Part 3: The Face to Face Meeting of the Victim and the Offender
On the meeting day inside DeBerry Prison, Dillon and the offender both knew what the discussion “content” would be, but the reality of the actual face to face meeting was nerve-wracking for both parties. Dillon was ready to let his Dad’s killer know how much he hated him, how he wished the offender was dead, and he was anxious to let him know the magnitude of the pain he caused Dillon and his entire family. The offender was ready too. He couldn’t restore the life he took, but he could give the victim answers, he could listen to the victim, and was ready to face the pain he had caused 18 years prior. Dillon, Viki and I were seated in the meeting room. The offender was brought into the room along with the support person he wanted to be with him during the dialogue. The tension in the room was very noticeable. Dillon said hello to the offender as he sat down in front of Dillon at our table. Dillon was nervously shaking his leg up and down, his fingers were interlocked, his face was red and splotchy. He looked the offender directly in the eyes and said, I’ve heard many versions over the years about the night my Dad was killed. Now I want to hear about what happened from you.
The offender began by telling Dillon about his family background because that was part of the puzzle to how he got to the point of recklessly wielding a gun on August 10, 1996. In many ways their lives were on a parallel path. Both grew up without a father in their life, desperately wanting a father’s support and love. Both grew up with strong, supportive grandmothers who were their “rock”. Both had single mothers who worked hard to provide for the family. But unlike Dillon, the offender allowed his anger, loss and disappointment to take him down a path poor choices and of destruction.
The offender shared his version of the events of the deadly night (as confirmed in the trial transcripts). August 10, 1996, he met up with friends and they were riding around town when they met up with other friends at a fast food restaurant around midnight. He said there was no criminal or malicious intent to hurt anyone, they were just hanging out. He told Dillon he shouldn’t have been out that night. In fact, he hadn’t been out of his house for over a week, because he had been in a state of depression after the death of his grandmother. He said he was so devastated by the news of her death that the week before the murder he hadn’t been eating, he didn’t change his clothes, and he hadn’t showered for a week. He said, I wondered so many times, what would have happened if I just stayed home that night, but I know that regardless, I was on a reckless path that would have eventually ended badly at some point in time. As the offender and his friends were hanging out in the parking lot, there were two men in a pickup truck also parked in the lot looking at them. One of the men was Dillon’s father. After a while, the man who was with Dillon’s Dad came over to them and asked if they had any marijuana to sell. The offender said he told them that they didn’t sell drugs, and they didn’t have any drugs. The man went back to his truck, and the two continued to glare at them. One of the girls with his group of friends, got out, walked over near the truck, faced the men, and flipped them off. Both men jumped out of the truck and were exchanging words with the female, which prompted the offender and his friends to get out of their car to support their female friend. At that point, the man with Dillon’s dad lifted up his shirt to show he had a gun in his belt, so he yelled for everyone to get back in the car, and when they did, Dillon’s Dad kicked the door of their car with his boot. There was a gun on the floor board of their car, so he put the gun out the window that was rolled down, and shot into the air as they were driving off. He said he wasn’t aiming at anyone, just trying to show that they also had a gun and could protect themselves. Later that night when he was home, one of his friends told him they heard on the news that one of the men was shot and killed. He said he just couldn’t believe he had shot someone. He turned himself in the next day.
Dillon did not take his eyes off the offender the entire time he was talking. When he finished sharing his memory of that night, Dillon shouted at him “You took EVERYTHING from me!” Dillon was trembling, and his face was red. He said “I didn’t have anyone to teach me how to be a man!!” You have NO respect from me – and NO forgiveness. I needed my Dad! And you took him!! Why did you have to be so reckless?” He said “I’ve hated you my entire life. I’ve fantasized about killing you so many times.” He went on to say “In one stupid action, you made my mom into a single mom. She had to work really hard to support me and my brother. You broke her heart too, and broke the heart of my brother and everyone who loved my Dad!” He went on to say that he grew up longing to have a Dad in his life, and was constantly being made fun of because he didn’t have a Dad. Dillon was rocking back and forth on his seat, and as he put his hands over his eyes, he asked if we could take a break. Viki took the offender and his support person to another private room so Dillon could compose himself. Dillon was crying and shaking, but said he wanted to continue the dialogue. In the other room, the offender broke down. He cried and said, the pain I caused that young man! I don’t deserve to be forgiven!! After both men calmed their nerves, we reconvened for more discussion. The offender told Dillon that he wished he could give his own life in place of his Dad’s. He told Dillon that if he was ever released, he would do anything to help Dillon. He said that he didn’t deserve Dillon’s forgiveness, that he did deserve his anger and hatred. Dillon asked the offender if he remembered the letter his grandmother had written and read after the trial. His response was he remembered it every day, because the letter was one of forgiveness, and sorrow over his life and the pain he had also brought on his own family. He told Dillion, that he just couldn’t fathom anyone expressing such kindness to someone who murdered their loved one. Both Dillon and the offender shared stories about the influences of their grandmothers. The offender said that the pain of not having his own father in his life was a constant reminder to him that he stole Dillon’s father. He shared with Dillon about a non profit organization he had founded while inside, with the help of his family, to support at risk youth, to help them avoid the path to prison. After nearly 4 hours of dialogue, Dillion indicated he was ready to leave. He looked at the offender, and said: “You are not the monster I thought you were all these years.” Everyone deserves forgiveness. I’m not there yet, but maybe someday I will be. I don’t hate you anymore. Tears welled up in the offender’s eyes, and he thanked Dillon for meeting with him. At this point, I went with Dillon so we could process the emotions of the dialogue, and Viki remained with the offender so they could process.
Written by: Verna Wyatt, Co-Founder of Tennessee Voices for Victims