** Warning: The content of this post might be sensitive to some, so read with caution.**
The above picture is of me and my big brother, circa 1977. Most of you know that my brother Andy passed away in February. He was 36 years old, a father to two awesome boys, and a husband of 15 years. He had just battled a three year bout with thyroid cancer, and had received the clean bill of health from the doctors just weeks before his death. He had been on the 12 year college plan, and was 2 units away from graduating from Humboldt State University. He and his wife had looked forward to his graduation for so long because it meant their hopes of a stable, family-supporting job was within reach. They had struggled financially for years, and this was the light at the end of the tunnel. They had planned to move out of their 600 square foot apartment this Fall, and into a roomier house. Their plans came to a screeching halt on the evening of February 6th, 2009.
Andy had just started a new job, working with kids with autism. This particular Friday night, he was taking one of the boys (Christopher) to the movies. He was teaching life skills--how to use your money to pay for things you want, etc., to this 15 year old boy. Christopher had decided he wanted to buy candy, not popcorn for his movie, and Andy was taking him to the grocery store to buy his candy, before going to the movie theater down the street to watch their movie.
(This past week, my family went up to Eureka so that my sister-in-law and I could meet with the DA who is acting on Andy's behalf. We learned more details about this case, some of which I will share here. If not for my own cathartic needs, for your curiosity.)
From about 5:30 pm to 6 pm that night, two men (John and James) went on a robbing spree, robbing six other people at knife point. They got a total of $3 from their victims, most of whom got away. While looking for more victims, they saw Andy and Christopher get out of Andy's car in the grocery store parking lot. They approached Andy, telling him to give up his money. I believe Andy wanted to protect this boy who was in his care, and he refused to let this man get past him. A fight between Andy and James (John was in the vehicle waiting) ensued while Christopher hid behind a car and watched. Andy was stabbed multiple times (about 13), and had defensive stab wounds on his right hand, indicating he was trying to keep the knife away from him. The man who stabbed him stabbed one fatal blow to his lower left ventricle in his heart. The detective told me that according to the coroner, even if that stab had happened on the bed in the Emergency room, with doctors all around him, there was no way to save a person at that point. The only way would have been if these people had chosen not to do this. I only wish.
After these men fled, they drove about 20 minutes south, to John's brother-in-law's mobile home. On their way, they were driving very dangerously, as they were inebriated and intoxicated. Multiple people witnessed their vehicle, and called the police to report them. One person saw them park at brother-in-law's house after hitting a curb. He took down their license plate number, and called the police. Since multiple robbery victims, and witnesses, had confirmed the license plate number, they knew these were their guys. The police arrived shortly thereafter, and arrested all three men, not knowing that the brother-in-law wasn't involved. He was later released.
There is a gag order on this case, so it has occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn't share all the information on the internet that the lawyers and detectives shared with us, but I will say that there is a ton of evidence against these men. From witnesses, to DNA evidence. There was even another man with autism in the parking lot who witnessed the fight between Andy and James, and gave a description of James to the investigator, down to the shoelaces he was wearing! Reminds me of Rainman, and I'm thankful for this man's stunning memory.
The men who did this have entered a plea bargain, and that is also something we discussed with the lawyers. While I don't know if I would ever feel that any penalty is enough for these men (unless they are able to give me back my brother), there are confines within our legal system that we must work within. The highest sentence that James (the killer) could get (with a first degree murder conviction) is Life in Prison Without Parole. He is offering 25 years to life, meaning he wouldn't be eligible for parole until he serves at least 25 years. Even then, he may never get out, but there is that possibility in 25 years. Unless we go to a trial, and leave this up to a jury (where anything could happen, even with excellent evidence), he will not get Life in Prison Without Parole. That is the hard part, but according to the lawyers, 25 to Life is still "pretty good".
The other guy, John, is pleaing guilty to all the robbery counts, is not pleaing First Degree Murder, but rather Manslaughter. His plea is to serve 19 years, at 85% (meaning he is eligible for parole after serving about 15 years). So, if he is good, he could be out in 15 years. This is the guy who has a wife and kids, even more victims in this heinous act. It just breaks my heart for all involved. Except maybe for James and John. I have little sympathy for them. My sister-in-law and I discussed our preferences in regards to the plea bargain with the attorneys. It is their decision ultimately, and they are determining what they will do.
And finally, some thoughts. I know as a Christian, that God calls me to forgive these men. To be honest though, I am having a hard time doing it. I want to. I really, really want to. But I'm just so sad, mad, and hurt for all these hurting people that were affected, that I just can't find it in me to forgive them. Not yet. I know that forgiveness is really for me, not for them, and I don't want to live with bitterness or anger in my heart. It will affect me if I do. Like a yucky cancer eating away at my spirit. I don't want that. But I'm not there yet. I can't let it go. Maybe after more time has passed? I hope so. It still feels so raw and new. I feel like it's only been a few weeks since I was woken up in the middle of the night by my little brother calling to tell me that our big brother had just been murdered. I had a two week old baby, and was feeling foggy to begin with, but tried to process the gravity of what was going on. I still feel like I'm in shock. I still think of him, and his last moments, and his poor kids, and his grieving wife, and that poor boy who watched him die every.single.day. Part of me feels like it is my way to honor Andy---to not forget him, and maybe even to not stop feeling sad. Perhaps there is a way I can honor him without holding on to the sadness over the manner of his death. Maybe I'll get there. Maybe I'll get a tattoo to memorialize him. I don't know.
Sometimes I wish, if he had to die, that he would have died of cancer. That would have been so much easier to deal with. The whole murder aspect of Andy's death just throws a wrench in the healing process for me, and I'm sure others too. It just feels so unfair. So unnecessary. So humanly chosen rather than divinely chosen. I know God knows the number of our days, and He knew long ago that Andy would only spend 36 years on this earth, but it just gets me that some other human being decided when, where, and how he would die. And it's not just Andy who was affected. There are two teenage boys without a dad who are grieving, a wife without her husband who doesn't know how to deal with her grief, two brothers and a sister who loved and miss their big brother, a mother and a father who outlived their child (which just seems so backward), a group home full of kids with autism who no longer have their counselor and mentor to guide them, aunts, uncles, in-laws, friends, neighbors...the list goes on and on. Not to mention these poor kids whose dad is in jail for "murder". I often wonder what they are going through. It's all just so unfair. As my nephew put it, "I just wish this didn't happen." I just wish this didn't happen.
Rest in peace, my big brother. I love you. I always will.