In her passage from sorrowing parent to an expert on sorrow, White
was changed in ways she couldn't foresee. Initially in favor of capital
punishment -- she was videotaped at a Parents of Murdered Children
meeting saying she wished the minimum age could be lowered for execution
so that the boys who killed her daughter might be put to death -- she
came to the view that it was unjust and counterproductive, an incendiary
act of state violence. She also made her peace, in extraordinary
fashion, with one of the two boys who did the crime. Three years ago, a
crew from Court TV documented her six-hour, face-to-face sit-down with a
penitent Gary Brown, then thirty. It made for one of the most
white-knuckled hours of television aired in recent memory, as killer and
survivor sat feet apart, bridging the divide. "I got to hear, through
Gary, Cathy's final words, forgiving him and the other boy for what
they'd done to her," she says. "I also learned that he was deeply sorry,
and that he'd been through hell on earth as a boy, beaten and sexually
abused so badly that he'd tried suicide by the age of eight."
In her travels in
and around the survivors' circuit, White got connected to a group called
MVFR (Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation). Founded in 1976 by
Marie Deans, a South Carolina woman and Amnesty International member
whose mother-in-law was murdered by an escaped convict, it had grown
from a sparse collection of names to a broad coalition of survivors and
supporters brought together to oppose the death penalty. With more than
5,000 vocal, activist members and a national headquarters in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, it had become a key player in the death-penalty abolition
movement as well as a force for the dignity of victims' rights. White,
who had bravely refashioned herself by renouncing the claims of rage,
was drawn to MVFR's central tenet, which is that murder isn't solved by
more death. She was further moved by the group's other theme: that
survivors must come to terms with the killing, if not with the killer
"Make no mistake:
We're not soft on crime, and we're certainly not soft on murderers,"
says Kate Lowenstein, MVFR's thirty-three-year-old national organizer
and a lawyer with a master's in social work, sitting in her office in
Cambridge. "But we know firsthand that you can't proceed from feelings
on something as crucial as taking a life. There are thousands and
thousands of murders a year in America, and if we operated on our
outrage, all those killers would be killed. But only two percent of
those convicted actually face the death penalty, and our point is, why
them? Why the black teenager who killed a white girl in Texas but not
the couple who locked seventeen immigrants in a truck and left them
there to die?" Lowenstein argues that the most heinous crimes are aptly
punished by a life sentence -- and notes that it costs millions more to
put a man to death than imprison him through old age, money that might
be better spent on therapy for survivors.
statistics that prove the death penalty's uselessness as a deterrent to
violent crime (though Southern states have performed more than eighty
percent of the executions since 1976, the murder rate in that region is
twenty percent higher than the national average and more than fifty
percent greater than in Northeastern states, which account for one
percent of executions). There are also studies that show a brutalizing
effect on communities after an execution (reports in Arizona, Oklahoma
and elsewhere suggest that the local murder rate actually increases when
a prisoner is put to death), as well as the shocking number of men
proved innocent while sitting on death row (twenty-one alone since
But somehow, none
of the numbers have the power of Lowenstein's own story. She is the
youngest child of the late Allard Lowenstein, an iconic and much-beloved
New York congressman who was shot five times, at point-blank range, by a
psychotic ex-student of his in 1980. The slaying of her father -- she
was nine at the time -- left Lowenstein "flooded with pain and
heartbreak," unable to begin unpacking her grief till she was in her
late twenties. By then she was in Washington, D.C., working with girls
in the juvenile-justice system, when a horrific event put her in touch
boy was raped and killed by two pedophiles in a suburb of Boston, and it
raised a huge rallying cry for the reinstatement of the death penalty in
Massachusetts," she says. "What helped defeat it -- by one vote -- was
the testimony of survivors, going as a group before the legislature and
urging it not to kill in their name. I met some of those people and for
the first time started to sort out my feelings about the politics of
murder. There's a whole crowd out there -- certain prosecutors and
demagogues -- that presumes to speak for the survivors in murder cases.
They trot us out as the almighty victim and tout the death penalty as
our path to 'closure.' But they can't even begin to know what heals us.
No one can, till they've been in our shoes and had their soul split
Some advocates say
that survivors largely fall into two types. There are people who present
themselves as lifelong victims and carry the murder as "a badge of
honor," nursing their rage and grievance. And then there are those who
are "distilled" by loss, forced by the heat and pressure it wields to
become richer, deeper versions of who they were. "A broken heart is an
avenue, a crack for life to come in through," Lowenstein says. "If
you're the kind of person who carries a grudge, then the murder just
proves your point. But if you're open at all to the world out there,
then the killing becomes a conduit, a thing that makes you stronger and
No one is supposed
to die at the age of twenty-four for the crime of misplacing his house
keys. Nor is anyone supposed to spend his last moments on earth bleeding
out in a third-floor stairwell, fighting to staunch a hole in his neck.
But if anyone least deserved that end, it would be a young man like
Scott Everett. Having met more hardship in his first two years than most
people do in fifty, he was surely entitled to some dispensation from any
of life's further cruelties. But in a country where firearms outnumber
people and can be bought and sold as freely as gas grills at Wal-Mart,
no one is beyond the reach of stray violence or the whims of a
Everett was born
in 1963 on a grim reservation in South Dakota. His mother, a full Sioux
who drank while pregnant, was so unfit to render care that the state
removed Scott before he was six months old. (His birth father, an ailing
Caucasian man, died shortly after Scott's arrival.) Sent first to live
with an aging uncle, Scott was put up for adoption around the time of
his first birthday and packed off to a family in Alaska. But weeks
before the process was final, the couple returned him to his uncle,
citing jealousy on the part of their other children. It was his fourth
placement in fifteen months.
