Families of murder victims call for Duval County, Florida to suspend the death penalty

Families of murder victims from across the country are calling on the Duval County State Attorney’s Office to demand a halt to the county’s use of the death penalty due to the harm it inflicts on surviving families.

55 family members signed a letter released today by EJUSA and Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation (MVFR).

“The lengths to which Duval County will go in its pursuit of the death penalty has been on display after the 2013 murder of Shelby Farah,” the families wrote in the letter. “Despite her mother’s request that her family be spared a death penalty case and the lengthy process it entails, prosecutors continue to seek it.”

“Duval County has sought the death penalty with essentially no regard for the harm it causes murder victims’ families,” said Shari Silberstein, Executive Director of EJUSA. “In less than a year, Florida’s death penalty law has been struck down twice as unconstitutional, leaving it in legal limbo. It’s the surviving families who are left to suffer the inevitable uncertainty of a death sentence. It’s no surprise that Darlene Farah has fought so hard to avoid such a fate.”

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Recommended this week

“Recommended this week” features highlights from the past week in news about the death penalty, crime survivors, and trauma-informed responses to crime.

Evangelical Leaders Call for Halt to Texas Execution Demand New Sentencing Hearing for Jeff WoodThe Gospel Herald
Evangelical Leaders Call for Halt to Texas ExecutionEvangelicals for Social Action
Evangelicals urge halt to Texas executionBaptist News Global
Evangelical leaders: Texas has ‘moral obligation’ to stop execution of death row prisoner, Christian Today
Several stories about the almost 50 Evangelical pastors who called on Texas Governor Greg Abbot and the Board of Paroles and Pardons to commute the death sentence of Jeffrey Wood. Wood is scheduled to be executed on August 23, even though he never killed anyone, had no previous criminal history, and suffers from borderline intellectual functioning and mental illness. Although Wood was involved in a robbery, he didn’t plan to kill anyone and wasn’t even inside the gas station when the victim, Kris Keeran, was shot. He was sitting in a truck outside.

Even violent crime victims say our prisons are making crime worseThe Washington Post
According to a new  report from the Alliance for Safety & Justice,“A majority of crime victims prefer investments in treatment & prevention over prison spending.” The report, “Crime Survivors Speak,” includes the first national survey of crime victims’ views on safety and justice policy. It reveals their preference for prevention, health, and rehabilitation over more spending on prisons and jails. Continue Reading →

The last 72 hours: a message from EJUSA Executive Director Shari Silberstein

The events of the last 72 hours have left us reeling. So much carnage, so much fear.

Justice, broken down into bite sized pieces, can sometimes feel so close within reach. The death penalty stopped here, more healing services there. And then we are confronted with these big moments that remind us how inadequate bite-sized justice can be. When transformation is needed, how do you break that down into “winnable bits” that sustain hope through the darkness? Is this even our task?

I don’t have the answers. I know that in the last two days I watched two children – a teenage boy cry for his father Alton Sterling and a four year girl try to comfort her mother after police killed Philando Castile. No child should ever have to go through that. Black children go through it all too often. The trauma of living in fear of the very systems and institutions that are supposed to protect runs deep through communities of color and has for centuries. As a white director, I don’t know that fear or that trauma. I can only see it, account for it, and commit my life to the struggle for change.

And police are often afraid in their jobs. And it is in that fear that I imagine the seeds for change – because this system isn’t working for anyone. There is a different way, a way where we all can see each other’s pain and trauma, where we embrace a model of community safety rooted in healing, in restoration, in mercy, in relationships, in love.

On a day when there are no words, I say to the families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarippa, Brent Thompson, Lorne Ahrens, and everyone who has lost a loved one to violence: I see you, I love you, and I will fight for you. To the black members of the EJUSA family: I see you, I love you, I will fight for you. And to the law enforcement members of the EJUSA family fighting for change: I see you, I love you, I will fight for you.

Sign on for families of homicide victims

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Dawn Mancarella, a member of EJUSA’s Crime Survivor Network, put out a special appeal today for family members of murder victims to sign on to suspend use of the death penalty in a key Florida county.

If you’ve lost a family member to murder, read Dawn’s letter below and consider taking action. If you know of others who might like to sign, please share this post.


Dear friend,

I know the horrible pain of losing a loved one to murder. My mom, Joyce Masury, was murdered 20 years ago, and my life has never been the same.

You’ve identified yourself to EJUSA or an EJUSA state partner as someone who has experienced this same unimaginable horror. So you understand where I’m coming from.

Today, I am signing an open letter for families like us calling for an end to the death penalty. Would you like to join me?

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Victim services dollars start going to communities in need

Victim services dollars start going to communities in need

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches (LAM) is building a network of local churches and community groups to provide trauma-informed services to African-American, Latino, and immigrant crime survivors in South Los Angeles.

And now, for the first time, they are receiving federal VOCA funds – funds earmarked for victims services – in order to carry out their work. These funds are more than just a grant. They mark a possible turning point for crime survivors of color, who have long been underserved by the traditional victim services field.

“All too often communities of color have had to witness and endure first-hand the ills and fall-out of social programs that don’t work, public safety systems that don’t protect and serve and cycles of violence and abuse that seem to never end,” said Cheryl Branch, Executive Director of LAM.

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Building a justice system rooted in healing

T'ruah Mass Incarceration HandbookEJUSA is thrilled to be featured in a new publication, “A Handbook for Jewish Communities Fighting Mass Incarceration,” by the Jewish human rights organization, T’ruah. The Handbook is a comprehensive guide for action from a Jewish perspective. It contains background information on various aspects of mass incarceration, from what happens when police stop people on the streets, to conditions inside jails and prisons, to the challenges people face when they leave incarceration and attempt to rebuild their lives.

Our contribution, “Building a justice system rooted in healing,” is written by EJUSA Executive Director Shari Silberstein. It includes EJUSA’s unique perspective on crime survivors’ needs:

In our work to end the death penalty over the last 25 years, we’ve met and worked with hundreds of family members who have lost loved ones to murder. Some supported the death penalty and others opposed it. But what united them all was the devastating trauma they experienced in the wake of their unimaginable loss…

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Increasing access to help for crime survivors – where it’s most needed

honoring victimsThis week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The theme this year is Serving Victims. Building Trust. Restoring Hope., which highlights the need for early intervention and victims services that build trust with crime survivors, and creates hope that healing is possible.

We’ve been working with crime survivors for over 10 years. And what we’ve learned from them over and over again is that these services – and a commitment to healing – remain out of reach for the vast majority of them.

Crime survivors aren’t getting the help they need

The numbers agree – estimates are that more than 90% of crime survivors don’t access any victims services. You read that right: 90% of the people in the U.S. who’ve been hurt, robbed, shot, assaulted, abused, raped, or had a family member murdered got no formal help to process their trauma, cope with their grief, or rebuild their lives in even practical ways.

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Another Family harmed by murder and the fight over the death penalty

Shelby Farah at graduationShelby 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.

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EJUSA rallies for homicide survivors in Washington, DC

Crowd shot of rally

EJUSA executive director Shari Silberstein was in Washington, DC last weekend for the Mothers in Charge Standing For Peace and Justice National Rally.

Mothers in Charge, a national organization of mothers and other families who have lost loved ones to homicide, held the rally to draw attention to the trauma and needs of families left behind after homicide.

Family and friends gathered with pictures of their loved ones. They tragically have one thing in common: losing their loved ones to murder.

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