Forgiving a Murderer

Almost 19 years ago, four white teenagers assaulted an older black man in Grand Rapids, torturing him until he died. Willie Jones was a GM retiree who had just finished bowling when the teens beat him up, stuffed him in the trunk of his own car, and drove the car around until the next morning, when they killed him and dumped his body near Morley. The trials were notable in that the victim’s brother, the Rev. Charlie Jones, expressed forgiveness to the families of the murderers.

Two of the murderers were under 18 at the time of the crime, and were sentenced to mandatory life in prison after being convicted of first-degree murder. They both became eligible for re-sentencing after the U.S. Supreme Court determined that mandatory life sentences were cruel and unusual when imposed on minors.

The re-sentencing hearing for one of them, Joshua Rogers, was held in Kent County Circuit Court last week. In a brief statement, Rogers  apologized to the relatives of Willie Jones. The Rev. Charlie Jones was not there to hear it, having passed on to glory in 2015.

But Pastor Charlie’s son, James Jones, was there, and he ended up telling Rogers he forgave him. According to the Grand Rapids Press, Jones said to his uncle’s murderer, “This is something I’ve been wrestling with. Before, I was going to come in here and just tear you down. But I’ve been praying about it.” He talked about “what my father taught me about forgiveness and not to react out of anger. Forgiveness. You asked for it. I’m going to give that back to you.”

I am awed and humbled by such forgiveness. If there was ever an unforgiveable act, this was it; the murder was so brutal, and so senseless. Rogers used scissors to inflict the fatal stab wounds. It would be completely understandable for James Jones not to forgive Rogers. And indeed, at the re-sentencing hearing last month for the other teen-murderer, Chad Maleski, James Jones objected to a sentence reduction, telling the judge that Maleski “could’ve stepped away at any point.” But Mr. Jones, influenced by his father, who was impelled by his love of Christ, has now been able to do what seems humanly impossible: forgive his uncle’s murderer.

 

 

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