On Tuesday afternoon, as Missouri prepared to execute Joseph Paul Franklin for the 1977 murder of a St. Louis man, Denna Lightner of Salt Lake City sent this letter to the state's Department of Corrections and asked officials to deliver it Franklin.
Franklin killed Lightner's brother David Martin, 18, and his friend Ted Fields, 20, on Aug. 20, 1980, as they were leaving Salt Lake City's Liberty Park after jogging there with two white female friends.
It has been over 33 years since I have seen your face and many emotions have plagued my mind. I chose to write to you today simply to allow myself to "exhale" and release the words that have been locked up inside me for over a decade.
I'd like to begin by offering you my sincere forgiveness. Initially, I had tried for years to understand what would possess a person to perform such a heinous crime. I hated you for it. I wanted you to suffer the same fate (and then some) but that was not the will of God for you or myself at that time.
Since then, my family and I have been blessed with a renewed heart. We realize that hatred is only the root of self-destruction that would inevitably cause us a lifetime of misery.
I feel the need to let you know the character of the two young men you killed, my brother David and our best friend Teddy. As you recall, you shot the first victim (David) and he fell to the ground.
Teddy immediately responded to his voice when he told him that he had been shot. He turned to the aid of his best friend and tried to drag his body across the street. We both know what happened next. Both friends died that evening trying to comfort one another. To tell you the truth, Joseph, knowing the way that both Teddy and David lived their lives, if you had been shot in the middle of the street, they would have reached out their hand to try and rescue you, too!
I read your response to my mother's question as to how you felt after killing her son. It was the response that I had "so longed" to hear. You offered an explanation and most importantly, an apology. And for that, I am truly thankful.
You also mentioned that you now are a "firm believer "in having a close relationship with the Lord. Well, I am, too, and I owe a lot of that to you. I had to come to develop a personal relationship with the Lord in order to be able to bear the weight of grief and bitterness that held me in bondage after the death of the boys. I realized that God "himself" had spared me from that same tragic end that night by making me refuse their invite to go jogging with them. He had better plans for me.
Because of my relationship with God, I was honestly able to forgive you and pray for you. I asked the Lord to heal your pain and to have you come into a relationship with Him and once again, God did not fail me. I knew that the Lord would not let you die as a hardened criminal. For the prayers of the righteous availeth much (James 5:16).
So today I speak with respect to you as another one of God's FORGIVEN CHILDREN. I believe that you are sincerely sorry for your acts and I know that with sincerity comes Gods forgiveness. That's what Jesus died for.
I know that we cannot stop the fate of your actions but I promise you that me and my mother will be praying for you and asking the Lord to grant you peace.
I know he will be with you the rest of the way.
Hopefully we will meet again (on the other side).