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Hidden Victims

The Effects of the Death Penalty on Families of the Accused

Susan F. Sharp

Publication Year: 2005

America is fascinated with murder, as evidenced by the media's elaborate and often sensational coverage of homicides, the plethora of recreated television crime programs-such as America's Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries-and the number of high-grossing films and best-selling novels that revolve around murder plots. We love to be afraid and we love to hate offenders. Murderers, particularly those sentenced to death, we consider to be unusually heinous, often sub-human, and entirely different from the rest of us. In Hidden Victims , sociologist Susan F. Sharp challenges this culturally ingrained perspective by reminding us that those individuals facing a death sentence, in addition to being murderers, are brothers or sisters, mothers or fathers, daughters or sons, relatives or friends. Through a series of vivid and in-depth interviews with families of the accused, she demonstrates how the exceptionally severe way in which we view those on death row.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Critical Issues in Crime and Society


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

“This is the picture of our son that Richard had in his room before he died,” said the ninety-year-old woman in her thick German accent. The year was 1986. We were in San Francisco, on the top floor of the Fairmont Hotel, there to do a TV show about the fiftieth anniversary of her husband’s execution. As the city lights glistened below, she hugged the picture and sobbed...

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pp. xi-xiv

Americans are obsessed with murder, as evidenced by headlines such as a recent one proclaiming, “Killings Increase in Many Big Cities.”As one journalist stated, “Crime reports are cathartic; we feel relief that the victim and offender are not like us.”1 For quite obvious reasons, we do not want to be like the victim, who has suffered or has even died...


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pp. xv

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Chapter 1: Introduction: The Death Penalty, Victims’ Families, and Families of Prisoners

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pp. 1-16

The American public’s understanding of crime is shaped and influenced by the media. Indeed, no other topic garners as much local media attention as crime.1 This understanding of crime, however, is not based on an unbiased presentation of the facts. Instead, it is often shaped by the concerns and the goals of those Altheide refers to...

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Chapter 2: Dealing with the Horror: “We’re Sentenced, Too”: Families of Individuals Facing a Death Sentence

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pp. 17-23

The chapter title includes a quote from one of the individuals interviewed for this book. The stories and words of sixty-eight subjects are the focus of this book. Unlike most prior studies, this study is not limited to families of death row prisoners. Instead, it takes the approach that the effects of the death penalty start...

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Chapter 3: Trying to Cope: Withdrawal, Anger, and Joining

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pp. 24-47

When an individual is implicated in a violent crime, family members are faced with a variety of emotional dilemmas. How should they react? Should they distance themselves from their relative? Or should they rally to his or her defense? Should they be angry with their relative for engaging in a criminal act or angry at the system that is targeting...

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Chapter 4: The Grief Process: Denial and Horror, the BADD Cycle (Bargaining, Activity, Disillusionment, and Desperation)

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pp. 48-84

Grief is one of the major experiences of family members of individuals facing execution. A brief examination of how individuals experience grief may help illuminate the experiences of these families. Some debate exists about whether or not grief is experienced similarly by all individuals—whether the bereaved experience some type of process. Over thirty years ago, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described...

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Chapter 5: Facing the End: Families and Execution

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pp. 85-99

For many families, the day they fear eventually arrives. Their relative receives an execution date. All appeals are exhausted. Clemency, if sought, has been denied. Hope is gradually extinguished, and the family must prepare to deal with the death. Many family members choose to be present during the execution so that their loved one...

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Chapter 6: Aftermath: Picking Up the Pieces

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pp. 100-110

After the execution, life goes on for the surviving family members. However, trying to find meaning again and let go of the matter that has been the focus of one’s existence for many years is not an easy task for most. The days and weeks immediately following the execution of a relative may be overwhelming. The family member often finds it necessary to relive the experience...

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Chapter 7: “But He’s Innocent”

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pp. 111-130

Some family members have the added burden of believing that their relative is not guilty yet is facing execution. Their concerns are not unfounded. Recent research has indicated that approximately 1 percent of all death sentences are the result of a wrongful conviction with legal innocence later established. 1 Over the past twenty-five...

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Chapter 8: Double Losers: Being Both a Victim’s Family Member and an Offender’s Family Member

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pp. 131-141

The policy of focusing on the “needs” of victims’ family members for some kind of resolution ignores the fact that many of the victims’ families are also family members of the offender. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, nearly 13 percent of murders that occurred in the United States in 2002 were murders of family...

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Chapter 9: Family after the Fact: Fictive Kin and Death Row Marriages

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pp. 142-161

Not all death row prisoners have family actively involved in their lives. For example, Scott Allen Hain, who committed his crime at age seventeen, had minimal contact with his parents during his years on death row. Until the week of his execution, he had neither seen nor spoken to his parents for ten years. Letters were infrequent, averaging...

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Chapter 10: The Death Penalty and Families, Revisited

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pp. 162-177

The families of persons facing the death penalty face many challenges and fears, ultimately including the death of a relative. While many family members do not have contact with the condemned relative, even those individuals are not always immune to the effects of capital punishment. One has only to recall the fears of Jason...

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Chapter 11: Conclusion

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pp. 178-184

It is difficult to do research of this nature and to maintain complete neutrality at the same time. When the idea for this project first started to emerge, I had not thought a lot about capital punishment. I knew that I opposed it in principle, but my opinion was not strong, nor was it well supported. The preparation for my class started me on a journey...

Appendix A: Death Row Visitation Policies (Social/ Family Visits)

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pp. 184-186

Appendix B: Interview Schedule for Initial Interviews

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pp. 187-188

Appendix C: Demographics of Interview Subjects

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pp. 189-192


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pp. 193-206


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pp. 207-218


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pp. 219-224

About the Author

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pp. 225

E-ISBN-13: 9780813537870
E-ISBN-10: 0813537878
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813535838
Print-ISBN-10: 0813535832

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Critical Issues in Crime and Society

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Capital punishment -- United States.
  • Death row inmates -- Family relationships -- United States.
  • Prisoners' families -- United States.
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