Chapter 2

Blessed Are The Peacemakers And Those Who Forgive

A person who comments here at the lake using the name Mepeteluma, wrote this comment a few months ago in response to one of my blogs.

A thought. Some years ago my brother in law’s partner was brutally murdered while on a house cleaning job. It turned out the woman who owned the house was a drug dealer and was visited by some “colleagues” who showed up to kill her. Wrong place, wrong time for my brother in law’s partner. When she didn’t respond to his cell calls he went to the house. He was first on the murder scene.

The police made an arrest some time later and he attended the hearings. He told me that the police thought the case was weak and not to be surprised if the guy walked. He told me he sat in the courtroom and watched all the family members of the alleged killer. For days. The guy walked.

I asked him if he favored the death penalty. He said he didn’t care one way or the other, but he said, “if you have a death penalty, then I would add to the law. It would be illegal to kill anyone while their mother is still alive.”

There are extraordinary forgiving people among us. I recall such a man at Gary Ridgway’s sentencing. I and seven other lawyers represented Mr. Ridgway, who is also known as the Green River Killer – the most prolific convicted serial killer in our nation’s history. Gary pled guilty to 48 capital murders in exchange for a life-without-parole sentence. The forgiving man was the father of one of Gary’s victims.

We called him Santa Claus because he had snow-white hair and a matching full beard. He stood, addressed the court, and turned to Mr. Ridgway. I don’t recall his exact words, but he said something close to this.

Mr. Ridgway, I do not hate you. I do not understand why you murdered my daughter and I do not want to know. It took me a long time to stop hating and forgive you, but I did and you no longer rent space in my thoughts and heart. You can no longer hurt me. I feel sorry for you because I know that at some level you cannot hide from the horrors for which you are responsible. I will pray for you tonight. Pray that you wrestle with your demons and find peace. With all my heart and soul, I will pray for God to help you.

Listening to his words, I could not stop my tears from flowing as my mind flooded with memories of his innocent daughter’s face and the disturbing facts of her case that I had reviewed in the police investigation reports. She reminded me of my daughter and I felt shamed because I could not be as forgiving.

People have asked why I chose to be a death-penalty lawyer. Many of us who do this work have no clue why we do, but we do. Most of our clients are guilty of terrible crimes. All of us know that and yet we persevere. Many of us are so broken that we cannot do anything else. I was called to save something worth saving, I suppose. Something that reminds me of myself. There, but for the grace of God and all that shit. As a modern day warrior committed to peace and non-violence in troubled times, I am as a moth driven to flame. I cannot resist the call to save a life, no matter how seemingly damned, and the challenge of being the only person that stands between my client and the government’s needle that will deliver him to an uncertain, and some would say deserving end. Cheating the executioner. The smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd. As the scorpion said to the frog, “It’s in my nature.” Let me be as Shiva with the blue throat who drinks transmuting the poison of the world.

As one who saw himself as a superman and lived that life with an ego to match, I now know that one of the things we must do is end the cult of the individual superman. No one is coming to save us. We must save ourselves and the others, no matter how cruel and indifferent they may be, by acting together to seek out, honor, nurture, and love the sacred light that illuminates us, for in the end we the whole will always be greater than the sum of our individual parts.

I am convinced that the only way to change our nation’s terrible destiny is to plunge deep within ourselves, embrace our souls, and heal ourselves. When we do that, we will lose our fear and get our priorities straight. We shall become beacons of light, instead of shuttered rooms behind locked doors during the coming violent storms. By example we shall lead and teach the others. The meek shall indeed inherit the Earth, as foretold by the ancient ones.

I believe we cannot begin to fully comprehend who we are until we see and define ourselves holistically. That is, we exist and our lives acquire meaning only in relationship to the living earth, all of its lifeforms, and most immediately to all of humanity. In truth we are one and until we finally acknowledge that fundamental principle and banish the concept of the other from our consciousness, we will continue to exploit, trash, and destroy ourselves, other life forms, and the mythological Garden of Eden in which we live. Our task is to get other people to see this resplendent truth and to spread good will through empathy, practicing the Golden Rule, and celebrating the miracle of consciousness.

Let there be no mistake. Love and forgiveness are the most powerful forces in the universe while vengeance is no better than a mouthful of dust. Any economic theory such as neoliberalism, that fails to acknowledge this fundamental principle, or that sanctions selfishness, greed, or exploitation in any manner for any purpose is obscene and doomed to fail, if for no other reason than the many who have been schooled in the fundamental and enduring principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will not long tolerate the tyranny of the few.

Frederick Leatherman

Frederick Leatherman

I am a former law professor and felony criminal defense lawyer who practiced in state and federal courts for 30 years specializing in death penalty cases, forensics, and drug cases.

I taught criminal law, criminal procedure, law and forensics, and trial advocacy for three years after retiring from my law practice.

I also co-founded Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and recruited 40 lawyers who agreed to work pro bono, assisted by law students, representing 17 innocent men and women wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing their children in the notorious Wenatchee Sex Ring witch-hunt prosecutions during the mid 90s. All 17 were freed from imprisonment.