“If you can’t stand by your principles when things are difficult, then they’re not your principles,” Vicki Schieber, opponent of capital punishment, told an audience at Lycoming College on Thursday night.
In 1998, Schieber’s daughter, Shannon, was raped and murdered in her Philadelphia apartment by a serial rapist.
She said police were called to the scene but, hearing nothing, the two officers left, while the rapist strangled Shannon.
The Schiebers, of Maryland, decided to use Shannon’s death as an opportunity, in their opinion, to make positive change in society and advocate for the elimination of the death penalty throughout the country.
“People don’t expect the story to come from a murder victim’s family,” she said. “We have been through hell. This story is about the journey.”
Schieber and her husband, Sylvester, were raised in large Catholic families and took to heart the Christian principles with which they were raised, particularly that life is sacred.
Even the life of the man who raped and murdered their daughter.
In 2002, after the man had been apprehended in Fort Collins, Colo., the district attorney in Philadelphia wanted to make the Schieber’s tragedy into a capital case.
But, the Schiebers did not wish to seek the death penalty, and the man pleaded guilty in late April. He was sentenced life in prison without the possibility of parole a month later.
Sylvester Schieber said the average tenure of a capital punishment case in the state of Pennsylvania is 17 years. Had the Schiebers pursued the death penalty, they still would be working through the process, unable to receive closure and put Shannon’s death behind them.
“We could let go and move on with our lives because we got what we were looking for,” he said.
The couple said victims’ families who pursue the death penalty often are consumed with anger and hatred because of how many times they have to relive the crimes throughout the lengthy court process.
The process, they said, costs more than keeping someone in prison for life and the money could be used more effectively to rehabilitate the criminal.
“We have been able to heal in so many different ways,” Vicki Schieber said. “We are asking you to think about this issue and really examine it.”
According to her, the United States ranks fifth in the world for the number of executions performed. North Korea, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia rank ahead of the U.S.
“You are known by the company you keep,” she said. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that company.”
The couple said prosecutors often pursue the death penalty to give peace of mind to the victi
ms’ families, but society should limit the input victims’ families have in the punishment process.
“Society needs to be very careful … you don’t want people making life and death decision whe
n passions are running high,” Sylvester Schieber said. “Asking someone in the passion of the moment isn’t appropriate. Why would you ask me what I think the appropriate punishment is for the man who murdered my da
“You can kill anyone you want, but we will never have Shannon back,” he said. “Are we any better than the people murdering others?”