Meeting Face to Face with Daughter’s Killer

white-lindaRestorative Justice Process Enabled Grieving Mother to Meet Her Daughter’s Killer – Linda White is a retired college professor, whose 26-year-old daughter was raped and murdered 25 years ago by two 14-year-olds.  Ten years ago she did what many people would think was unthinkable – through a restorative justice process, she sat face to face with one of the assailants and spoke about the ending of her daughter’s life.  She would ultimately forgive him.

How she came to do that and how the process works was the subject of an hour-long phone interview the Vanguard had with Ms. White last year.  Following the MLK Day event in Davis this week, it seemed this was the appropriate time to publish Ms. White’s remarkable story.

Following the brutal rape and murder of her daughter at the hand of two 14-year-olds, Linda White described herself and her husband as “devastated.”

“We didn’t go through that intense anger state that a lot of people get into – and unfortunately some people probably get stuck in it,” she said.  “I can understand that it’s really easier in a way to be, to deal with righteous, than it is to be with intense pain.”

She said that, while she wanted the two boys to be severely punished, she was not unhappy “that the death penalty was not a possibility because even in Texas, we did not execute people who committed crimes when they were 15.”

“There were people who were angry about that on my behalf, friends and supporters, but I didn’t feel that way in the beginning,” Ms. White said.  “I did go to a victims’ group, a victim support group, for awhile and I found them to be enormously helpful in the beginning because they kind of helped me. They know what to expect in the criminal justice system and it was good talking to people and listening to people that had been in similar circumstances.”

However, after awhile it seemed like the people in those groups were very angry.  She felt that they were either unable to move on or perhaps “they might have felt like it was a sign of disloyalty, you know, to even feel a little bit.”

“But I noticed in the beginning, even though I didn’t feel that way, after awhile I found myself kind of nodding my head when people would say, it’s a shame they can’t get the death penalty,” she said. “If you do a horrible crime like this, you should be eligible no matter how old you are.”

She agreed with this for awhile, but over time, she came to a different view.  She was raising her daughter’s 5-year-old child who was left behind.  She went to the support group for months and months, but “the talk was always about making people suffer more and more and longer. That prison wasn’t mean enough and somehow that just didn’t work for me.”

She began to look for a different way to handle her grief.  In the meantime, she went back to college.

The boys who raped and killed her daughter were certified to stand trial as adults.  But they never stood trial.  The first of the boys, when he came up for trial, and they had already done jury selection, his court-appointed attorney pled him out.  He pled guilty, giving up the right to appeal, and received a 55-year sentence.

The second boy, Gary, came up for trial a few months later and he pled out to one year less.  As Ms. White explained, he wanted to get a better sentence, so he got 54 years.

“And I don’t know an awful lot about what happened to them, any specifics after that. I know at least part of the time Gary was a handfull,” she said.  He spent time in and out of solitary confinement.

“What I did is I just forgot about them,” she said.  “As far as I was concerned, the state did what they were supposed to do, they put them away.”

Linda White, the case over, focused on her family and taking care of her little granddaughter, who had at that time just turned six.

“I went to school and kept studying and just kept eyes and ears open.  I started feeling … a lot of studying about grief.  I had actually from the beginning been reading a lot about it but became more and more interested and I was given an opportunity – you know I went on to graduate school after I finished my degree also at Sam Houston, both my bachelors and my masters all from Sam Houston State University. I was given the opportunity to teach Death and Dying while I was there as a graduate student,” she said.

Somewhere along the way, she found out about restorative justice.  One day she was at a meeting at the Presbyterian Church and she saw a book called “Restorative Justice: Towards Non-Violence.”

“That sounded like what I had been looking for, because I’d been looking for something that was a non-violent alternative to everything that we do within the criminal justice system,” she said.

She picked up the book and read it cover to cover and realized immediately that it was about what she wanted to do.

“When I finished my masters, I went to teaching in a community college; that first semester I only taught in community college,” she said.  It was 1994 and the news about Susan Smith and the murder of her children was in the news.

In her class, they had a discussion which devolved into the students telling Linda White “all the ways they would make her suffer for this horrible thing that she has done.”

One really nice young man, whom she described as a “sweetheart of a guy,” “he started telling me what he would do and he’d save change. He became angry and red as he described how he would strap her in to a car just like he did with her boys in her car seat and then drive her slowly into the water you know, so that she could  have lots of time to realize what was going to happen to her and so forth.”

“They were really inventive,” she said, and they competed with each other.  “That’s where I began to think more and more about what our attitudes were about crime.”

As she thought about it, the more she knew she was looking for something non-violent.

She went on to teach at Sam Houston and she read a book that suggested that if you really want to know more about what went on in prison, volunteer to do something in prison.

