If someone took your child’s life, would you forgive the killer?
Renee Napier did.
That’s the giant unanswered question — the ghost — in a recent CBS News report:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Not many convicts consider themselves blessed, but Eric Smallridge does, and for good reason. He’s getting out of prison — way early.
“It’s going to be like being on borrowed time, because I know I should still be in prison, because the justice system said I should still be in prison,” Eric says.
In 2003, Eric, of Tallahassee, Fla., was found guilty of two counts of DUI manslaughter. While driving at twice the legal limit for alcohol, he hit a car carrying Lisa Dickson and Meagan Napier, both 20, killing both girls instantly. He got 22 years for the crime, which sounded just about right to Renee Napier, Meagan’s mom.
“I felt like our system had served us well and justice had been served. I definitely felt that,” Renee says.
But a few years later, a woman came forward and asked the judge to reduce Eric’s sentence by half. She claimed Eric was truly sorry for what he’d done and deserved leniency. The judge obliged — partly because of what she said, but mostly because of who she was.
Keep reading, and Napier speaks to her change of heart:
“I could hate him forever and the world would tell me that I have a right to do that,” Renee says. “It’s not going to do me any good, and it’s not going to do him any good. I would grow old and bitter and angry and hateful. … In my opinion, forgiveness is the only way to heal.”
She says it did heal her — almost as much as it healed him.
“It was like a burden,” he says. “It was a weight off my chest. I no longer had to hide behind this facade.”
Here at GetReligion, we define holy ghosts as “facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith.” Often, these facts don’t show up in a story, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. In the case of the CBS News story, I couldn’t help but think that there might be more to the story than reported. More precisely, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps, religious faith played a role in Napier’s decision to forgive.
So I checked LexisNexis and did a Google search to see if I could find any more details.
I found a recent Tennessean story that mentioned Napier inspiring the song “Forgiveness” (video above) on contemporary Christian singer Matthew West’s new album. However, that story did not delve into Napier’s faith (or lack thereof).
But then I found a 2011 blog post by a Baptist pastor in Florida that did some GetReligion-style ghostbusting on Napier:
I had Renee’s email address from the Sheriff’s office, so I wrote her an email explaining that we were so proud to host her, but asking about this concept of forgiveness. I mentioned that as believers, we understand forgiveness (or at least say we do) and that I have preached about the revolutionary power of it. I asked if she had a faith background and wondered if that led her to be able to promote forgiveness in such a way.
It wasn’t long before my phone rang. Renee had called me. She said she was writing an email response and decided that a phone call would be better. We talked for quite some time and she shared how her faith in Jesus Christ was what enabled and empowered her to forgive Eric. I was so encouraged and overwhelmed by this. To hear a mother that had lost one of her children in such a way offer true forgiveness was incredible.
It’s too bad that CBS News didn’t think to ask the same highly relevant question.