AFTER THE CRIME
The names are changed, but the story is true.
Even as I was working on this piece, I was questioning my reasons for writing it. After all, it’s not an unusual story in our turbulent times: a beautiful young woman murdered by her immature? drug addicted? mentally unstable? jealous? boyfriend.
But maybe the fact it is not unusual is the best reason. What does it say about our society when we read the newspaper’s page 18 one-paragraph account of another tragic murder, and our only reaction is to turn the page?
When did we stop caring?
Twenty-five-year-old Lily was a daughter, a sister, a mother, a granddaughter, and a great-granddaughter. In 1996, her twenty-seven-year-old boyfriend, Casey, murdered her.
In Lily’s obituary, her mother, Katherine, wrote
She was warm as the sun, caring as a human being, free as a spirit, and so full of life.
She sometimes moved fast as the wind.
Most of all, in a world full of violence, little morals nor values, Lily was a lady. She loved to take care of people that could not help themselves.
Lily loved to dance, loved to write and read, and write poetry. Lily modeled sometimes, and yes, was always colorful!
Three weeks before the tragedy, Lily left Casey and moved in with her mother.
Three days before the tragedy, Lily went back to Casey.
One day before the tragedy, Lily spent the day at her mother’s house. As Katherine was leaving for work, Lily said, “If I leave a Phillips Seafood glass on the dining room table, you’ll know everything is all right.” When Katherine got home, there was no glass. Frantic, she called her daughter. No response.
The day of the tragedy, Casey told Lily he was going to a training session for his job and needed a ride to the airport. No one knew the training session, if it existed at all, had been cancelled.
Lily called Katherine. “I’m looking out the window. Casey and his sister are in the car. They have a gun.”
“Leave!” Katherine screamed into the phone.
But Lily didn’t leave and, at 3:00 that afternoon, there was a knock on Katherine’s door. It was the police. “There’s been an accident.”
“They all came in,” Katherine said through tears. “It was like a TV show. Then they told me: ‘Your daughter has been killed.’
“At the morgue they tried to stop me from going to Lily. There was no stopping me. I felt like an undershirt pulled inside out. All my skin came off my body – like somebody threw acid on me. Lily’s face was smashed and swollen. After Casey killed my daughter he threw her into the car like trash and dumped her on the highway. I told the police to take me to my grandson.”
Donnie, Lily and Casey’s seven-year-old son, was home when Casey returned after shooting Lily and dumping her body.
“Daddy’s shirt was bloody and he told me something bad happened,” Donnie told the police.
Casey took a shower, and then called the police. “I shot my girlfriend.”
“Donnie knows his mother’s dead and his father’s in jail,” Katherine told a reporter, “but he’s seven years old, you know. He still loves his parents.”
“I talked to Mommy last night,” Donnie told Katherine days later. “She says she’s okay and she’s watching over you.”
At the trial, one of Casey’s attorneys said, “I can’t help Casey. He was uncooperative. He just kept staring out the window.” Casey’s lawyers tried for an insanity plea and asked for mercy. They called the murder a “crime of passion.”
The judge was not impressed. He told Casey he was appalled by the brutality of the crime. “I can’t imagine anything more horrible than what happened here,” he said.
“She was my daughter and my friend and you took her away from me,” Katherine screamed at Casey.
“I don’t even want to breathe the same air that he breathes,” she told the judge. “I don’t want to breathe any air without Lily.”
At first, Katherine wanted the death penalty. “But I didn’t want Donnie to lose both parents, so I requested Life Without the Possibility of Parole.”
Casey was sentenced to Life plus 15 years.
So those are the facts. Murder committed. Perpetrator tried, convicted, and sentenced to live the rest of his life in prison. The End. Cut to commercial.
But the nightmare for both families was just beginning.
At first, Katherine asked herself the questions that plague so many victims’ loved ones: “Why?” and “What could I have done?
“I sat in my room with a gallon of wine. After the fifth glass I threw the bottle across the room. The son of a bitch shot her. This was not a crime of passion. It was a murder – a killing. There was nothing I could do.”