“I knew that my department at Sam Houston, the psychology department, offered college classes along with two other departments in some of the local prisons and they were upper level classes and I knew that we did it,” she said. “I didn’t know if they could use a teacher or not but I decided I would find out because one of the suggestions was to volunteer to teach and those words just leapt off the page at me.”

She was eventually asked to teach about Death and Dying in the prison.

“It was a great experience and seeing the reality in prison, well then, just listening to, on the news or hearing people talk about it was very sobering for me,” Linda White said. “It was hard for me to sit at home and be resentful of people like that because their lives were anything but a picnic.  Admittedly, they did things that landed them in prison but in many instances, in many instances they’re probably longer than I would thought would have been appropriate.”

It was through this that she learned that Texas actually had a victim-offender mediation program.  At first, she was looking into it as a PhD topic and a possible dissertation.

“When I started my research and training in that program I told them I was not particularly myself interested in a mediation between me and either of the boys who killed my daughter and it wasn’t that I was against the process – it’s not the process, it’s wonderful – but I had been teaching in prison by that time couple of years and I didn’t see that I really needed this,” she said.

It was a lengthy process, by which they engage in a face-to-face mediated conversation.  “At that time, they were preparing people for a year to 2 years before they actually came together, and sat and talked to each other,” she said.

As she talked with the victims and the family members, along with the mediators themselves, she became more and more convinced that she wanted to do it herself.

So she asked to see if either of the two boys would sit down and have a conversation with her.

“I wasn’t even sure at that point,” she said, “why I particularly wanted to do it. I just know I did and wanted it very badly. I had never seen either of those 2 boys. I had no idea what they looked like. I knew that they had been 15 years old and that they were both white and that was pretty much the extent of it, except that I knew they both had long juvenile records at that time they killed my Cathy.”

“What that meant to me was that they were thoroughly bad, bad boys,” she said.

One of the boys came back as unsuitable, but Gary was acceptable.

It was 2000 when she started to prepare, and her granddaughter, now 18 herself, wanted to be part of it, as well.

“She did all the extensive paperwork and soul searching and reflective stuff that I did and we did a lot of it together.  And Gary was doing the same, working with the mediator,” she said.

It is important to understand that this is a very lengthy and difficult process.  Again, one of the two perpetrators was found to be unsuitable for the mediation.

The meeting itself was actually only a single meeting, which Linda White described as “powerful.”

“He came in and he was – when he walked in he was already crying. I knew he’d been very remorseful. I knew he was very emotional about it. I knew that from my mediator and indeed from the personnel of the victim-offender mediation dialogue program. I knew that from the beginning, he’d been very grateful to be given this opportunity to tell how so sorry he was. That he has been— he said it was an answer to a prayer,” Ms. White described.

She was expecting him to be emotional, she said, “but I didn’t expect him to walk in that way and that presented a challenge for me because if he was going to just sit there and cry the whole time, I wasn’t going be able to get much information out of him and there were a couple of pieces of information that I wanted.”

Gary was now 30 and had been in prison since the age of 15, but she said “he still had this air about him of innocence and vulnerability.”

He had had a long juvenile record that included a lot of running away from abusive situations, foster care and several suicide attempts by the time he was arrested for the murder.

When he walked in crying, Ms. White told her granddaughter sitting next to him, “Oh my gosh, he’s already a basket case.”

“Our mediator, you know, gave her opening remarks and asked each one of us to say what we hope to get out of it today and so the first words I said to Gary were – we want to know more about you, not just the bad things, and no … we want to know more about you and we want to – I want you to know more about us, not just the bad things but the good things, too,” she said.

“I realized one of the reasons that I wanted to go and do the mediation and meet Gary is I wanted to find out if I could be as compassionate towards them as I was to a few of the students that I had in prison. You know, it’s one thing to be compassionate towards an offender, it’s another thing entirely to be compassionate towards the offender [who harmed me] and so part of me just knew it’s kind of like a reality check for me and I did it. I had the, I had a reaction that part of me expected and part of me didn’t expect,” she continued.

One of the things that happened over the year is that she let go of “that, you know, any negative that was there in the beginning, the hurt, what little anger was there, and what might have cropped up from time to time over the years because you know you heal, but you still are different. It’s something you learn to live with. It’s part of your life. I let go of the negative part of it, and I just didn’t have a lot of animosity towards the boys. “

“The main thing I had is I just kind of converted them in my mind to nonpersons and so once we started preparing for the mediation and I knew what Gary’s reaction was to being asked how remorseful he was, and how he basically cried off and on for an hour with us. The staff person from the office was telling how much he wanted to do this,” she said.

In the process of this mediation, Gary was no longer a nonperson.  “I was actually thinking of him as a person, which it kind of shocked me that I was able to convert them into non-people.”

