My brother David Froehlich and four of his friends were murdered in Georgetown, Connecticut, in April 1995. The crime was horrifying and traumatic for our family, four other families, and the whole extended community. It has been called one of the “worst mass murders” in Connecticut. Although the prosecutor considered the death penalty, the eventual decision was not to seek death for my brother’s murderer. It was a decision that still troubles me and strengthens my opposition to the death penalty.
At the time, I was relieved that the death penalty was not applied. After five funerals in one week, I did not see how one more death would help anything. It certainly wouldn’t bring my brother back, or heal my pain. It would have made the trial even more difficult, sensational, and painful. It would have set the stage for years of appeals, with the accompanying media spotlight, notoriety for the perpetrator, and fresh pain for the families.
But now when I hear people say we need the death penalty for the “worst of the worst,” I always want to respond “But what about my brother?” I suppose there are legal rationales and justifications that attempt to explain why the prosecutors did not seek the death penalty in this mass murder of five promising young men. But for me as an ordinary citizen, and as a sister, the decision seems arbitrary and capricious. Ranking murders seems a bizarre exercise, guaranteed to be subject to all kinds of personal and political biases and pressures.
The death penalty creates two classes of murders, those that are “worth” the death penalty and those that are not. This is divisive and hurtful to family members of murder victims. It is impossible to categorize the murder of a loved one as “bad, worse, worst.”
When I hear other murder victims’ family members tell the story of their loss, my heart breaks for us all equally. To each of us, our loss is truly the “worst of the worst.”