RICHARDSON: Time to take a shower

April 27, 2014 

I feel sorry for Stephen McDaniel. I know that’s probably a surprise. It’s a surprise for me, too. Let me explain. One minute, McDaniel is a bright, energetic guy -- a little nerdy perhaps -- just finishing law school and cramming for the bar exam. Then boom. He hits himself across the forehead with a “stupid stick,” and that life of promise disappears.

McDaniel made several grievous errors, too long a list to mention here, but the major ones -- the ones that were screaming “Step back from the edge of the cliff!” -- were ignored. If there was ever a human that should have said, “Go ahead and kill me. I don’t deserve to live,” it is McDaniel.

Now, at the ripe old age of 28, McDaniel has little to look forward to. He will exist, but not live. Given the prison pecking order, he may not exist long. So why do I feel sorry for a cold-blooded murderer who dismembered his victim? I know it’s weird, but for the rest of his life all he’ll be able to think about is what could have been. He’ll be haunted by nightmares of the night he became a murderer.

For the rest of his days he’ll have to see, in his mind’s eye, the horror he put Lauren’s parents through, not to mention those of his own family. They will always live with the labels “family of murdered Mercer student” and “family of the Mercer student killer.” I really feel sorry for them. They don’t deserve either label.

McDaniel will live with the fact that he let his family down. They were there when he turned the tassel on his mortarboard, signifying he had graduated from a prestigious law school. Now they will visit him, if they can bear it, in prison.

I’ve only visited prisons. I have two brothers -- one in particular -- who have done time in Folsom, San Quentin, Norco and Chino. Back when I could play basketball, our team would go to Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, Calif., and play the inmates. When we checked in, they would mark our hand with ink that would show up under a black light. We refused to sweat, and when we took showers after the game, we held that hand out of range of the spray. None of us wanted to have to stay because of a humbug.

But my forays into prisons were minor. I knew I could leave. McDaniel never will.

I feel sorry for McDaniel’s soul, because that’s what my Bible tells me to feel. That’s hard when faced with such a foul sin. But I’m encouraged because I know there is no place my Lord’s peace cannot reach. I know it will reach the families on both sides of this tragedy. I know it will reach Lauren’s friends, and I know it will reach the people of Middle Georgia who grieved along with them. And it has the power to reach into the killer’s heart, too.

I pray for the prosecutors and defense attorneys who have spent months preparing for the case. I know it’s their job, but you can’t sit next to such evil and some of it not rub off. It will take more than a few hot showers to rinse it away.

We live in a world where such crimes happen everyday. There are other families grieving, because that “stupid stick,” wielded by the devil, is hitting too many people across their foreheads.

We can’t seem to escape. All we can do is stay prayed up so when that “stupid stick” heads our way -- and it has or will -- we can say, like the greatest man who walked this Earth told the devil, “Away from me, Satan!”

One must also “Put on the full armor of God, so that (we) can take (our) stand against the devil’s schemes,” just in case that “stupid stick” he’s carrying tempts us to escalate an already bad situation.

While I feel sorry for McDaniel, I feel more sorry for us. A part of his evil has rubbed off. Listen to the comments, including mine, of what we would do to him.

It’s time to take a shower.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at Tweet@crichard1020.

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