She had forgiven Gary years ago.  But she added, “It doesn’t mean that it’s ever going to be okay what he did and he knows that. It will— it will never be okay for him either.  So I’ve come to realize this forgiveness means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and it means different things to me under different circumstances.”

Linda White said that she confronted Gary with what he had done several times during that day, but not as much as maybe there might have been with other people.

“Part of that was because he was so remorseful… and he feels it so deeply that it wasn’t really necessary to be too confrontational with him,” she said.

“The one piece of information I didn’t get and I still hope someday to get but I don’t want to do it unless we’re face to face or at least talking on the phone,” – she did not understand why the crime had occurred.  Neither of the boys had committed a violent crime before.  “They had done drugs, you know, basically did stupid [things], and you know, remarkably stupid. They always got caught practically in everything they did so why did they suddenly decide, you know?  What happened all of a sudden they’re taking this woman down a deserted road to rape her? What in the heck was that about?”

That’s what she wanted to know, but when she asked him the question, he misinterpreted it.  “He thought I was asking why they killed her and I wasn’t asking that. Once they raped her, I know that they felt like, you know, they’ve gone too far and they didn’t have any more good choices anymore. So I knew the answer to that, he didn’t have to tell me that,” she said.

But she found herself frozen once he started to answer that question.

“He told me that before they killed her,” she said.  “She forgave them.  Her last words were I forgive you and God will too.  That is much like my daughter.”

“I waited 14 1/2 years to hear that and so it just blew me away and once that happened I— I couldn’t remember to go back to the other question so I never got the other question asked or answered,” she said.

“I was just blown away by what he said and I could tell that it was real because the way he said it was like an indictment of him, not, you know, it wasn’t fair then, you know, she forgave us, can’t you too … It was she forgave us and we killed her. Anyway, it was very, very hard for him to tell me that. So it was, if nothing else had been good in the mediation, that all 6 hours or so that we met together that one revelation would have been worth it for me,” Ms. White said.

They met April 28, 2001.  It would be nine years later, May 2010 before he was released.

“He was a model prisoner, you know, actually he became a model prisoner even before we met together when a family kind of informally adopted him,” she said. “Apparently once he got taken in emotionally by that family, he was no longer that angry young man anymore, so he just quit getting into trouble.”

They had given him the one thing that he never had in his life – a family.

While Linda White has remained in contact with Gary since his release, she has still only had the one face-to-face meeting.

“I found out right after he got out that, according to the law, he could not contact me and if I try to contact him, he was to avoid any communication with me or he would be in the danger of going back to prison,” she said.  “Once I’ve found that out, I contacted the parole officer and then went up the chain to whoever I needed to go to, broke the circumstances of our relationship and said I wanted permission to be able to communicate with him. I thought it was a good thing for both of us.  And I understood the law but I wanted them to know that Gary wasn’t trying to give me a hard time,  and I didn’t want to get him in trouble.”

They were then given permission to communicate and they are both planning to be able to go together and talk to juveniles about what happened and try to help in that way.  Gary will never be able to put the past behind him, but he can perhaps help prevent other youths from going down the same path as he did.

In 2010, she wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post.

“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,” she said.  “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.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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6 Comments

  1. medwoman

    [quote]We cannot afford to lose our young people to desolation and cruelty[/quote]

    This statement, probably more than any other that I have read about restorative justice summarizes for me the value of a different approach to dealing with those who break societal rules. I believe that Jeff’s frequent comment that much of our societal ills stem from weakening of families is applicable in this situation. There are many youths such as Gary who do not have the belonging, warmth and security provided by a loving family. While the primary goal must of course be to protect the innocents of society from those who would commit these kinds of crimes, another goal must surely be to prevent children from growing up in the kind of brutal conditions that Gary apparently endured. I believe that part of achieving this second goal is to reduce the overall violent, revengeful, punitive nature of our society. To the degree that each of us, whether perpetrator, victim, or uninvolved can lessen our own anger and our desire for revenge, we will contribute to a lessening of violence overall.

  2. SODA

    Medwoman: I would expand that to those older than ‘young people’. I know idealistic but this story is frankly idealistic. Thank you for it David. Can you share your thoughts while you were interviewing her. Must have been powerful.

  3. David M. Greenwald

    SODA: Thank you for asking. One of the reasons, it took me so long was that this was a difficult article for me personally. After I interviewed her, I was really overcome with it all. The first thing I did was have my wife come by so I could hold my daughter. I still teared up writing the part about her last words and the fact that (the daughter) forgave them. I don’t know if I could ever be that strong, but I also realize that this was a process and it took her about 14 years to get to that point.

