Where Justice and Mercy Meet: A Conversation on the Death Penalty

Prior to May 7, 1998, Vicki Schieber did not know a whole lot about the death penalty. But, when her daughter, Shannon, was raped and murdered on this date as a graduate student in Philadelphia, Schieber’s life and work changed in ways she could never have imagined: she is determined to see the abolition of the death penalty in the United States before she dies.


On Nov. 7, at 3 p.m. in the Delaplaine Theater, the Mount Students for Life hosted Schieber, an acclaimed speaker, writer and social justice advocate, to talk about her work of overturning the death penalty in America. Since her daughter’s brutal murder in 1998, Schieber, inspired by her moral convictions and Catholic faith, has given nearly 20 years to traveling, writing and speaking out against the death penalty.


One might wonder how Schieber, her husband and their son were able to move past a natural desire for retributive justice for Shannon’s killer when offered the option of the death penalty. This, Schieber called in her witness, is “amazing grace.” Determined not to perpetuate further pain in a cycle of unending violence, Schieber has chosen forgiveness, and uses her life and witness so that others might choose the same.


Unable to communicate in person with her daughter’s killer, who has been given a life sentence without parole (as the Schieber’s wished) in the state of Colorado, Schieber detailed the one letter she was allowed to write to him and the impactful answer she received back, in which he thanked her for her kindness and her forgiveness, which has allowed for his healing. Schieber also had the opportunity to get in touch with the murderer’s mother, who claimed culpability for Shannon’s murder, as her son grew up in a household where her husband’s drug addiction and violence were an unstable and negative example for her son.


In 19 states, the death penalty is illegal. Schieber’s advocacy and witness have played an instrumental part in 6 of those states, including Maryland, which was added to that list in 2013. Her goal is to get this list to at least 25 states, leading to the Supreme Court’s anticipated consideration of the national repeal of the death penalty.


“I say, ‘Shannon, can you pull some strings for me?’” Schieber, now in her 70s, looked up, imploring the daughter she misses so deeply for more time to combat the mountain of work that still lies ahead.


The event was certainly an impactful one for those in attendance. Kyle Webber C‘18 commented, “Mrs. Schieber has a very powerful message. She is an inspiration of how to find peace after a catastrophic event in life. We should all try to believe in the good of people and look to see how people can change as they move into the future.”


Schieber, a former Mount faculty member, was introduced at the event by retired Mount professor, Dr. Trudy Conway. Conway used to teach a course on the death penalty at the Mount and has collaborated on two books with Schieber and also Associate Provost David McCarthy: Where Justice and Mercy Meet: Catholic Opposition to the Death Penalty (2013) and Redemption and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Restorative Justice (available as of Nov. 15, 2017).


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