Hidden Victims: The Effects of the Death Penalty on Families of the Accused

Hidden Victims: The Effects of the Death Penalty on Families of the Accused

Hidden Victims: The Effects of the Death Penalty on Families of the Accused

Hidden Victims: The Effects of the Death Penalty on Families of the Accused


"Sharp's book reemphasizes the tremendous costs of maintaining the death penalty--costs to real people and real families that ripple throughout generations to come."--Saundra D. Westervelt, author of Shifting the Blame: How Victimization Became a Criminal Defense

"Everyone concerned with the effects of capital punishment must have this book."--Margaret Vandiver, professor, department of criminology and criminal justice, University of Memphis

Murderers, particularly those sentenced to death, are considered by most to be unusually heinous, often sub-human, and entirely different from the rest of us. In Hidden Victims, sociologist Susan F. Sharp challenges this culturally ingrained perspective by reminding us that those individuals facing a death sentence, in addition to being murderers, are brothers or sisters, mothers or fathers, daughters or sons, relatives or friends. Through a series of vivid and in-depth interviews with families of the accused, she demonstrates how the exceptionally severe way in which we view those on death row trickles down to those with whom they are closely connected. Sharp shows how family members and friends--in effect, the indirect victims of the initial crime--experience a profoundly complicated and socially isolating grief process.

Departing from a humanist perspective from which most accounts of victims are told, Sharp makes her case from a sociological standpoint that draws out the parallel experiences and coping mechanisms of these individuals. Chapters focus on responses to sentencing, the particular structure of grieving faced by this population, execution, aftermath, wrongful conviction, family formation after conviction, and the complex situation of individuals related to both the killer and the victim.

Powerful, poignant, and intelligently written, Hidden Victims challenges all of us--regardless of which side of the death penalty you are on--to understand the economic, social, and psychological repercussions that shape the lives of the often forgotten families of death row inmates.


“THIS IS THE PICTURE of our son that Richard had in his room before he died,” said the ninety-year-old woman in her thick German accent. The year was 1986. We were in San Francisco, on the top floor of the Fairmont Hotel, there to do a TV show about the fiftieth anniversary of her husband’s execution. As the city lights glistened below, she hugged the picture and sobbed, both her hands clutching my upper arm. After a moment of silence, she slowly muttered, “It still hurts like it was yesterday.”

Yesterday. Fifty years. Yesterday.

So said Anna, the widow of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was executed in 1936 for the murder of the baby of aviator Charles Lindbergh. To this day, many believe that Hauptmann was innocent. That issue aside, Richard Hauptmann’s suffering ended in 1936. Once his death sentence was carried out, he could no longer be punished, and he could not live with the stigma and the memories. His family could; his wife still did, every day for nearly six decades, until her own death in 1994.

In this important book, Professor Susan Sharp focuses our attention on the wives, parents, children, and siblings of death row inmates. Because this is a group that is rarely in the limelight, they can unquestionably be seen as “Hidden Victims” of the death penalty. Over the past twenty-five years I have had the experience of going through last visits with over fifty condemned inmates, sharing those last hours with the prisoner, his or her family, attorneys, and spiritual advisors, and getting to know scores of other families who dread the day when the life of their loved one on death row will be taken. No one has ever done a better job than Professor Sharp of shedding light on these families and allowing their stories to be told.

Supporters of capital punishment argue their position very differ-

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