36 years ago, at the age of 19, Darryl Barwick committed a murder. His childhood had been chaotic, marked by abuse, neglect, and mental health issues. As a young man, Barwick struggled to cope with the traumas he had experienced and found himself on a path that ultimately led to tragedy. On March 31, 1986, he took the life of Rebecca Wendt, an act for which he was later sentenced to death.
For 36 years, Rebecca Wendt’s family has lived with the pain of her loss, struggling to move forward in the aftermath of tragedy. Meanwhile, Darryl Barwick has remained on death row in Florida, facing his own demons and striving to become a better person. In his time behind bars, Darryl has worked to make amends for his mistakes, striving to become a respectful, compassionate, and altruistic person. And that’s what he was until the state of Florida took his life last night at 6:14PM, a good man, loved by all the people who know him, calm, at peace and without problems.
Today Charles wakes up at 5 AM to have his coffee and watch the news before putting on his suit and heading out to sell cars, as Jenna rises at 4 AM to prepare breakfast for her three children, pack their lunches, and wake them up with a kiss on the forehead before driving them to school, as John, Travis, Judy, and all of us wake up this morning to do what we do every day, it’s worth asking: what has changed since yesterday? Does the execution of Darryl Barwick, or anyone else for that matter, make us feel any safer, any more secure, any more at peace? The answer is likely no. The problems and challenges we faced yesterday are still with us today, and the loss of another human life only adds to the sense of tragedy and sorrow in the world. We must question whether the death penalty truly serves the needs of our society and whether there are better, more humane ways to address crime and promote healing and justice.
But what about Rebecca Wendt’s family? Did they feel any better or any more relieved this morning? It’s unlikely. The 30 days leading up to Darryl Barwick’s execution, after the Florida Governor signed his death warrant, likely brought back painful memories for the family of Rebecca Wendt, who have been forced to relive a tragedy that caused them great suffering 36 years ago. And while they may have felt a fleeting sense of closure yesterday at 6 PM, that sense of relief will likely give way to immense pain that has been the same for 36 years. Personal accounts from the families of murder victims suggest that the death penalty does not provide closure or healing. According to Amnesty International, ‘Victims’ families and those who work with them report that the death penalty process prolongs the agony of losing a loved one and forces them to relive the pain of the crime, the investigation and the trial.’ Additionally, some victims’ families have spoken out against the death penalty altogether. In a 2019 op-ed for The Washington Post, Rachel Sutphin, the daughter of a police officer who was killed in the line of duty, wrote, ‘The death penalty is not about justice, it’s about revenge. It’s a legal form of retribution that ultimately does nothing to help the families of victims.’
The execution of Darryl Barwick in Florida last night not only brings no relief to the family of Rebecca Wendt, but it also extends the pain to the loved ones of Darryl. The trauma of losing a family member is now compounded by the horrific circumstances of his execution, and these loved ones will have to live with this for years to come. It is a painful reminder that the death penalty does not just impact the individual being executed, but also those closest to them. The cycle of pain and suffering continues, and justice cannot be fully served by adding more pain to the world.
Numerous studies have shown how both the families and loved ones of those who have been executed and the victim’s family experience intense and long-lasting emotional pain.
- “The Psychological Effects of the Death Penalty on Family Members and Friends of the Deceased” by Jonna Clark and Robert Lamperti (2008): This study found that the death penalty can cause prolonged psychological trauma for the loved ones of the victim, the convicted person, and the executioner. It also found that the execution can provide only temporary relief for the pain of the victim’s family members, and can even generate additional pain.
- “The Impact of Capital Punishment on Families of Murder Victims” by Scott Vollum and Robin L. Simons (2001): This study found that the execution of a convicted person can cause intense psychological distress for the victim’s family members, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The study also found that the death penalty can exacerbate rather than alleviate the pain and suffering of the victim’s family.
- “The Effects of the Death Penalty on the Family Members of the Accused” by Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susan Turner (2007): This study found that the death penalty can cause significant emotional and psychological pain for the loved ones of the accused, including feelings of guilt, shame, and social isolation. The study also found that the execution can have long-term effects on the family members, including negative impacts on their physical and mental health.
Why is the pain and suffering of Darryl Barwick’s loved ones, whose legal murder was just committed by the state of Florida, being criticized today, while he himself took a life and caused much suffering to the victim’s family? Simply because there is no comparison between a crime committed illegally and punished by the justice system. And the murder that took place last night, which was planned, deemed legal, and carried out by the state, making all of us complicit in it.
The real question is: Could the suffering caused last night have been avoided? The answer is yes. A balanced and humane justice system could have offered an alternative to execution. Life sentences, rehabilitation and reintegration programs, and crime prevention measures could have been put in place to avoid the unnecessary pain inflicted on Darryl Barwick and Rebecca Wendt’s loved ones. Ultimately, the state of Florida and society as a whole have a moral responsibility to ensure that the justice system does not cause more pain and suffering.
And to go further, the suffering caused by Darryl Barwick’s execution could have been avoided if he had received proper care and treatment earlier in his life, when he was a child. The root of the problem must be addressed, and the current system is failing in providing adequate psychological support to children in need and assistance to struggling parents. It is crucial to recognize that investing in the well-being and care of children is essential to prevent further trauma and suffering down the road. It is time to take action and allocate more resources towards creating a balanced and humane justice system that prioritizes rehabilitation and support rather than punishment and retribution. Only then can we hope to prevent such tragedies and alleviate the suffering of all those involved.
As we wake up to another day, let us remember that the execution of Darryl Barwick was a senseless loss of human life. It is a painful reminder that violence begets only more violence, and that we must find a better way to create a more just and peaceful world. Let us honor Rebecca Wendt and Darryl’s memory by committing ourselves to the pursuit of a more compassionate and equitable society, where every person is valued and their rights are respected. And let us never forget that every life is precious and deserves to be treated with dignity and care.