Originally published on NC Newsline.
By Meg Eggleston
This month marks the seventeenth anniversary of North Carolina’s last execution. Between 1984 and 2006, North Carolina executed 43 people. For some, it might feel like executions are ancient history in our state. However, the enormous pain they caused is still very much with us. I know because, in 2005, I stood by helplessly as the state of North Carolina killed a man and devastated a family that I cared about deeply.
Elias Syriani was a beautiful soul who did a horrendous thing when he murdered his wife, depriving his four young children of their mother. It’s hard to understand how both those things can be true. But after visiting Elias monthly for five years, I am certain it is so.
In the years that I wrote and visited with Elias, I learned about his childhood in Palestine and Jordan, his career as a professional singer, his troubled arranged marriage filled with cultural conflicts, and his grief over his estrangement from his children. However, right around the time his execution date was set, his children reached out to request a visit with their father. After that, I was lucky enough to become close with his children too.
When that first meeting between Elias and his children occurred, even with all the nervousness, they each felt the love that had been buried for so many years. Forgiveness, though the word was not mentioned at first, was in everyone’s hearts. This was their father, their only living parent, the only person who could tell them stories of their times together before.
The children made a commitment that they would campaign for their father’s life to be spared. I was in Raleigh with them when they visited Gov. Easley to make their own personal pleas to spare the life of this man they were getting to know again as a father.
Elias’ execution was scheduled on a sunny day in November 2005. His children and I all visited with him, holding out hope that the governor would hear their pleas and grant a last-minute reprieve. That evening, as I prepared to speak to a group that had gathered to protest the death penalty, we got the news that his execution would go forward.
Gov. Easley had allowed Elias’ children to beg for his life, only to disregard their wishes entirely.
Elias did not want his children to be on the prison grounds while he was killed, so they left while many others held vigil, holding candles in the dark. When the children called me the next day, they were grieving and broken. They had now lost both their parents.
I have always been against the death penalty. I am against killing in any form. However, this experience showed me even more clearly how senseless and cruel the death penalty is, and how it hurts not just those who are executed, but all the people who knew and loved them. It closes the door to forgiveness and healing. It leaves so many victims in its path.
Today, 137 people remain on death row in North Carolina. While executions are on hold, the death penalty is still on the books and executions could resume. That’s why I’ve joined a growing group of North Carolinians who are asking Gov. Cooper to commute the sentences of all those on death row. He has the power to make sure that no more families are broken by the horror of executions, and I dearly hope he will use it.