The recent shooting spree in Puyallup has given me déjà vu.
It is 2003. The bench is hard. The air is cold. My stomach is in my throat. The lights are bright, and then I see him.
Thirteen years after his original murder conviction in 1990, he is 57 and frail. His hair is thinning, long and combed back. His thick glasses are the same as the last time I saw him. I was 18 then. In 2003, I’m 32.
I begin to tremble. It’s a nervous energy that surfaces every time I’m in this courtroom.
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Gary Michael Benn, the man who murdered my father.
Thirteen years he has spent on death row in Washington state. A retrial had been ordered on the death sentence.
I wonder what my Dad would look like after 13 years?
I am expecting to feel the same rage I did when I was 18. I remember sitting on this same bench wanting to hang him. I pictured myself causing him the kind of pain that I have lived with since he took my father away.
But I didn’t feel this feeling. I felt sadness, and I felt sorry for this frail man.
I can’t believe I am here again.
The judge looks up, “Angela it is your turn to address the court.”
I stand up and I listen as she says, “You are not allowed to look at the defendant directly, but I will allow you to speak.”
I hear her words, but they don’t register.
I step up onto the podium and my leg begins to shake like a rubber band. I don’t know what is happening. I have thought about this moment since the murder of my father. I have had nightmares since it happened. Why did you do it? Why did you shoot him? What did my dad say? What where his last words? Why did you shoot him twice? Did he try to run? Did you feel sad shooting your friend? Did he say anything about us? Did you think of his family?
I raise my right hand and I swear that I will tell the truth and the whole truth. When I reach the microphone, the word “truth” runs through my body, and my legs begin to shake even more.
I turn and I look right at Gary Benn, my father’s murderer.
This is what I say:
“I have thought about this moment every day since you senselessly murdered my father. I thought about what I would say to you and the questions I wanted to ask you. I have even killed you in my nightmares.”
My hands sweat, my heart races, and my leg never stops shaking.
“Gary, you took my father from me at a time when our family needed him more than you will ever know. You left us to pick up the pieces of the mess you created. My mother was ill, we went to foster care, we lost our home, my horse, our family. My mother died shortly after.
“You took so much from me.”
I looked into his vacant eyes.
“Gary Micheal Benn, I am here to tell you that you may have taken my father, but I refuse to give you one more second of my life. Nothing that happens will ever bring my Dad back. That part is gone. You are dead to me. I am going to live on because you can’t rob me of that. You destroyed my family, but you will never destroy me.
“I hope and pray that from the bottom of your soul you are sorry. I think about all the lives you ruined and the 13 years you spent on death row, I look at you now and I pity you.
“You will never take another day from me.”
The judge doesn’t stop me. The tears fall, and my leg keeps shaking like a rubber band. It never stops. My body shakes, my eyes shake and somehow I know that I have spoken my truth and Benn is indeed dead to me.
This is not about forgiveness. It is about letting go of the anger and choosing to live. Because holding on to anger is just like drinking poison and expecting my Dad’s killer to die.
Andrea True lives in Thailand, where she raises money for orphaned and disadvantaged children. This article describes a 2003 hearing in Pierce County Superior Court in which Gary Michael Benn of Puyallup was resentenced to life in prison after his initial death sentence was overturned. He had murdered two men in 1988, one of them True’s father.