    It was listening to Sabuja Baliga speak about another case that made me realize I had to publish this. It was easier the second time to go back over the interview.

    I think people need to understand that what made this possible was not just the extraordinary strength and faith of Linda White, but the fact that Gary had really changed.

    He was 14 years old, angry and without love or guidance in his life when he committed this horrible act. But he was no longer the same person by the time he was ready to go through this process. The other guy was never ready to do it.

    This is not for everyone, but I think we do need to bear in mind that some people can change, not everyone, but some do. And if we end up treating everyone alike, we do no one any good.

    It’s also worth noting he was not released for another nine years after the meeting. That wasn’t the purpose of the meeting, though clearly his transformation was critical to the parole board decision to release him.

  4. Edgar Wai

    According to the remorse, I think we agree that the rapist was not simply ‘insane’. Although the reason for the rape was not disclosed, the reason for the killing was.

    As the severity of punishment for a crime passes a threshold, the punishment no longer deters. At that point, the offender will do anything to keep themselves from getting caught because there is nothing more for them to lose. As the punishment for rape increases pass a threshold, the chance that the victim is also killed would increase.

    At this point, one could ask if it is worth letting more victims be killed in order to deter rape in the first place. But I want to side-step that discussion and focus on how to resolve rape itself without using punishment. It requires a paradigm shift from shaping behaviors by external factors to shaping behaviors by internal factors.

    When a person behaves a certain way due to incentives or punishment, the person will not act correctly when those external factors are removed. If we have a way to align the internal motivations, we can have a peaceful society without using laws.

    The key concept is to harness the natural motivation of a person, and direct the motivation toward efforts that benefit the society. A person is without motivation only if they don’t do anything at all. A person who is criminal is a motivated person. They are motivated to get what they want, but they can’t get it the way society accepts. As a result, they cheat, they commit crimes.

    To solve crime without using punishment, is to identify the needs that society did not address, and provide them. When the needs are provided, the underlying reasons to commit crimes cease to exist. Then, crimes don’t occur not because people [i]choose not to[/i], but because people [i]have no reason to[/i]. They never got to the point where they have to decide whether to cheat or not.

    I don’t know the details for this case, or for rape in general. But I think the underlying need is that of a family. I am not talking about kids needing loving family to take care of them. I am talking about the need of teenagers to start a family or their own.

    When we started capitalism, the theories behind how to implement capitalism was incomplete. Because of this, the life driven by capitalism and the life driven by human physiology are not synchronized. At a time where people would physiologically start to fall in love and want to pair up and have families, capitalism tells us to stop and delay those needs for the future. Capitalism drives lives against the natural cycles. Qualities such as love and responsibility, which could normally come with having a family, become de-natured and externalized.

    Without philosophical foundation and oversight of how a various systems of a society should co-exist, we can end up with a society that is internally stressed, both in terms of its wasteful use of resources, interpersonal conflicts, and psychological stresses of its members. This is what a society gets when it asks the individuals to run “greedy algorithms” on their own (laissez faire). You don’t get a society that works with members who work well together. Instead, you get a highly stressed system with conglomerates wiping out one another. On top of this, if you add the misconception that money itself is a limited resource, you get a society waiting to collapse.

    The solution is to have a system that is in-sync with human needs, that allows everyone to be helpful.

    This is a society that goes against nature:
    Asking people to refrain from having a family so that they could complete school to get a stable job so that they can support the family in a highly competitive world, and stigmatize everyone who don’t understand this cause and effect.

    This is a society that goes with nature:
    Let people have love and family to establish stability, support continued learning, and employ everyone who helps to get everyone provided in a highly cooperative world.

    Money itself not a limiting resource. The limited resources are the bio-capacity of world and our productivity to harvest it. There is enough food, enough space, enough productivity. Work together instead of against one another. The scarcity is artificial, the competition is wasteful.

  5. jimt

    Edgar–interesting thoughts on the social order; my own line of thinking is somewhat related. Hope we move in the direction of a more moderate and sustainable small-to-medium size business market economy; rather than further in the direction of ubercapitalism and control of society by small groups of corporate and financial oligarchs who currently give our elected representatives (the players) their marching orders; a direction that at some point will lead to complete collapse and a few steps back for civilization (we are already stepping backwards, re: the civil in civilization). Any such system of social darwinism is largely obsolete; continuing evolution of the human gene-line will in the near-future be directable thru targeted genetic modifications of germ line cells (who wouldn’t want their child to be healthier, stronger, and more intelligent when just a few targeted gene repairs/replacements in sperm and/or egg could help significantly with this?).

    Re the later release (in middle age) of youths who have committed heinous crimes; I am not categorically opposed, under the condition they are required to wear an ankle bracelet or other tracking device; and basically stay on lifetime parole.

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