“ I hate the work of those who fall away;
it shall not cling to me.
A perverse heart shall depart from me;
I will not know wickedness.
The one who has a haughty look and a proud heart,
him I will not endure.” ~ Psalm 101:3-4,8 (NKJ)
Five of the eight men accused of murdering my young friend shuffle into the courtroom. I am in my usual place, sitting next to Rachel’s mother, third row from the front. Dead center. The bailiffs won’t permit us to sit any closer to the defendants.
I’ve lost count of how many trips we’ve made to this courtroom. Only four months have passed since this gang of men kidnapped, beat and murdered Rachel. They left her in a gravel pit, where her body laid for two weeks before we found her. Her voice has been silenced for four months, but I can still hear her laughter. Her ashes wait in a small box by her mother’s bedside for the day when Denise is ready to part with her, but I can still see her smile and the startling blueness of her eyes. Eighteen years were not enough time to take in the beauty of Rachel.
And there, in front of me, are five of the men we believe to be responsible — the men who stole her from us. I fight the tears that threaten to hinder my vision. I want to see. I want a clear view of those men. I want to try to understand how any one person, let alone a band of eight, could treat a human being so inhumanely. I hope to see something in their stance, their gaze, their expressions that will answer for the frenzy they poured out upon her.
But I find no answers, and I don’t see a shred of remorse. One orange-clad prisoner smirks in our direction. Another flashes an obscene gesture.
And I understand, then, why the guards keep us three rows back; why they won’t let us closer. I thought it was for our protection, but I understand, suddenly. The feelings that churn in me clarify the truth: They’re protecting the defendants from us.
O God, I am weary. Sin creeps among us, searching for fertile ground. It wiggles doorknobs and checks for unlocked windows and slips secretly into unguarded hearts. Once inside, if finds a quiet corner and nests there, unnoticed, while it schemes.
Your word says You hate wickedness. Can I do less? Infuriate me, Lord. Destroy my complacency, rouse me from my numbness. Fill me with intolerance. Make me see transgression with Your eyes. Give me Your heart, and make Your wrath burn in me.
Even the world fumes and rants at injustice. But they don’t rage against sin. They don’t recognize the seeds within themselves. They stop just short of honesty, just shy of self-scrutiny. But I am Yours, separated to belong to You. And what You feel, I must feel. Build in me a fierce hatred for sin — but one that goes beyond disgust at injustice. Take me further, God. Take me deeper. Make me hate the sin within my own heart.
Enrage me, Lord.
* * *
After three back-to-back trials in the spring of 2008, one man was found guilty of obstructing justice. Seven others were found guilty of the murder of Rachel Rose Burkheimer.
Last September, reporter Scott North, who was a friendly face during those difficult trials, wrote an update about Rachel’s case on the anniversary of her death. You can read it here.
Liza Montes says
I had not heard of this tragic death. I hate reading stuff like this because it’s so hard to believe that someone could carry out such heinous acts against other human beings. It’s so awful. And yet, there is a curiosity that is awakened in all this; reading your thoughts and the article by Scott North the focus, of course, is on the victim and her family but what about the families of the guilty. What were they going through? What could they be thinking? I always wonder about that. I mean if that had been my son who committed such a heinous crime I would be ever so devastated. Were their families devastated having known that their sons were capable of doing such a horrible thing?
I know what you mean, Liza. I was acutely aware of the other moms (and dads) in the courtroom. Some of them were in denial that their sons could or would do something this heinous. Another one was very hostile to us. But the mother and brother of Diggy (John Anderson, Rachel’s ex-boyfriend) attended a sister church in the area. The pastor, who is a friend of ours, was ministering on the other side of the tragedy. I am very fond of the brother and his wife and am always glad when I see them.
One thing that was very hard for me was realizing that one of the defendants had no one supporting him from his family. His grandmother wouldn’t come to court because there were always cameras in the courtroom and she was afraid one of her friends might see her on TV. His mother came to court once, but only because she had her own court date that afternoon (for drugs, I think). It made me wonder how things might have turned out for him if his family dynamic had been different.
Many of my previously held ideas had to go out the window during those trials. I learned a lot about myself, oddly. I went in feeling very strongly in favor of capital punishment, but I changed my mind by the time we were done. Rachel’s mom did too. We had long talks about it on our many drives to and from court. She is an amazing woman. She said to me, out of the blue one day, “I have to forgive them.” We cried together over that, but I knew it was true. I felt that I had to do the same. And there was this sudden urgency in both of us that we wanted someone to reach those boys before it was too late. Whenever they cross my mind now, I pray that they will find God in prison. I don’t excuse anything they did … it was unbelievably cruel … but I still believe that up until their last heartbeat, God will be reaching out to them.