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Stolen Dignity: The Unjust Legacy of the Death Penalty

November 14, 2019

 

Excerpted from the August 2019 issue of US Catholic: 

 

"Jean Parks was a 20-year-old sophomore at Davidson College when her sister Betsy Rosenberg, four years older, was found beaten to death next to her vehicle across the street from the North Carolina State University library.

 

...About 20 years after her sister’s murder, Parks learned about the restorative justice practice of victim-offender dialogue. Following a move back to North Carolina, Parks pursued the opportunity to contact Gary Goldman with the help of a restorative justice facilitator in 2011. But Raleigh’s Central Region Office–Prisons denied her request. Later, an attorney advised making another request directly to the unit where Goldman was being held. This time Parks received permission to pursue dialogue. The first message she received from Goldman, however, stated that he was willing to meet but could not answer her questions, since he had not been involved in Betsy’s murder. 

 

It was the first time Parks realized that the man convicted of her sister’s murder had maintained his innocence all along. The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence was investigating his claim, and some working with him, notes Parks, were “convinced he’s innocent.” At first, the Raleigh Police Department maintained there was no remaining evidence from the case, “but things have appeared,” Parks says, including the sheet in which Betsy’s body was wrapped. DNA testing produced a profile that did not match that of Gary Goldman. 

 

The weary pain in Parks’ voice is palpable as she speaks of the terrible burden of not knowing who killed her sister or whether the person punished committed the crime. Ultimately her suspicion of Goldman’s innocence led Parks to advocate for his parole. In May 2019, after serving more than three decades for Betsy Rosenberg’s murder, Goldman was paroled. Of Parks’ support he said, “It was unbelievable. I was stunned and so grateful.”

 

...According to Vaillancourt Murphy, “Restorative justice is not soft on crime. It is not an easy way out. It is not letting things go or quick to forgive. It asks very different questions from the criminal justice system, such as: What was the harm? Who was affected? What should be done to repair the harm or to make amends?” Schools and communities of faith are beginning to adopt and share restorative justice practices to solve conflict, address abuse, and empower youth leadership. “Hurt people hurt people, but the converse is true too: Transformed people transform people,” Vaillancourt Murphy says. Jean Parks exemplifies this truth, as she doggedly travels around North Carolina to share her story. Gary Goldman walking free is now part of her lived commitment to restorative justice. The real change, according to Marie Dennis, “comes not only from ideas, but from encounter and community.”

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CREATED BY AMANDA HENDLER-VOSS