, Bob and Lola Autobee are trying to take advantage of a victim’s right law in Colorado (all states have something similar) that allows victims or families of victims to speak at the sentencing phase of a criminal trial. That they want to speak is nothing unusual. That they want to speak in favor of sparing their son’s killer confuses many people, including the prosecuting attorney, who is trying to bar them from testifying during sentencing. The legal wrangling is fascinating and has potential implications for the future of victim’s rights. See more in this article in the Atlantic. There are also plenty of questions about the role and intent of the state. What strikes me most, however, is the rationale of the Autobees. I’m touched and challenged and awed by its resonance with the way of Christ. From a court filing (emphases mine):
Bob would like any jury considering the appropriate penalty for Eric’s killer to know who Eric truly was and how his loss has impacted the Autobees. The Autobees loved Eric deeply, and now remember him for his peace-loving nature, his love of the outdoors, and his innate desire to find moments of calm when hunting or fishing. Eric was a gentle soul who would hold Bob’s hands even when he was in his 20’s. Eric started his career in the culinary arts and then, like Bob, became a prison corrections officer.
Despite the inhumanity he saw around him, Eric would not speak disdainfully of inmates, but, instead, recognized their human dignity. Eric accomplished much in his short time on earth — he saved three lives before he died — but missed out on even more. It pains the Autobees to consider the many milestones in Eric’s life that might have occurred were he still alive, including marriage, children, and career advancement.
The crime affected the Autobees not just because of their beloved son’s loss, but also because of who they became after this loss. After Eric’s death, their warm feelings of love that Eric always nurtured quickly turned into cold feelings of vengeance and violence. Originally, the Autobees fervently supported the prosecution’s efforts to seek absolute retribution. Over time, however, and with reflection, they realized that Eric would not have wanted this for himself or for them; Eric would not have wanted someone killed in his name, nor would he have wanted his family to live in the darkness of hatred. The Autobees know this because they know how Eric lived: by loving life, saving lives, and extending mercy to the merciless.
The effect of the crime on the Autobees cannot be separated from this ongoing death penalty prosecution. Bob and his family have found healing in the forgiveness that they have extended to their son’s killer. However, the prosecution strives to forever undo this healing by seeking to avenge one killing with another, over the family’s pleas for mercy. For the Autobee family, a death sentence and the accompanying years of litigation, all supposedly done in their son’s name, would rob them of peace. For, in the eyes of society, their son’s name forever would be associated with cruelty and violence, rather than the human dignity and mercy he embodied in life.