Thursday, January 29, 2015

They Don't Know How They'll Feel

September 25, 1996.

That was the day Robert Charles Ladd raped, strangled, and beat to death Vicki Ann Garner, then set her on fire.  Today is the day the good people of Texas plan to strap him to a table, stick him with needles, and kill him for doing that.

What Ladd did was devastating to Garner's family.  Kenneth Dean of the Tyler Morning Telegraph spoke with some of them, including her sisters Teresa Wooten and Kathy Pirtle the other day.  They have, he reported, 
ridden an emotional roller coaster through the years topped with the deaths of their parents, who did not live to see their daughter receive justice.
The killing itself.  Just the loss, the emptiness.
“Part of our hearts were broken that day, and they have been ever since,” Teresa said.
Then the trial.   Ladd had been in prison before for a killing.  It took the jury 18 minutes to decide they wanted Ladd to be killed himself this time.  The family were happy with the verdict, but not satisfied.
They felt betrayed by the justice system, which they said failed them and all of the residents of Texas and allowed a killer to kill again.
"If he would have still been in prison, then our sister would be alive today," Teresa said, who now works as a sexual assault director in Mount Pleasant. "He was released on mandatory release, because the laws had changed, and this allowed him to kill our sister.”
And then the years.  

In 2003, the family were on their way to Huntsville to watch Ladd be killed when they learned he'd gotten a stay.  

More years while the federal courts reviewed.

And, of course, it's not over yet.  They plan to kill him tonight, and they probably will.  But executions do get halted at the last minute.  Ladd's intellectually disabled.  He has an IQ of 67.  The Constitution forbids executions of people with his disability.  Then again, Georgia killed Warren Lee Hill the other day, in violation of that same constitutional prohibition.  The courts let that one happen. Texas will likely get it's way.

For Vicki Ann Garner's family?
"It's really been a long, hard journey. Over the course of time, we have lost both our mom and our dad, and neither one of them ever saw justice," Teresa said of the lengthy process.
Her sister, sighed and added, "It's been real emotional roller coaster of ups and downs."
Kathy’s husband, Clint, said Vicki's death created a ripple effect in the family, but all of the couples managed to stay committed to each other, and the family as a whole grew stronger.
"It disturbed the family dynamic somewhat. ... Not so much the marriage, but in how we related to our children and everything. There was a ripple effect throughout everything that we did. It seemed everything happened at the most inopportune time whenever you're trying to be supportive ... you have to push everything aside and take care of that," Clint, a retired state trooper, said.
Kathy said the fabric of the family unit was stretched, but it never broke. Her sister agreed.
"It really has been a tough time for all of us. I can tell you that without Michael, I wouldn't have made it. This man has been throughout the past 18 years my rock, and I don't know what I would have done without him," she said clutching her husband's arm.
In a soft-spoken voice, Michael replied, "It was a really tough time, and you see a lot of emotions, but the days are getting shorter for him. He will have judgment day pretty soon."
But there's also this.
Despite losing their daughter tragically, Gene and Lawanta decided they needed to forgive the man who took her life.
Teresa said, a few years after the murders, her mother and father wrote Ladd, telling him they forgave him of the crime.
And she and her sister?
“For me it's been an on-going process. You know I forgive him, and I'm at peace, and then something happens, and so it's a constant thing. I can’t say I have forgiven and totally let go of it, but I am working on it," Kathy said.
Teresa said she wrote Ladd a letter telling him she forgave him, but she stressed the forgiveness was not for him, but for her peace of mind.
It's a hard thing this business of forgiving.  As Teresa said, it's not for him, it's for her.  That's how it works.  To ease the forgiver.  To make it possible, finally, to get on with life without the bitterness and hate.  

Still, forgiven or not, they want Ladd killed.  And they plan to see it happen.  They said they don't know how they'll feel when it happens.  But they'll be there.

When Wilford Berry was killed by Ohio in 1999, our first execution since 1963, then-Ohio-Attorney- General Betty Montgomery, who fought to make it happen, who we called Bloody Betty for her eagerness to finally get some people killed here, said in a rare moment of awareness,
There are no winners here tonight.
What she didn't say that night in 1999, but what was also true, is that everyone lost.

On September 25, 1996, Robert Charles Ladd raped, strangled, and beat to death Vicki Ann Garner, then set her on fire.  Today the good people of Texas plan to strap him to a table, stick him with needles, and kill him for doing that.


  1. Is it your position that what he did was bad, but not so bad that the death penalty is a fair punishment? What would be fair? What does he deserve, and what did his victims deserve?

  2. I have no idea whether Ladd "deserves" to be killed. That is, if anything, a theological question. I'm quite certain that we, as a society, don't deserve to kill him - or anyone else - in the name of some abstract, indefinable thing we call "justice."

    What Vicki Ann Garner deserves, if the dead "deserve" anything, is our memory. What her family and loved ones deserve is our sympathy.

    You ask about Ladd's "victims," and as a matter of criminal law, which is the context in which he is to be killed this evening, his "victim" is the State of Texas. That's an abstraction, of course, which is why it's absurd even to ask what it deserves.

    If you read around the blog even a little bit, you'll see that I'm always and unalterably opposed to the death penalty. What particularly interests me in the story about Ms. Garner's family and Mr. Ladd is that they forgive him, which they hope will bring them peace, but still want to see him killed. Forgive but avenge.

    They don't know how they'll feel because, I think, they know there's something not right about wanting, and then watching, a murder, even if they're not entirely sure what it is.

    Therein is the story.