Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sentencing Hearing

Just 4 days after the 5th anniversary of  Mom & Dad's deaths we finally have come to the end of the road. At least for now. As we saw today, the possibility of new trials will most likely continue to loom over us. And then there's the thought that someone else was involved with Jose. If detectives are able to charge this other person, that would mean a whole other trial.

Right now, I choose not to dwell on those possibilities.

When we arrived at the courthouse today, prosecutors told us that the defense would be introducing 2 motions. One for an acquittal and one for a new trial. They said there had been a ruling in another case before the Missouri Supreme Court that occurred after this trial and the defense felt it would support their case for either an acquittal or new trial. This made me very nervous. I was not expecting that to happen!

We had to listen to arguments we had heard twice before in different hearings. Then the defense brought up the Missouri Supreme Court ruling that he said supported their position. Of course, the prosecutor brought out facts of that case the defense had omitted. In the end, the judge ruled against them. Big relief!

Then came time for considering the sentencing. My Uncle Jay Willingham, Dad's younger brother, spoke first. He talked about the impact Mom and Dad had on the lives of all their siblings and also on every community they ever lived in. Everywhere they went, they allowed the light of the Lord to shine through. Uncle Jay was visibility shaken. I know how much he looked up to both Mom and Dad. Then my cousin Cindy talked about the day they died and how it had impacted her life. Then it was my turn.

My brothers had decided I should speak on their behalf as well as our children and my grandchildren (yes, I'm the youngest but the only one with grandchildren yet). I talked about the impact that Mom and Dad had on all of us. My brother ,Stephen, had lost his best friend, our Dad. They would talk for hours nearly every single week. The long conversations we all had with Mom and Dad. Many deep spiritual conversation. We could always go to them for advice. And not just us but our children, too.

Even though most of their grandchildren were in their 20's at the time of their deaths, they were very close to them. I know my kids had many long conversations with them regarding Scripture, and other spiritual matters. They had deep relationships with their grandchildren!

Only one of their great-grandchildren had been born before their deaths. Three more have come along since then. They will never have the benefit of having those talks with Mom and Dad. They will have to rely on our telling of memories in order to know them.

After talking about all this I said that even though this was supposed to be a victim impact statement, I needed to stress to the court that our parents were not victims. Just as Jesus lived in victory even when He was nailed to the cross, Mom and Dad lived in victory because they served Jesus. God was in complete control of their lives. Jose would not have been able to touch either of them if God had not allowed it. His angels were itching to get into the fight but God held them back that morning. We do not know why God allowed it but we do know that He has a plan and we trust that plan. He will use this horrific evil act for good.

I also stated that God has a plan for Jose's life, too. It is our hope and prayer that Jose will respond to God's call and follow Him no matter what happens to him or where he ends up. I told the judge that we know he will be fair and just in giving his sentence and we will respect whatever that sentence is. No amount of time served will bring Mom and Dad back.

At this point, both sides stated their thoughts about what the sentence should be. After just a few minutes the judge gave his decision: 1st degree felony murder, count 1 - Life; 1st degree felony murder, count 2 - Life to be run consecutively to the first sentence. Felony burglary - 15 years to be run congruently with the first Life sentence. Then the judge added that the 1st Life sentence would run consecutively to the burglary sentence he is currently serving. I forgot to ask the prosecutor how much longer he has to serve on that sentence but it does mean that the time he has been serving while awaiting trial will not count toward this sentence.

I felt so many emotions at that point! Relief was the biggest. When I heard the word, "consecutive" on the second Life sentence, I was elated. We really didn't expect that. If the courts continue to treat the parole possibilities the same as they do today, it will be 51 years before Jose will be eligible for parole.

I do pray that Jose will choose to turn his life over to the Lord. I hope he has an awesome prison ministry! I sincerely meant it when I said that God has a plan and a call on his life. He has a plan for each one of us if we will just choose to answer His call.

Ephesians 2:10 (Good News Translation)

God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus He has created us for a life of good deeds, which He has already prepared for us to do.

Jeremiah 29:11 (New Living Translation)

For I know the plans I have for you, "says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

Monday, April 25, 2016

5 Years

Five years ago this morning Mom and Dad were murdered in their home. In many ways it seems like just yesterday but in other ways it seems like it has been an eternity! On April 24th, 2011 Mom and Dad were at my house and I grilled lamb chops for Easter dinner. Amazingly, neither of them had ever had lamb chops! Mom asked where did I buy it? How did I prepare it? Later when we were going through Mom and Dad's things, I found a little notebook Mom had in her purse. In it she had written, "Sam's Club...lamb chops...Canadian seasoning". I knew Mom had to have written this on their drive home and she had intended to prepare lamb chops. 

I imagined their conversation as they were driving. How excited they must have been as they discussed the birth of their second great grandchild. We had just been given the news that my daughter and her husband were expecting a boy! I am certain they were excited for Sarah and Troy! Did they talk about the home Bible study they were starting with neighbors? Or perhaps they talked about going to Florida the following winter with Aunt Sis and Uncle Virgil. Oh the plans I know they had! All those plans came to a screeching halt early the next morning. 

I went to the jail last night. One of the young women who has been in my Bible study for nearly a year now just received word that the "deal" being offered her by the District Attorney in order to avoid a trial is 18 years in prison. She's in her late 20's. 18 years seems like a lifetime. Her world came crashing down one night that was not supposed to end the way it did. Her plans were drastically changed that night. Now she sits in jail crying, wondering, what now? My heart breaks for her as I know the guilt she carries. She longs for a "do-over". She would give anything if she could change the events of that night.

Jose Huckleberry, the young man convicted in my parents murder sits in jail now, too. Another night that ended badly. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for this coming Friday. Another young person in his late 20's. A life gone drastically wrong. Is he crying? Is he remorseful for what happened? I wonder. Does he even realize it was 5 years ago today? Would he do things differently if he had another chance?

How quickly our world can change. If nothing else, I have learned how unpredictable life is. I have heard it all my life, but now I truly know that we are not promised tomorrow. If you have loved ones still alive, call them today and let them know you love them and tell them that God loves them, too. I am blessed to know that Mom and Dad are with Jesus in paradise. It does ease the pain although I still wish I could pick up the phone and talk to them.

Several weeks ago I bought lamb chops at Sam's Club and put them in the freezer. Yesterday afternoon, I grilled them just as I had done 5 years ago. I planned it.

Jeremiah 29:11 (Good News Translation)

I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.