Friday, March 19, 2010

Staunching the Flow of Blood

Tuesday it was Lawrence Reynolds in Ohio.  Wednesday next week, unless some degree of good sense, fairness, and human decency ekes its way into Rick Perry before then, it's likely to be Hank Skinner in Texas.  But today, Thursday, as I'm starting to write this, was Paul Powell in Virginia.

It was a horrible crime.  Here's the summary by Frank Green from the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Powell, 31, was sentenced to death for the Jan. 29, 1999, slaying of Stacie Reed, stabbed to death with a survival knife. After killing her, Powell then waited for her 14-year-old-sister to return home from school, raped her, cut her throat and left her for dead.
There was evidence at the trial that Powell intended to kill, also, the girls' mother and stepfather.  Tried, convicted, sentenced to die, the Virginia Supreme Court sent the case back.  Powell had been charged in such a way that Virginia had to prove that Stacie was killed during or after Kristie's rape.  There was only one problem.  They didn't prove it.
There is simply no evidence upon which the jury could have found that Powell committed the rape of Kristie before or during the murder of Stacey. Indeed, it is undisputed that the rape occurred after the murder was completed. Accordingly, the evidence was insufficient to support Powell's conviction for capital murder as charged in the amended indictment. 
Powell figured he was off the hook, that they couldn't try him again.   So he wrote a letter to the prosecutor.  Green describes it.
Believing he no longer could face a death sentence, he wrote Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert an abusive letter in which he admitted he attempted to rape Stacie and boasted about the crimes in detail.
That was enough.  Ebert used the letter to convict him and sentence him to die. No reversal this time.  OK, Powell's a fool.  What else is new?  The folks who end up on death row (and yes, this is an overgeneralization) don't tend to be the intellectual titans of our society.  They often know less law than they think they do.  And their knowledge of the law is frequently wrong.  Regardless, Powell pretty much did it to himself. 

It's an interesting story, I suppose, but it's not why Powell's case interests me.  My interest isn't even piqued particularly by the fact that he chose to die in the electric chair rather than by injection.  What I find interesting in the Powell case is Lorraine Reed (now Lorraine Reed Whoberry), the mother of the two girls.  Back in 1999, just a couple of months after the crime, she wrote a letter.
Our family as well as this community has been through a very tragic and unjustified ordeal.  We have and continue to grieve to comfort each other and to come together to promote all the positive things we can from such a tragedy.
Now it's time for this so called human being to be dealt his hand.  We will go through all the motions of law that man has set forth . . . But in the end our family and this community is still left with the loss, the pain, the scars, and that awful feeling of violation.
We could torture this so called human being minute by minute, day be day for a thousand years, but  it will never be enough to satisfy our family.  We can and will push for the death penalty, and believe me we will push . . . But if he should have to spend the rest of life in prison, then so be it. . . . 
That's really something, if you think about it.  The raw emotion.  What the family wants (eternal torture).  But the willingness to accept whatever happens.

And then there was this.

Wednesday, the day before Powell was killed, there was a phone call made from the office of Powell's lawyer.  Lorraine spoke with Powell, but Kristie was on the line, too, and other members of the family.  The call lasted over an hour.  Frank Green, again.
"He was able to say he was sorry and he made the point several times that [the crime] was senseless, it was pointless. . . . He couldn't really give us a reason why," she said.
"I think it was heartfelt. It wasn't a big to-do thing. It was just a simplistic, 'I'm sorry,' and I accept that" . . .
"As the conversation went on he was able to open up a little bit more. He wasn't belligerent, he didn't raise his voice. It was very civil," she said. "The questions that we asked, he answered to the best of his ability."
"I did ask him at some point if he had forgiven himself, and he got emotional and he said, 'No.' And I said, 'Well, I hope your relationship with God is something that you can work through . . . before tomorrow night,' and we let him know that we are praying for him and his mom, his family," Whoberry said.
Whoberry said she has forgiven Powell, for her own sake, and that she had hoped to meet with him. Authorities denied permission for a meeting with Powell, who was abusive toward the family and law-enforcement officials in letters after his arrest.
Regarding the execution, "this is the day we've been waiting for 11 years," Whoberry said. "There really aren't any words to express how I feel right now. . . . I know that for myself it's been a long road," she said this afternoon.
"Hopefully when this is done and it is final, we can look back and find the positive things that came out of this that we strived so hard to make happen. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family."
Read that last paragraph again.  "[T]he positive things that came out of this"?  What might they be?  I don't know, but I sense that she does.

She forgave him for what he did to her daughters.  She would watch him die, but apparently without rancor or bitterness.  No victory dance.  Build on the positive.

I've known a couple of people who've been murdered.  Fortunately, none were close friends or family.  Whether I would have the grace (there's no other word) to accept, forgive, find the positive, I don't know.  Frankly, I doubt it.  But then I remember this.
Reconciliation means accepting you can not undo the murder but you can decide how you want to live afterwards.
That's no small thing.  It's taken from the website of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation.  And really, isn't that the point?

I don't know Lorraine Reed Whoberry.  I've never met her.  All I have are a few of her words.  But what I see in them is something quite extraordinary.  In truth, it's not all that unusual.  But we rarely hear those words or meet those people as their voices are drowned out by those demanding to see the blood.

But there's a difference between grieving and hating.  That may seem obvious.  It's worth our effort to cultivate.

The letter from Lorraine was taken from's interactive website on the Powell case.

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