Forgiving My Daughter’s Killer

People shouldn’t be declared worthless due to crimes committed in their youth.

One of the two 15-year-old boys who killed my 26-year-old daughter Cathy was released from prison last month after serving 23 years of a 54-year sentence. Gary Brown was released from prison one week before the Supreme Court decided in Graham v. Florida to end the practice of sentencing juveniles to life without parole for crimes other than murder.

Until November of 1986, I was not very knowledgeable about or interested in criminal or juvenile justice matters. I spent most of 1987 in limbo awaiting the trials of Gary Brown and his co-defendant. All I knew about them was that they were certified to stand trial as adults and had long criminal records as juveniles. At the time they seemed to be non-persons. It would take years for me to get over my indifference toward them, to eventually discover their humanity.

Ten years ago I found out that Gary was willing to meet me in a mediated dialogue through the sponsorship of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. I had never laid eyes on him and had, over the years, gradually come to ignore his existence. As the time approached for us to meet, I know that Gary became more and more apprehensive, but not me. I wanted to see him and tell him how grateful I was for his remorse. I know that this was an unusual response, but it was only possible through my discovery of restorative justice and, of course, by the grace of God. I strongly believe that most of my journey over the last 23 years has been through grace. Otherwise, I have no explanation for it.

When I met with Gary, I discovered a young man whose life had been one of abuse and neglect, a world apart from that of my childhood and that of my children’s. Though he offered no excuses for his actions, what he told me helped me to place my daughter’s murder in a larger context and helped me to understand how he could have done such a tragic deed. His total remorse was an incredibly healing encounter for me.

I think it’s the love shown him by an adopted family that transformed Gary and made him the person he is today. He wants us to go and talk to kids about our experiences, and I hope we can do that. My experience with Gary has taught me that we have a responsibility to protect our youth from the kind of childhood that Gary had, from treatment that recklessly disregards their inherent vulnerability. He is proof that young people, even those who have done horrible things, can be transformed.

When my daughter was killed, I would have supported a sentence of life without parole for the juveniles who killed her. Today, I am glad the Supreme Court ruled that young offenders must be treated differently from adults even for heinous crimes.

We cannot afford to lose our young people to desolation and cruelty. The Supreme Court has taken one small step, but we must go further. Our policies should reflect what I truly believe is God’s will for forgiveness. We must end the practice of sentencing youth to prison for the rest of their lives without hope of release, because people should never be declared worthless and stripped of the opportunity for rehabilitation due to crimes committed in their youth.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Linda L. White
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  • WmarkW

    What a poignant and thought-provoking column.We need more articles like this and less of Sally Quinn’s self-congratulatory vacuousness.

  • shaheed-yahudi

    F I F A – W O R L D – C U P – S. A. – 2 0 1 0:

  • hakafos44

    I agree up to a point. The Joran Van Der Sloots of the world need never see the light of day except through a cell bars. They are deeply damaged beyond repair and a danger to others and themselves.

  • shaheed-yahudi

    “NATURE” (some think it’s a Mother & or a Father Nature thing) or it’s FORCES Can Be Bad or perceived as ‘Evil’ when it kills (warning or no) many people, property & lives suddenly! i.e.; Tornadoes which come and go at will. In the same vain, ‘[Human]Nature’, not “NATURE”, can also wreck havoc or cause familial heart breaks & pre-mature Deaths of such victims which does not involve an act of Natures-Roth on HUMAN-(un)-KINDS; but but PERSONALLY (while Living this Finite Life HERE) created which does & can But, Killing in the Name of “MY-RELIGION” is the lowest Crime against Humanity Imagined or Real; Hence; “HISTORY IS OUR [GUIDE] JURY” (judge & Witness).The Killer is not Killed. And The Killed is not The Killer; yet Killing {Unjustifiably} , for the sake of killing (ANY1+) is Madness! Note: Somethings in [this] LIFE (= LOVE); are Unforgivable. So “TIME” is the best medicine. IT HAPPENED; Keep Busy; Keep Busy; Focus Future; which = HOPE! So, Forgive and or Keep Busy to Forget! Don’t Kill Ye selves (Pre-Maturely) over ‘Spilt-Milk’. At Least the Victims art NOt Alone. And AMERICA Is Still The Beautiful, not Ugly; So, Only problem is the Ugly-People (bad-Intentions) whom lurk among US from many walks of life & love & Hate. And Prevention via Advertising the PS: Justifiable Homicide Rules In (ANY) Society. All else isa NO-NO. It’s Anti-(Biblio); i.e., 10 Commandment & now, Rule-Of-LAW (Secular)!

  • kmarielt

    No one is “deeply damaged beyond repair”- no one. God’s love and forgiveness can transform anyone at any time. His name is Jehovah Rapha- the hebrew name for ‘God my healer’. The apostle Paul was a murderer, as was Moses. So is every woman who has had an abortion. So are you and I if we harbor hatred in our heart, according to Jesus. God’s standard is very high to be considered righteous. That’s why we all need a Savior, and He is able to change hearts of stone, into hearts of flesh. He did it for me.

  • ThomasBaum

    kmarieltYou wrote, “That’s why we all need a Savior, and He is able to change hearts of stone, into hearts of flesh. He did it for me.”I would like to ask a couple of “ponderables”?Do you believe/think that Jesus is your personal Saviour or the Saviour of ALL or both?Do you believe/think that God can only change hearts of stone, into hearts of flesh” while someone is on the “breathing” side of life?Do you believe/think that since Jesus asked us to “Come follow Me” and since Jesus died for us, that He is asking us to die for others, in one way or another?Do you believe/think that God’s Plan is ultimately for ALL or do you believe/think that instead of it being the “Good News” for ALL that Jesus asked us to proclaim, that it is the ‘good enough news’ for some which is actually horrific news?God’s Plan which God has had since before creation is for ALL to be ultimately in God’s Kingdom, if It were not then God would be like the “blood-sucking tics” that some of us humans resemble, as it is written: “My Ways are not your ways and My Thoughts are not your thoughts”.God wins, satan loses, a tie in absolutely and utterly unacceptable.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • mloaks

    …Gary Brown and his co-defendant.who is the other? waiting release since Graham?your TX doesnt have much room for your style…