As she stared at the black cross tattooed on her wrist, Jeanette Popp told students Wednesday how both redemption and revenge drove her to fight for the life of the man who robbed her of her daughter.The cross with her daughter Nancy’s name inscribed above it is a permanent reminder of the loss she has been suffering for 17 years.
Popp, who said she became suicidal and oftentimes sat in a rocking chair with a .22-caliber pistol searching for the courage to shoot herself, told students about the first time she confronted her daughter’s killer, who was originally sentenced to death.
“He told me that he was a Satanic worshipper and (that) advisers of his church told him that the headaches he was having and the voices he was hearing would go away if he made a human sacrifice,” Popp said. “At that point, I knew that he was mentally ill and that killing him would be murder.”
Popp said a small part of her wanted him to spend his life in prison rather than receive a death sentence because death is what he wanted.
“He needs to pay for what he did,” Popp said.
Popp said the man is now serving a life-sentence after she asked the death penalty to be “taken off the table” in memory of her daughter.
Members of TCU’s chapter of Amnesty International hosted a panel for Journey of Hope, an organization whose members hope to build public awareness of “unfair trials,” “corrupt legal systems” and alternatives to the death penalty.
Popp and other murder victims’ family members, death row inmates’ family members and witnesses to execution, spoke to students Tuesday in the Brown-Lupton Student Center Lounge and to students in a criminal justice class Wednesday.
Megan Ammann, president of TCU’s Amnesty International chapter, said she was pleased to hear Journey of Hope was visiting.
“We thought this was a great way to share alternatives to the death penalty with a large group of students,” Ammann said. “Sometimes we have an upward of 75 people attend our meetings but Journey of Hope speakers, people who have been personally affected by the death penalty, have a voice that we don’t have.”
Journey of Hope volunteer Susybelle Gosslee told students Texas is the No. 1 executing state in the United States and the United States is the only Western industrialized nation to retain the death penalty.
“We never know how (the) majority of students feel about the death penalty,” Gosslee said. “I just hope that students, whether they support the death penalty or are against the death penalty, research the information and compare that information with candidates’ views when they vote.”
Popp said, “The greatest weapon against the death penalty is a voter registration card.”
After hearing stories of unfair trials, death row and execution statistics and testimonies from Journey of Hope members, Courtney Hinsvark said she still supports the death penalty.
“Although my opinion has not changed, their stories make me question the conviction process in Texas,” the senior psychology major said. “Although I support the death penalty, everyone is entitled to a fair trial.”
Tracy Spirko, a death row inmate’s wife and Journey of Hope storyteller, told students a fair trial was something her husband never received.
After getting off the phone with prison officials during the presentation, Spirko said she was told her husband’s clemency hearing was rejected.
“This is the second time and we are running out of time,” Spirko said.