My parents were very active in the Filipino community in the Seattle area. It was a tradition in our family to be concerned about the conditions in which Filipino Americans live in the United States. So that was inculcated in us from when we were young. Silme got his beginnings of activism working in the Alaskan canneries. He was what they call a “natural leader,” always wanting to lead, not only in social activities but political activities as well. He understood what it took to be an effective leader. You not only have to be educated in the importance of social change, but have to enjoy what you do and have the passion for it. Silme had both traits.
When Silme and Gene were murdered, both families felt that they could not support the death penalty for several reasons. One being because of the Christian values that people had. The families felt that it was not our place to take somebody’s life because they had taken the lives of our loved ones. The second reason being that because my brother’s case was politically charged and was a murder conspiracy, we always wanted those that were going to be convicted or were involved in the murder conspiracy to come forth and tell us what they knew.
Lastly, we felt that life in prison without the chance of parole was probably even worse than having to die. The youngest member that was part of the murder conspiracy was only 19, and for him to spend the rest of his life in prison, knowing he’ll never ever get out, that’s horrible to know that will be the rest of your life and to give up all hope of any kind of freedom. For us, that was enough punishment that we didn’t need to take their lives to feel good about justice.
I don’t believe that having the death penalty resolves anything for the families. It would not have resolved it in my brother’s case if the people who committed the murders had been put to death. There wouldn’t have been satisfaction, and there wouldn’t have been justice served by imposing the death penalty on them.