Over and over she thought about Lily’s relationship with Casey.
“Lily was fifteen when she met Casey. He was seventeen. At first Casey was like another son. He had dinner with us, went to movies – lots of family stuff.”
But over the years the relationship changed. Casey had children by other women, two of whom lived with Casey and Lily.
“Lily neglected her appearance and that was not in character for her. She was a hairdresser.”
Katherine never saw signs of physical abuse, but she didn’t like the way Casey talked to Lily. “After a while, Casey was no longer welcomed in my house.”
She reminisced about her daughter’s dreams for the future. “Lily wanted to establish a ‘Hairdresser on Wheels’ business serving homebound people – maybe open her own shop someday. She was set to get her cosmetology license a week before she was murdered. She wanted to be a cop, too. She applied for the police academy.”
At Casey’s trial, the assistant state’s attorney told the judge: “[Lily] was someone who was definitely trying to build a life for herself.”
“Lily grew out of Casey,” Katherine said. “He was a good father, but he couldn’t handle Lily living her own life.”
Both families had to somehow cope with the murder. Some succeeded; others never recovered.
- The evening of the murder, Katherine’s parents were at a restaurant waiting for her to join them for dinner. Katherine had to tell them what had happened. They are gone now, but they never stopped grieving for their beautiful granddaughter.
- After years of suffering, Casey’s mother now dedicates herself to prison reform. She has nightmares about what is happening to her son in prison.
- According to Katherine, “My other daughter and my son want nothing to do with Casey. They can’t believe he did that to their sister. My daughter is doing well. My son spent five years in prison on drug charges, but he’s out now and reclaiming his life.”
- Katherine lost touch with Casey’s other children. She prays for them.
- Casey remains in jail with little hope for release.
- Growing up, Donnie was protected from the details about his mother’s death. When he finally learned the truth he cut off all ties with his father. He is twenty-six years old now and has yet to find his place in the world. He spent time in prison on drug charges, but he is out now and working. He is married and has two children: a girl, eight, and a boy, six. Katherine allowed Donnie and his wife to live rent-free in her town house for a year, but, according to Katherine, “they move around a lot.” To this day, Donnie talks to his mother.
- Katherine went back to work. Her co-workers had no idea what to say to her in the face of such a devastating tragedy. Katherine had to be the nurturer. “I understood. What is there to say?” She went on with her life, earning enough money to allow her other daughter to graduate with a Masters Degree in Finance. Retired now, Katherine volunteers for an organization that assists ex-offenders with their reentry into society.
Lily is never far from her mind. As we talked, her tears flowed. “Lily had dreams—simple things. She wanted to get married, walk her son to school…
“I still wake up to my daughter’s face. My daughter and I would go to the market and hold hands. We always held hands. We had family time with hugs and kisses.
“I hug my children every day. We have to hug. If my son jumps out of the car without hugging me, he’ll jump back in.”
“I can breathe a little. But sometimes I can’t breathe at all.”
Three months ago Katherine attended a meeting. She looked across the room and spotted Casey’s mother. Katherine hadn’t seen her since the trial nineteen years before.
Casey’s mother approached Katherine and asked to speak with her. “I didn’t know what to say,” Katherine said. “What do you say to the mother of the man who killed your daughter? I took the initiative and hugged her to ease the tension.”
The two mothers, both of whom, in different ways, had lost their children, bonded.
At home that evening, Katherine was “…outside of myself. But I began to see we have to have compassion for people. It takes truth and wisdom to get beyond the loss of a child. Every day I think of Lily. There is no loss like the loss of a child.”
Now Katherine wants to teach people to forgive and heal—to see crime through the eyes of other people. “We have to be gentle. We have to put our own feelings aside for the sake of the children.”
Katherine concluded Lily’s obituary with these words:
Lily was only with us for a short time, but left a lifetime of love and memories. We will miss our beautiful wildflower.
Lily had committed what was to Casey an unpardonable sin: she grew up. She was thinking of her future, of her son’s future. Katherine is right: she grew out of him.
But why kill her? We will never know. Casey’s not talking.
All we know is two families died that day.