Sunday, 21 September 2008

"It won't bring back my girls," she said recently.

COMMENTARY

Killer's execution would close chapter on mom's nightmare

Dorothy Lewis likely will be at her Umatilla home cooking dinner by 6 p.m. Tuesday when the man who killed her two babies is to draw his last breath.

Richard Henyard, 34, convicted of murdering Lewis' daughters and of raping and shooting the third-grade schoolteacher, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection. It would be the first of a Lake County prisoner in 50 years.

Do we throw a party? Perhaps we should follow the lead of the victim. When Lewis learned two months ago that Gov. Charlie Crist had signed a death warrant, she cried.

Were they tears of joy that the criminal is finally being disposed of? Sorrow at the barbaric execution of a fellow human being? Or a simple emotional reaction to another wrenching upheaval in a life laced with trials? For sure, it wasn't the first option. Lewis never has advocated that Henyard be executed.

Lauren Ritchie Lauren Ritchie E-mail | Recent columns

"It won't bring back my girls," she said recently.


A horribly random crime

About a year after the 1993 crimes, Lewis remarked that if she demanded Henyard's execution, she'd be no better than the 18-year-old who raped her on the trunk of her car while her girls watched and whimpered for their mommy. Henyard and his buddy Alfonza Smalls, 14 at the time, shot Lewis in the mouth and face and left her for dead. She crawled along a rural Eustis road to the nearest house, a mile away. Investigators found the bodies of the girls, bullets in their heads, in nearby bushes.

Civilized societies don't get their jollies executing people, but also don't tolerate sickos marauding around town terrorizing and killing at random.

At random. . .

There's the first good reason for death in this case.

Lewis and her daughters, 3-year-old Jasmine and 7-year-old Jamilya, were at a now-closed Winn-Dixie supermarket in Eustis buying ingredients to make a salad for a church potluck supper when they were kidnapped.


Innocent victims

It could just as easily have been me. It could have been you. Anyone who shopped for groceries and looked vulnerable was a target for Henyard and Smalls. Because of his age at the time, Smalls cannot be executed. He is serving life in prison.

State Attorney Brad King remarked to a reporter that the innocence of the victims played a key role in the death sentence. It's hard to imagine more blameless victims than little girls with neatly braided hair and polite manners and their mother, who at 35 had begun to preach the word of the Lord at her church.

The girls had lost their daddy in 1989 to spinal meningitis, but Lewis' mother and sisters and aunts stepped forward and wrapped them in a cocoon of caring that protected them and reminded them that they were loved and would make it through tough times.

But the power of intense love cannot stop death when it is determined to visit. Henyard does not carry even that slim protection. Eternity will open to receive him on Tuesday, then close with barely a ripple.


Killer had no one to care

Henyard is not wanted in this world. He never was, from the moment of his birth. His young, unmarried mother was too busy drinking and doing drugs to take care of a squalling pimply infant who developed sores all over his body from a severe milk allergy and gave no one a moment's peace.

At 10 months, Henyard went to live with his godmother, who tried to provide a stable home. Between then and his 11th year, he bounced between his godmother and mother. Then -- fed up with his attitude and behavior -- his godmother took him to live with his father in South Florida, where he stayed until he was 16.

His mother and father made the same piteous plaint on the witness stand in 1994 when they pleaded for his life: They did the best they could do. Clearly, the best didn't involve putting themselves out to steer the boy toward becoming an even marginally decent member of society. By their own accounts, they brought this child into the world, then took almost no responsibility. He just came up on his own.

So, there is nothing to celebrate about Henyard's execution. It will mark a sickening failure. But the worst fell on Lewis, a random victim sentenced by a twisted soul to live out the consequences forever.

Fifteen years have passed. Jamilya probably would have graduated from college and be starting her life as a grown woman. Jasmine likely would be in her freshman year, a teenager sorting out her options for the future.

Understandably, Lewis doesn't want to talk about this anymore -- not the crimes, not the girls, not Henyard, not herself. She has replayed the scenes a million times in her head, where they bounce around the four plates and 24 screws that repaired her skull after Henyard put a bullet in her forehead.

The best that can be hoped for after 6 p.m. Tuesday is Lewis' release from a purgatory that has bound her to a horrific past. After Tuesday, no more death warrants to endure. No more calls from the press. No more reminders of what she can't forget.

For Dorothy, finally, a wide-open future.




Lauren Ritchie can be reached at Lritchie@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5918.

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