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In Memory of Rachel King: July 2, 1963 – August 25, 2008

Jack Payden-Travers,
Capital Punishment Project
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August 27, 2008

It is with sadness that we report the passing of Rachel King. Rachel was the former State Strategies Coordinator and later the Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project.

Rachel passed away in Wayne, Maine, where she was raised and later she and her husband, Richard McAlee, built a vacation home. Her last moments were spent surrounded by family and friends.

Although Rachel was a staunch abolitionist, her career took her in many directions, always where she could be of service to her fellow person. At the time of her death Rachel was on the staff of the U.S. House Committee of the Judiciary where she covered issues of crime, terrorism and homeland security. Rachel also taught at the Howard University School of Law.

Her service to the ACLU was not solely in the Capital Punishment Project. In fact, she served as Legislative Counsel for the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office and Executive Director of the ACLU of Alaska. Rachel’s dedication to the cause of death penalty abolition could be seen in not only her ACLU work but she was also the Director of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty and Chair of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Rachel’s public service career started early. Prior to law school she was a human rights monitor in Guatemala with the Sanctuary Movement. An internship during her studies at Northeastern Law School took her to Alaska and upon receiving her Juris Doctor degree she returned to work as counsel for the Alaska Public Defender Agency. She earned a Masters from Temple University School of Law.

She wrote and lectured tirelessly to abolish capital punishment. Her first book, Don’t Kill In Our Names: Families Of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty was published in 2003. The book told the stories of family members of murder victims who believed that revenge through the death penalty was not the way to honor their loved ones. In 2005, Rachel authored one of the first investigations on the experiences of the families of the executed, Capital Consequences: Families of the Condemned Tell Their Stories.

While teaching us all how to live a full life with cancer she wrote her first novel, Tales Of The District: Life In The Nation’s Capital In A Time Of Terror, which was published in late 2007.

Rachel was also the primary author of Broken Justice: The Death Penalty in Virginia (2003), Broken Justice: The Death Penalty in Alabama (2005), Not in Our Name (1997), and The Forgotten Population: A Look at Death Row in the United States Through the Experiences of Women (2004) and many similar publications for organizations such as the ACLU, the American Friends Service Committee and Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation.

Those of us who were privileged to work with Rachel know that she rarely took credit for her endeavors, was patient with those who failed to keep up with her pace, and was an excellent colleague as well as a good friend.

It is typical of Rachel that in lieu of flowers she asked that those wishing to send a memorial please make a donation to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She may be gone but her spirit lives on in all those who continue to advance her work of abolition of the death penalty and social justice. As they say in Guatemala on the passing of a friend, Rachel King, Presenté!

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