The missing victims in a capital punishment story

February 15, 2013

While it may be well and good that Jerry Givens, Virginia’s chief executioner for 17 years, “evolved” to personally oppose capital punishment [“In Va., an executioner’s change of heart,” front page, Feb. 11], I found it disgraceful that this piece contained not a single substantive reflection about the real victims in death penalty cases: Those whom the condemned have murdered.

One killer the article mentioned was Syvasky Poyner. In March 1993, I was present at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt as a state’s witness to Poyner’s electrocution. I recalled Poyner’s crime spree well; I was a graduate student living in Newport News in early 1984 when he killed five women over 11 days, each by a gunshot to the head. His motive was robbery; he killed the women to leave no witnesses, getting away with less than $100 after ending five lives. By his own admission, he chose female victims because “they were easily frightened.”

Despite his horrific crimes, I felt no personal animosity toward Poyner as I observed events from the witness chamber. He looked nondescript, not like the apotheosis of evil one might envision. The attending priest read his final statement; in his last moments, Poyner asked for forgiveness. My thoughts turned to the mind-set of the five victims in their last moments: fearful beyond measure, begging for their lives, realizing they would have no opportunity to see or say goodbye to loved ones, no opportunity to watch kids or grandchildren grow up, no opportunity to live out their lives in peace and their own pursuit of happiness.

The victims were shown absolutely no mercy, and I concluded, as I witnessed Poyner being put to death, that justice, as we human beings are capable of defining it, was served.

Jeffrey L. Adelman, Alexandria

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