Behind Bob Curley's Change Of Heart

October Cullum Frost sent this contribution to the New Abolitionist.

I heard Robert Curley speak for the first time in public since his change of heart about the death penalty at the first national conference of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation.

Bob Curley’s trusting young son Jeff was brutally murdered in October 1997, betrayed by the promise of a bicycle. When the Massachusetts state legislature met a few months later to debate whether to reinstate the death penalty in the state, Gov. Paul Cellucci, a death penalty advocate, brought Curley and his family in by limousine to sit in the balcony. Reinstatement failed by a single vote.

Bud Welch, who lost his daughter Julie in the Oklahoma City bombing, introduced Curley in a Boston College auditorium on the final day of the conference. The previous morning, someone had told him about Curley’s announcement on the news. He knew Curley slightly, because they had been on TV together -- on opposite sides of the capital punishment issue.

Welch, who had come to the conference because he opposed the execution of Timothy McVeigh, immediately called Curley and invited him to come speak. It was a dramatic moment -- for the audience and for Curley.

How did he come to change his mind about the death penalty? The brothers of two murderers, Manny Babbitt and Ted Kaczinski, had persuaded him. Babbitt was executed; Kaczinski, whose brother felt compelled to testify against him, languishes in prison.

In painful detail, Curley retold the story of his son’s murder. It was Jeff’s birthday -- he was going to the cemetery from the auditorium.

He confessed that he was wondering if his brothers would be so angry that they would beat him up at the family’s Fourth of July picnic. Then he said, "I’m relieved I’m here," but his face was a mask -- of pain, and perhaps fear.

I am only sorry that Bob Curley was there for such a short time. The conference, entitled "Healing the Wounds of Murder," brought together murder victims’ families, innocent men who had spent years on death row and, even more poignantly, families of those who had been executed. Shamed and forgotten, they may be the neediest victims of all.

Bob Curley would surely have found, in that extraordinary group of people, some of the support he needs.