The Impact of the Murderer's Punishment On the Victim's Family: A Mixed Methods Multi-Site Study of the Ultimate Penal Sanction
Method: A cross-sectional research design over four time periods encompassed the entirety of the criminal justice experience, which in Texas averages 10.6 years from conviction to execution. A randomly selected sample of survivors (n =39) from each state covered sentencing to three years post sentence (Time 1); five to eight years post sentence (Time 2); ten to twelve years post sentence (Time 3); and fourteen to sixteen years post sentence (Time 4). Participant characteristics were comparable across states. Survivors completed a demographic questionnaire, the Inventory of Complicated Bereavement-Revised (ICG-R), and a two-hour audio-taped semi-structured interview about their post-homicide experience. Qualitative data were first analyzed using a narrative approach for finding event themes. Framework analysis (Miles and Huberman) was employed for making event theme comparisons across cases, time periods and states. NVivo 9 was used for event theme coding and retrieval of text to support the event themes and case-specific ratings. Multivariate analysis was conducted for the ICG-R scores by time and state and for select event themes as predictors of ICG-R scores. A two-way factorial ANOVA assessed the interaction and main effects in predicting grief scores.
Results: Event themes clustered into three groups: (1) conviction experience including relationships with the prosecution, the defense team, and the murderer’s family; (2) post conviction experience including movement through appeals, mental relationships with the murderer and the execution process; and (3) personal consequences including physical, psychological and behavioral changes. State differences were most notable during Time 3 post-conviction with Minnesotans having higher levels of physical, psychological and behavioral health as well as completion of appeals. In support of this trend, the ANOVA yielded a statistically significant interaction effect for state by time period (F (3, 31) = 4.268, p = .012) as well as a statistically significant effect for time (F (3, 31) = 3.859, p = .019. Statistically significant results were due to differences between Time 1 and Time 3.
Implications: Additional research is needed on offender sentencing, perceived control and crime victim well-being. Methodologically this study demonstrates the use of text for thematic analysis coupled with transforming text into numbers for comparative purposes. It provides a social work practice guide geared toward survivors’ growth and perceived control. It challenges customary litigation and policy on the UPS by moving survivors’ experiences from the margins into the mainstream.