One of my students in a private string school that my husband and I started about 15 years ago, has been charged with 1st degree murder charges at the tender age of 21. He was one of my husband’s private cello students for about 6-7 years. I worked with him in various chamber music settings. He was a beautiful child, who had adoring parents that bought him the best cello and made sure he went to regular weekly cello lessons as well as chamber ensembles.
My husband and I found out through an article in the local paper that he and his girlfriend had taken LSD, and he thinking she was plotting against him, beat her to death. The police were called as he was beating her and attempted to rescue her. Unfortunately, they were too late. She died in the hospital or was declared dead. He was a University of Washington student, with a promising future. My husband and I have had no contact for over 5 years or so, but it is still hard to fathom that someone so sweet and innocent and talented could have committed such a heinous crime. It begs two questions: one, was he under the influence of LSD when he killed her and therefore wasn’t in his right mind or 2. he beat her to death in some kind of rage. Could this be considered ‘temporary insanity’ or a normal state of mind? My husband and I might be called in by the defense attorneys to be witnesses of his character (some 5 years ago) if that’s even relevant. How much can a teenager change in college?
It’s not like my husband and I aren’t used to the idea of working with criminals. My parents at a very young age worked with a prison group in Columbus, Ohio that attempted to mainstream prisoners who were living in a half-way house. I remember allowing a prisoner named, “Johnny” who had been part of a murder-gang in his early 20’s or teens, to buy me a banana-split. He was 90 years old and had lived in prison his entire life and based on his good behavior was allowed to be part of this prison program. I was about 5 or 6 years old and decided it was OK for him to talk to me and buy me ice cream. All the kids who were part of this program loved him. He was like this old grandpa who could do no one any harm. It was very hard to image him being a murderer. I hate the idea of our student also growing up in prison and someday being in the same place as the prisoner, Johnny.
We also lived in Germany in the 80’s and early 90’s and worked in an organization that was much like Youth with a Mission, where we helped heroin addicts and others who had also failed in life or made bad choices. We preached ‘forgiveness’ and that is was never too late to change. Sometimes, it took many ‘failed’ efforts to get a person back on the right track. Are people worth fighting for? I believe the answer is yes; in this world driven by the revenge and ‘hate’ propaganda of organizations like ISIS, we can ‘preach’ a different message. One of change and forgiveness. Forgiveness breaks the non-ending cycle of violence.
Crime doesn’t pay and in our state 1st degree murder charges can result in the death penalty. I can’t help but think that there were two victims in this heinous crime. One the girl he beat to death, and the second, our student. Should he be held accountable? Of course, he should. I just hope that his defense attorneys are able to get some kind of reduced sentence if he was really under the influence of LSD. My husband and I feel some sense of guilt; as if in some way, we as adults in his life failed to point him in a correct direction. I’m not sure this is a fair judgement, but I know we will be considering it for a long time.
Since this is Easter Sunday and Christians all over the world are celebrating Christ’s resurrection and forgiving power, it is important to remember that with God there is always hope. The law may have to punish crimes committed; but God is there to help anyone change their course and rededicate their lives to worthy causes. It’s hard to imagine someone being condemned for murder ever having hope, but I know I need to believe this message so I can convey it to our student and his family. I need to believe it myself.