The family members of murder victims have a unique voice and have an essential role in the struggle and debate about ending capital punishment.
There is no right way or wrong way for survivors of homicide to feel or think about capital punishment. We lift up the work of survivors of homicide who have joined our efforts to acknowledge the special sacrifices they have made to contribute to our collective success.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is proud to partner with national organizations such as Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, Murder Victims Families for Human Rights and The Journey of Hope.
As we celebrate the enormous victory of Maryland, likely becoming the 6th state to repeal the death penalty in 6 years, we wanted to salute the efforts of three individuals without whose selfless efforts the victory in Maryland would not have been possible.
The three people highlighted below were tireless advocates for the abolition of the death penalty in Maryland as well as increased services for those who suffer from homicide. They have bravely shared their story, building bridges and connections to law makers and diverse segments of the community — changing hearts and minds.
Bonnita Spikes, whose husband Michael was murdered at a New York City convenience store in 1994, spoke at a recent rally about the challenge of suddenly becoming a single mother and sole breadwinner and the relatively few resources available to her for support.
Before his death, Michael had served on juries and shared that he could never sentence anyone to death because of inequities in the system. Neither Bonnita nor her police officer son supports the death penalty. Their faith also informs their opposition to capital punishment.
Since 2005 Bonnita has worked as an organizer and victim advocate for Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. She has testified at the Maryland legislature, met with individual legislators, given presentations across the state, spoken at rallies, and worked with survivors of homicide in Baltimore. “Over and over, I have found families in dire need of support and traumatic grief counseling services. I have come to know people, young and old, who have little or no access to professional help coping with their overwhelming loss. They are struggling to hold their households together, to help their families grieve and survive the trauma one day at a time.”
Vicki Schieber didn’t care about the death penalty before her daughter Shannon was raped and murdered in 1998 while pursuing a doctorate in Philadelphia at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. It took years for investigators to find Shannon’s killer. When prosecutors sought the death penalty against the perpetrator in 2002, Vicki and her husband argued against it. “We didn’t want him put to death. This wasn’t the way we were going to find peace and closure.”
Vicki has become deeply involved in the repeal effort over the past decade. She has testified before the Maryland legislature and spoken with individual legislators dozens of times and serves on the board of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. She has taken her story to 22 states as she urges an end to capital punishment, mostly because of the very harmful effects it often has on the family survivors of a homicide victim. Vicki also serves as the Education Coordinator for the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty, and had been a board member of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights until the end of 2012.
Though she has rejoiced as other states have struck down capital punishment, Vicki said seeing the same thing happen in Maryland would be different. “Shannon was born and raised in Maryland and was a great supporter of social justice issues during her 23 years with us. If she had known about the biases and arbitrariness in the application of our U.S. death penalty system, she would have become actively involved in abolition efforts. My work is all done to honor my daughter.”
Erricka Bridgeford also knows the grief of murder intimately. Her brother David was murdered in 2007. “He was my first best friend, first love, first baby. That was my brother.”
Since 2009 Erricka has advocated for an end to Maryland’s death penalty. She has testified at the Maryland legislature, spoken to the media repeatedly, and shared her powerful story at a 2011 death penalty prayer service at the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore.
“You start to realize that revenge is taking up space that you need to heal. I have learned that one more dead body cannot be justice. I want life in return for my brother’s death. He is worth forgiveness in return for violence.”
Erricka is also involved in the N.E.W. World Movement, an effort to bring resources to rebuild and support the neighborhood where she grew up in honor of her brother and other friends who were killed in that community.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty salutes these wonderful individuals and their unique and important contributions to the successful Maryland abolition campaign!