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Alithya McDonald stands next to her brother, Michael Lyons. (Family photo)

Alithya McDonald stands next to her brother, Michael Lyons.

By Jazmine Ulloa
Los Angeles Times

On a cool afternoon in October, Sandra Friend sits near a patch of green clover outside her small country home near Yuba City, thinking of her late son as the wind rustles through the trees. Friend, 43, says she wants “California voters to know what kind of offenders are on death row,” men like Robert Boyd Rhoades, who sodomized, tortured and killed 8-year-old Michael Lyons two decades ago.

She recalled that investigators said the wounds her son endured were deliberate: Rhoades stabbed the 63-pound boy 70 to 80 times with a fisherman’s knife and kept him alive for hours.

“From the very first inflicted wound to Michael, it was 10 hours to the last one,” Friend said. “For a grown man to inflict that kind of painful torture on a child — he got the right sentence. He got the only sentence that would bring any justice.”

As voters consider doing away with the death penalty on Nov. 8, public opinion of capital punishment has hit a record low and debate has centered on the expensive costs of a broken system. But emotional appeals like Friend’s have become integral to a campaign that seeks to preserve the practice, their voices a reminder that justice, closure and vengeance are still a painful part of the discussion for hundreds of families.
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Family photo