In July Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were sexually abused and brutally murdered by parolees Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, who now face the death penalty. The Hawke-Petit family – including husband and father William, who survived the attack – were members of the United Methodist Church in Cheshire, CT, a liberal activist church “where parishioners take to the pulpit to discuss poverty in El Salvador and refugees living in Meriden,” reports The New York Times.

The church has been led by three pastors in a row who oppose capital punishment in favor of “restorative justice,” and several congregants attended midnight vigils two years ago outside the prison where CT executed its first convict in 45 years. The parishioners are anguished over how they should respond to the capital charges brought against the defendants, according to The Times:

The killings have not just stunned the congregation, they have spurred quiet debate about how it should respond to the crime and whether it should publicly oppose the punishment that may follow. It has also caused a few to reassess how they feel about the punishment. …

The Rev. Diana Jani Druck, who led the Cheshire congregation from 2001 to 2005, said the Petit case would be an interesting test for the congregation and the state.

The case, she said, lacks some of the factors that make some people object to the death penalty as patently unfair, like race. (The suspects are white, as were the Petits.) Because both defendants were caught fleeing the crime scene, there may be fewer questions about mistaken identity. And the gruesome nature of the crime, combined with the kinship many congregants felt for the Petits, may stir feelings of vengeance even in death penalty opponents, she said.

She herself acknowledged feeling “real violent anger” when first shown photographs of the suspects. But on reflection, she said, “I just don’t see what purpose is served in putting them to death.”

In this case justice could be served only if restorative justice meant the defendants could restore the lives of the Hawke-Petit mother and daughters. As this is not possible, retributive justice – the state and the people of CT do unto the defendants what they did unto the Hawke-Petits, only much more humanely – is the only just punishment.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog.

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