At 6:18 PM yesterday the state of Mississippi took the life of Larry Matthew Puckett. His death was premeditated, and surely both Matt and his family were tortured daily by the knowledge of his impending death. Since Matt was given a death sentence on August 5, 1996, he and his loved ones lived through sixteen years overshadowed by the terrorizing fact that his execution loomed before them. Matt Puckett will never again suffer the agonies of this life, but his family surely will not ever be fully at peace again, just as the family of Rhonda Griffis, whom Matt was convicted of murdering, cannot ever be at peace. We have added one murder to another. Matt was killed in the name of a very misplaced notion of justice. He was killed in the name of all Mississippi citizens, and in a sense all of us who live in the U.S. bear some guilt in his death because we are constituents of a federal government that condones state sanctioned murder. We, the People, have done this to Matt, his mother, and the rest of his family and friends, and I, for one, am deeply sorrowful and ashamed of what has been done in my name, what will certainly be done again many times over until we demand a new kind of justice–one that seeks to make us more humane and less vengeful.
Many of Matt’s supporters believe that he did not commit the murder of Rhonda Griffis, but whether he did or not, his death will not bring her back to life. Last night those who loved Matt have been cast into a shared category of grief with those who loved Rhonda. All of these people now must mourn a person whose life was cut short by another person’s hand.
When I attended the Prisoner’s Family Conference a few weeks ago, I met an extraordinary woman named Charity Lee whose very existence is the best argument against the death penalty that I have ever heard. Charity was six years old in 1980 when her father was murdered. Her mother was tried and acquitted of murder-for-hire. In 2007 Charity’s thirteen year-old son Paris stabbed his four year-old sister Ella to death. Charity, like most mothers, loves both of her children immeasurably, and she has, in different ways, lost them both. Paris is incarcerated in a youth facility and will soon be transferred into an adult prison population where he will likely serve another twenty years before his release. Charity works tirelessly to help both the families of murder victims and the families of people accused or convicted of murder. As a member of both groups, she believes that healing and reconciliation among these families is not only possible but necessary. She started the ELLA Foundation, named for her daughter, with a mission “to prevent violence and to advocate for human rights through education, criminal justice reform, and victim advocacy.” Charity’s work and that of groups like Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation will one day bring about the end of the death penalty in the United States. When those who have lost what is most precious to them because of violence demand an end to the state’s ability to kill its own citizens, we should listen to them.
Rest in peace, Matthew Puckett, Rhonda Griffis, and Ella Lee. Those of us who remain must prevent future murders and seek ways to protect the safety of all people without further violence.