Sometimes it seems like 100 years ago. Sometimes it seems like yesterday.
The year was 1994 and we were living overseas while my husband was in the military serving our country. We were far away from family when one of those dreaded phone calls came one day. Someone had died.
A family member called to deliver the sad news, and then someone from the Red Cross called (it verifies family deaths of military service members so they can take time off). We don’t remember exactly how we were told, but we do remember the news that was told, and the feeling of shock that followed. A brother was gone. Not only gone, but murdered. I don’t think things like this only happen to other people, but nobody is ever prepared for a phone call delivering such news. It wasn’t my birth brother, but he was a brother in a family I had married into and love. Mr. Legs soon got on an airplane and traveled to be with his family while they said goodbye to his brother. When he arrived at the hotel, he was approached by a detective who told him there was more to the story than what he had heard so far. The police suspected it was not strangers who killed his brother, but his wife of about a year.
He was a quiet man of good moral character. He had been living alone miles away from family. He had a good job and some friends, but had probably been very lonely when he met her. Now he was gone.
Family and friends gathered at the funeral. His wife wailed loudly without tears, then left early from the funeral in a limousine with friends and went downtown to party. The police followed and arrested her on a parole violation. Yes, she had a criminal record and a colorful past. Over time, it became clear that this woman had devised a plot even before she met our brother, targeted him, manipulated him, planned for her financial future, and arranged for his demise. It’s an ugly story. A real story you wouldn’t wish on an enemy. But we were in the middle of realizing someone we loved was the victim in it. And it was too late to change the ending. He was gone.
There was a trial scheduled. There was a plea. There was a conviction. There was a sentence. She is now in prison and has been for over 20 years. Because there was a plea to avoid the death penalty, there may eventually be a release date for a person who committed a terrible act, never admitted guilt in spite of overwhelming evidence and has shown absolutely no remorse. She convinced her boyfriend to join in her scheme and do the trigger work. He served 15 years and was released in 2010. While this man served his time and this woman has been in prison, they were and are not the only ones paying for the crime.
During the years of incarceration, we have had to deal with things we never could have anticipated years ago. Every time there are changes in her holding status (which have been numerous times as a result of behavior issues), we receive a call notifying us of the change. Once again we hear the name of the person who callously took a brother’s life and the details of her status. But that’s not all. Because the crime was so cold-blooded and calculated, three different production companies have made shows about it. Of course, we are contacted with requests for information, pictures and interviews. Each time the story surfaces, it is a reminder of the pain of our loss, and the deeper pain that our loved one suffered at the realization of his betrayal and feeling the life leave his body. We’d like to honor how he lived instead of mourning how he died, but we are not given the opportunity to do so. At the same time, we do our best to keep hurtful information from some family members who we are certain would not have the emotional fortitude to withstand further pain.
If this cold blooded murderer does eventually qualify to be considered for parole, there will be a moral obligation to travel many miles to be present for a parole hearing for the purpose of protecting others from falling victim to her selfish motives. That will be another burden imposed on us by allowing her to live.
So, this political issue is not as simple as a convicted criminal living or dying. It is also about the victim’s loved ones left in the wake of the crime. In our case, we are impacted not just by the death and following absence of a loved family member, but by the life of the one who took his life. Because she continues to live, our lives are repeatedly interrupted, and the pain and loss from the past are dredged up and relived much more than reasonably expected and in hurtful ways. Instead of being left in peace with the many good memories, the one horrible memory remains at the forefront of our minds.
There was a time when I wasn’t sure how I felt about the death penalty. Someone once asked if I was required to personally flip the switch that would cause someone to die, would I be willing to do so. That question still echoes in my head and it may depend on circumstances of the crime, but I am much more willing to answer yes today than before this happened. In situations similar to this, my answer would be a resounding yes. I can tell you with absolute certainty that, from personal experience, I believe it is better for those remaining if the offender is gone.
I have forgiven, but I have not forgotten.
I don’t lack compassion, I just have more compassion for the offended than the offender.
It has nothing to do with vengeance, but everything to do with justice.