Ricardo Wiggs of Clinton still vividly remembers the night in February 1992 when his life was irrevocably changed.
Wiggs, 52, said the brother of a stalker, a former boyfriend of his wife, Sharon, entered the couple’s Clinton home, shot him in the arm with a shotgun and chased Sharon to a neighbor’s front door, where he shot and killed her.
“I had to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder,” Wiggs said. “I kept seeing the blast before it hit me, hearing Sharon screaming and seeing her face. I kept seeing it over and over again, and just reliving it in my mind.”
Determined to use his tragedy to make a difference, Wiggs, whose two daughters were 4 years old and 5 months old when his wife was killed, became a stringent advocate of legislation to better protect stalking victims on the local, state and eventually federal level in the 1990s.
He also became active with the Upper Marlboro-based Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center Inc., where he is now a member of the board of directors.
Although Wiggs’ anger led him to wish death upon the man he says killed his wife — the man was acquitted of all charges in 1993 — Wiggs said he eventually decided to oppose capital punishment.
He was scheduled to speak after press time at a Wednesday evening meeting by the Maryland Citizens Against State Executions at Grace Gospel Worship Center in Clinton.
“I had to sit back and reevaluate my own faith, and whether I really supported taking another life,” he said. “We can sit in support groups and talk about revenge until we’re blue in the face, but we have to analyze what we’ve already lost and what good it would do to actually take another life. And it won’t do any good.”
Death penalty opponents are rallying behind bills in the state General Assembly repealing capital punishment, which have 66 sponsors in the House of Delegates and 19 sponsors in the Senate. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, there have been five executions in Maryland, and five more people currently sit on death row.
Porita Cox, 65, of Crofton, facilitated the support group Wiggs joined after his wife’s death that was run by the crime victims’ center, then known as the Stephanie Roper Foundation, similar to support groups the center still runs today.
Cox said that often the homicide of a loved one actually reaffirms whatever position a survivor previously had on the issue.
“What I found working with people for seven years was that what they thought about [the death penalty] pretty much stayed the same,” Cox said. “... But as a group, as a rule, I think everyone became aware that life without parole — a true life sentence — was a little bit like death by incarceration. It was easier for the victims because they knew it was one appeal and then it was done [as opposed to capital punishment’s years worth of appeals].”
Roberta Roper, chairwoman of the board of directors at the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, who founded the group after the death of her daughter, Stephanie Roper, said it’s not uncommon for survivors who seek services from her group to eventually give back and remain involved.
“With a lot of families we serve, we jokingly tell them that our goal is for you to not need us anymore,” Roper said. “We want you to be empowered to do what you need to do, but almost without exception people come back to help others. That’s part of their gift to the organization and the tribute to their loved ones.”
Wiggs said his work over the years was a tool to cope with his wife’s death and his attack.
“If someone robs you, that’s something temporary, something that can be replaced,” Wiggs said. “But if someone tries to take a life from you, you have no alternative but to fight.”