There are many things we can do after losing a loved one to violence. We can hold vigils, start foundations, educate, prosecute, get revenge, try to forgive, learn to fight, cry, heal, survive the holidays…and one of my personal favorites: raise some holy hell when the legal system lets you down. Allow me to tell you about something tragic that will commence 10 days from now…
Andrea Will was an 18-year-old freshman at Eastern Illinois University when she was murdered by her former boyfriend in Charleston, IL on February 2, 1998. I will nickname the boyfriend “Jerkface”. (I never name killers – they like it too much.) Andrea was strangled by this man with a telephone cord. I was a senior at EIU when it happened, and while I didn’t know her personally, I grieved. EIU is a very tight-knit campus, so I think we all did.
Jerkface opted for a bench trial, meaning there is no jury and the judge decided his fate. According to the Fox Valley Sun newspaper, the acceptable range of jail time was 20 – 60 years. However, the judge opted to sentence him to a shocking 24 years! Of that sentence, he’s only served 12 years…and is going to be released on November 16, 2010. As Will’s mother Patty Rosenberg said, “I am shocked more value was put on his life than my daughter’s.” And that’s the gosh darn truth. Because it was a bench trial, Andrea’s family never had the opportunity to read their victim impact statement…yet another kick in the head.
When Jerkface is released next week, he will move on to enjoy a full life that Andrea will never have the opportunity to experience. That’s my definition of injustice.
But oh, it gets better. Not only is he serving half his measly sentence, but Jerkface got married while incarcerated to a professor at University of Hawaii at Manoa. Once he’s released, he is planning to move to that little slice of heaven to be with her. And it seems there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do about it.
Dear US legal system: Really? You think that’s smart? Sentence a killer of college co-ed to less than a quarter century behind bars, only to require him to serve less than half of it? Really? And while he’s serving time, let him get married? And once he’s released, let him move to a COLLEGE CAMPUS after murdering a college student at another college campus only 12 years prior? For real? Seriously? And to add insult to injury, this campus just so happens to be located in a tropical paradise? Wow, US legal system. You’re a total a-hole.
I hear stories like this so often that I’ve had to develop a pretty thick skin to the insanity. But this one got personal, and I got mad. Upon reflection, I realized why. During the two week murder trial of Shannon McNamara’s killer in 2003, I was in Charleston and sat in the audience for the whole thing. I stayed with some gracious friends who lived right near the courthouse…which just so happened to be located next door to the place Andrea was murdered. Every morning and evening of the trial, I walked past the place she took her final breath and I said a prayer for Andrea and her family. I felt like I couldn’t escape the senseless killing of women during those dark weeks…but the despair further inspired me to build Girls Fight Back. We ended up getting justice for Shannon, as her killer was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty. However, I can tell you that getting justice doesn’t feel nearly as awesome as one might assume…although I can’t imagine the horror if we hadn’t gotten that closure – which is why I feel so strongly about this abomination for the sake of Andrea’s family.
I wrote emails to 2 of my favorite anti-violence crusaders working in the national media, Nancy Grace and Kimberly Guilfoyle, to see if they can help us make some noise. We’ll see what happens. If you think this story is outrageous, please re-post and re-tweet this on Facebook and Twitter. At the very least, warn anyone you know living in Hawaii that a man convicted of first degree murder is about to permanently unpack his bags on their island. (And yes, campus media and security at the university have been contacted with no real response.)
If you or someone you know is in a potentially violent relationship, please take this free assessment (called MOSAIC) to give you an idea about the severity of the situation. Gavin de Becker is an incredible security expert and author who has made this resource available online, FOR FREE. Click here to read about MOSAIC (which was recently featured on Oprah) and take the assessment. It just might save your life. And while you’re at it, buy Gavin’s book called The Gift of Fear.
Kudos to the friends of family of Andrea that started a Facebook page called Voices of Andrea Faye Will to get the situation some much-needed attention, and a big thanks to YOU for reading my rant. Normally writing is cathartic for me. I wish I felt better now, but I don’t.