Friday, September 07, 2007

In North Carolina, forgiveness

From the Winston Salem-Journal we get this story reminding us of the power of forgiveness:

'He's So Young': Compassion, not revenge, stirs family of victim

For $40 and a cell phone that ultimately led to his arrest, 21-year-old Daniel Hayes is going to spend the rest of his natural life rotting in a prison cell.

Incredible as it sounds, that's all Hayes made off with the night of Dec.
19, 2005, after he fired two bullets from a .380-caliber pistol into the back of the head of William James Wright, a 55-year-old cabdriver who was doing nothing other than trying to earn a living.

Perhaps more incredible has been how Wright's adult son and daughter have conducted themselves.

Rather than howling for blood and insisting that prosecutors ask for the death penalty - Wright's killing blew past the legal threshold for capital punishment the instant that Hayes pulled the trigger - Christopher and Jeri Wright asked that Hayes be given the chance to plead guilty and accept life without parole.

"He's so young," said Christopher Wright, a gentle giant who drives a school bus for a living. "I have a soft spot for the youngsters. I just decided that I wouldn't want his mom to have to go through (his execution)."

Meets the standard

If there ever was a defendant whose case screamed out for capital punishment, it was Hayes.

According to Detective Tim Taylor of the Winston-Salem Police Department, Hayes jumped in the back of Wright's cab with larceny in his heart and a loaded gun in his hand.

"He denied it at first. He said he found the cell phone at the Motel 6 on Patterson Avenue," Taylor testified.

Investigators knew that wasn't true; they had a statement from an acquaintance of Hayes who said that he was present when Hayes came to his house with blood-soaked pants and he watched as Hayes burned the inside of Wright's cab.

"He eventually came clean.. He said his plan was just to get the money,"
Taylor said.

Police found Wright's cell phone on the arm of a sofa where Hayes was resting when he was picked up for questioning Dec. 21. Later that morning, they found the murder weapon stuffed under a cushion of that same sofa in the exact spot where Hayes told them they would find it.

Forgive but not forget

Of the 166 inmates on death row, 12 were convicted in Forsyth County - the largest number of any of the state's 100 counties. In other words, if prosecutors chose to push for the death penalty, chances are good that they would have gotten it.

But an incredible thing happened not long after Hayes was charged.

Christopher and Jeri Wright, along with their mother, Edith Littlejohn, stepped forward to tell prosecutors that they didn't want Hayes put to death.

"We thought about how hurt we felt," Jeri Wright said after hugging Taylor and thanking him for seeing that her dad's killer was caught. "We decided pretty quickly that we don't want to cause any pain for anybody else."

The Wrights agreed that the killing was senseless and a tragedy not only for their family but also for Hayes' relatives. How many of us would feel sympathy for the family of a man who admitted killing someone close to us?
Or the killer himself?

Their compassion wasn't lost on Hayes, who took the unusual step of apologizing to them in court.

"Me taking this life (sentence) right here is hard, but it's for my life,"
Hayes said. "I believe I have something out there I can do."

The plea bargain and the life-without-parole sentence handed down to Hayes affords the Wright family something else - a chance to honor their father's memory by moving forward without hatred eating away at them.

"I'm trying to find it in my heart to forgive him for it," Christopher Wright told the court. "It's hard to do.

"Sooner or later, I will forgive. But I won't forget."

No comments: