“It feels like revenge to me” was how Larned resident Celeste Dixon described her journey with the death penalty system in Texas following the August 18, 1986 murder of her mother Marguerite Dixon. She spoke Saturday at the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty Abolition Conference in Olathe.
Ms. Dixon interacted with Harris County Texas prosecutors and attended the trial. At the time of her mom’s death, she “hadn’t given the death penalty much thought….it seemed to make sense that if you take life you deserve to have your life taken”. After a sentence of death was handed down, she went from feeling “vindicated” to having major doubts about the death penalty. Those doubts turned into opposition to the death penalty as the years passed.
It took 21 years and a retrial before the murderer, Michael Wayne Richard, was executed. Prior to the retrial, Ms. Dixon informed the prosecutor that she did not support the death penalty. The prosecutor’s voice “changed timber” when told that and the once welcoming attitude of the prosecutor’s office was no longer there toward Celeste.
Ms. Dixon traveled the full journey of a death penalty case from trial through to execution. She summed it up this way “”It’s represented as justice, but it feels like revenge to me.”
Participants at the conference also heard from Pastor Darryl Burton, who was wrongfully imprisoned for capital murder for twenty four years in Missouri despite being innocent. A key witness in his case admitted 5 months after the trial to lying, but it took Burton 24 years to be freed.
Roger Werholtz, former Ks Secretary of Corrections, spoke on public safety aspects, and Al Terwelp of Overbook documented the increase in property taxes when his county had a death penalty case.
Mr. Werholtz shared his misgivings about the death penalty and the risk for error. He also noted his experience while in Colorado with the extra cost associated with death penalty cases. “You can’t afford to continue going down this same road” he said advocating for an end to the death penalty.