Shelby Farah was a bright, compassionate, determined 20-year-old when she was shot to death during a robbery at the Metro-PCS store where she worked. Shelby’s murder shocked the community in Jacksonville, Florida, and her family has spent the last two and a half years grieving their loss.
The death penalty has added to this trauma, as they have been forced to endure an extended legal process, increased media scrutiny, their own complex feelings about the death penalty, and a polarizing, public debate about it at a time when they need each other most.
In a column in Time, Shelby’s mother, Darlene, shared why she has decided to fight against the death penalty for the young man who killed her daughter. “The idea of having to face the lengthy legal process associated with a death-penalty case is unbearable,” she says. “We have endured enough pain and tragedy already.”
Darlene has been vocal about her wishes, but prosecutors in the case have refused offers from defense lawyers to take the death penalty off the table in exchange for a guilty plea.
Meanwhile, Shelby’s brother Caleb, who was just 16 when his sister was murdered, supports the death penalty in the case. The division in the family provides fertile ground for even more wrangling in the courts. Caleb is now also caught in the middle of a fight between prosecutors and defense lawyers.
Scenarios like this happen more than you might think.
Victims’ family members who support the death penalty sometimes discover that they are trapped in a decades-long legal battle that they couldn’t have predicted at the time of the trial. Families who oppose the death penalty might feel that they are betraying their loved one because they don’t want the harshest option available. Families in the middle – unsure of how they feel about the death penalty, or with shallow support for it – sometimes find that the responsibility of staking out a position at the most painful moment of their lives just adds more confusion and trauma to their pain.
And for families who hold a mix of these views? It can be a devastating moment of division at the worst possible time.
Darlene says she respects her son’s opinion and is glad that he is speaking out. No matter the outcome, she knows that her family will forever be scarred by Shelby’s murder and its aftermath.