Death Gives Family Closure

MARTINS FERRY- Tiffany Pugh believes Donald Palmer’s death will bring closure – but forgiveness may be a long time coming.

Palmer died by lethal injection shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville for the May 8, 1989 murders Pugh’s father, Charles Sponhaltz, and Steven Vargo along Belmont County 2 near the Jefferson County line.

Pugh’s comments came after listening to a recorded one-hour death row interview in which Palmer expressed remorse for his actions.

“At this point I don’t think I will ever fully in my heart forgive Mr. Palmer for what he has done to me and my family, she said. “Although I felt his apology appeared to be sincere, due to the fact that it took 23 years for him to apologize to my family along with Mr. Vargo’s family and for the factor of him being executed, I’m not entirely sure I believe him.”

During the interview, Palmer said, “I want it to be known that it’s OK that I am being executed. I know that I have to be in order for the victims’ families to get over the anger and hurt. So if this is what it takes its you see, they’re looking for closure and they’re not going to get it in an execution. They think maybe they are, but all I am is object for them to hate right now. When I’m out of the way, that pain, that loss is all still there. This isn’t going to heal that. It might be recompense to a point but it’s not going to do anything as far as their hurt inside. The only way they’re going to get past that is to get past me. So, once I’m out of the way, then they will realize that it won’t go away until they find something else to do with it. And, my biggest worry is that I’ve harmed them to the point where they may have no faith in God, or angry with God for what happened to their loved ones.”

Palmer said he had his victims’ families in mind when he chose not to seek clemency from the death penalty.

“I didn’t ask for it because I don’t want the victims’ families to have something to hate. They have to let go of that. I don’t want them to forgive me now. But, I want them to let their hate and their anger to die with me. So when I’m put to death, I want them to kill what’s hurting inside of them. If, once I’m dead, and they realize they still have problems – hurt, anger, unforgiveness – the only way you’re going to find that kind of peace is in the Lord. That’s it.”

Pugh said, “I am happy that he has found God. It’s not my choice what happens from this day forward. It’s in God’s hands. I believe in God. As a child, I prayed every night for God to bring my father back to me. When I was older and understood that it wasn’t possible, I then prayed for closure for my family, as well as justice for my father’s murderer. My prayers have finally been answered and my family will finally get the closure that we so desperately need and deserve.

“This will provide closure in that we will not have to be informed of his transfers time and time again to different prisons and then have to contact lawyers to find out the reason why. We will not have to worry about the appeals process anymore, as he has appealed I don’t know how many times throughout the years and my family has had to relive May 8, 1989 over and over again, and write letters to the parole board and sit on pins and needles hoping that they don’t convert Mr. Palmer’s sentence. We will no longer have to go back and fourth with lawyers when so many months elapse to see what is going on in the case or if anything will be done.”

Palmer said he had read Pugh’s comments to the clemency board in which she detailed how she did not have a father to watch her ball games, to be at her graduation and wedding and how her father never had a chance to meet his grandchildren.

“I know these things because I watched my daughter go through the exact same thing,” he said. “She didn’t have me there the first day of school, she didn’t have me there to give her away when she got married. She didn’t do all these things. She didn’t have the same things that Tiffany Sponhaltz said that she didn’t have. The difference my daughter received birthday cards, Christmas cards, she got to come to prison once in a while, hear me on the phone. So, my daughter had it better than she did but at the same time, Tiffany said that she didn’t like being ask if her father was the one who got murdered because she got the pity glance and all that. My daughter didn’t like talking about me because of the shame.

Pugh responded, “He states how his daughter had to go through many of the same things as I did as a child. I understand that he shamed his family as well as made mine suffer. But he needs to remember although he is in prison his daughter had a father 23 years longer than I did. She was able to write to him, see him on visitation days and send him pictures of his grandchildren for his eyes to see. My father didn’t get that option and although (Palmer) may not have been able to hold his children or grandchildren in his arms, he was still a part of their lives for 23 years longer than my father was a part of mine.”

She said Palmer’s explanation of what happened on the day of the murders were helpful.

“Mr. Palmer’s chain of events painted a clearer picture for me of what may of happened that very day,” she said. “Even after reading every piece of documentation I have found on the case since I was 13 years old, Mr. Palmer summed it up for me to make me better understand how it may of happened, although I questions several statements that he had made.

As for Palmer’s comments in the interview that he did not receive a fair trial, Pugh said, “To the factor of him speaking about not having a fair trial and the case evidence that he said was incorrect, he admitted he murdered two people. Does he think the jury would feel differently if for some reason the case evidence were different? I mean he murdered two innocent men and I didn’t see that being portrayed in the statement.

“Mr. Palmer’s death will give my family closure. However, I’m not sure that forgiveness will happen any time soon – if ever.”