Walt Everett, then
a thirty-year-old married pastor posted to a church in Staten Island,
New York, got a call from his twin brother, Arthur, in South Dakota.
Arthur, a pastor serving American Indians, told him about a toddler
who'd been bounced around and was badly in need of a good home. Five
days later, Walt and his first wife, Isabel, touched down in an airport
north of Pierre. He remembers meeting a boy with huge black eyes and a
sly, almost knowing grin. That night, after dinner, they played
hide-and-seek, and Scott chirped while his new father bathed him. But
each time Walt made a move for the door, the small boy gave him a
stricken look, clutching at his arm or leg.
terrified I'd leave him, even to go to another room," says Walt, sitting
in the day room of his church. "He'd been neglected for so long that he
would start to cry if he saw us with other people, thinking we were
going to hand him off and be on about our way. He got over it after a
while - at least the worst of the fear - but you could tell it had left
a deep mark."
In the warmth and
plenitude of, first, his New York home, then the manse the family moved
to in Easton, Connecticut, where Everett transferred in 1977, Scott
settled in and flourished. He grew to be a tall kid who ate like a horse
and had a passion for Little League ball, able to throw strikes with
either arm and to hit for average and power. But in school, a global
learning disorder made him tense, then miserable, in class. Unable to
focus or follow instruction, he fell badly behind while still in grade
school, and by high school he had begun to ditch class. Heartsick, his
parents sought help, taking him initially to a private counselor, then
for tutoring after school. But this was the Seventies, a decade before
Ritalin or the discovery of fetal alcohol syndrome. At sixteen, Scott
was drinking heavily - the other bequest from his toxic mother -- and
cutting out with his stoner friends to get high at someone's house.
When he dropped
out of high school in his junior year, it prompted several loud
exchanges with Walt, who feared he was losing his son. But Scott got a
job at a nursing home, and a couple of years later he caught on with a
firm that built pools in high-end Westport. He joined AA, met a lovely
girl and at twenty-two finally hit his stride, finding an apartment and
earning a promotion to crew foreman. "He was deeply proud of getting
sober and was happier than he'd been in a long time," says Walt. "He had
bought an old boat that he parked in our drive and dropped by to work on
at nights. He'd come in and sit and chat with us for a while -- in fact,
the last time I saw him, he was fixing that boat when a friend showed up
to meet him."
Ten miles west of
Easton, meanwhile, in an apartment in Bridgeport, Mike Carlucci was
fixing his head. He'd been up, as best he recalls now, four nights
straight, shooting coke and pounding Percodans by the dozen. His arms
were a spiderwork of needle spikes, he saw people in his closet who
weren't there and would run to the roof in his stocking feet to chase
phantoms with a .38. A former bear of a man at five feet eleven and 265
pounds, he had drugged his way down to 150 and would only leave the
house to resupply. Three or four times a day, friends would stop by to
cop from him, then leave just as quickly as they'd come. No one wanted
to get high with Carlucci, who was, by his own lights, "a miserable son
of a bitch."
twenty-seven then and, though a skilled mechanic, had never worked a day
in his life. Since twelve, he had plied at his chosen vocation, which
was selling dope and punching people senseless. Abandoned by his mother
soon after his birth and raised by a father who worked two jobs -- "He
was around enough to give me a beating," Carlucci says -- he was the
bully of his block in hard-knock Stratford by the time he hit sixth
grade. Such tending as he got came from his father's mother, who died
when Mike was ten. After that, he pretty much did as he liked, and what
he seemed to like best was fighting. He pushed his school principal down
a flight of stairs, shoved a kid's head into a crap-filled toilet and
soon earned a sizable rep with the cops, who arrested him countless
times. Booze was an early accelerant for him -- he started getting drunk
at the age of twelve - then pot, which in turn led him to coke. To the
relief of school officials, he dropped out of high school in the tenth
grade to deal drugs out of his father's house, where he also stashed his
guns. When police raided the place after one of his epic brawls, they
found a stack of crack rocks, a drawer full of cash and a "whole bunch"
of firearms under the bed, including the M-1 machine gun with which, for
drunken fun, he'd shoot out Bridgeport's streetlights.
That night, in the
summer of 1987, after knocking back rounds of straight tequila with a
cousin who'd come to visit, Carlucci heard a scream across the way.
Grabbing a gun, he peeked out the door and heard the woman who lived
next to him cry for help. She was saying she'd been attacked and was
pointing down the hall to the security door that led to the stairs.
Someone on the landing was banging the door with his fists, yelling very
loudly to be let in. Carlucci opened it and aimed his pistol at a tall,
thin kid he didn't know. Though Carlucci and Scott Everett were
neighbors in the building -- and though Everett was pounding because
he'd locked himself out after returning to find his own place burgled --
Carlucci calmly fired away, then walked back down the hall to await the
I had the gun to
his head and said to myself, 'If I pull this trigger, he's going to die
and I'm going to jail for the rest of my life' -- and it didn't even
matter to me. My life was so bad then, I didn't care, so I pulled it and
stepped over him and went in the house."
pauses a moment to saw at his twenty-ounce steak. He is sitting across
the table from Walter Everett in a half-empty chophouse in Berlin,
Connecticut, discussing the act that joined their lives together. A
huge, jowly man who's now a divorced father of one and the manager of a
trucking firm, he chews his food with deliberate care, grunting as he
spears the next bite. "When the cops came in, I had his guts all over
me, but they wouldn't let me go wash up. They put a shirt around my
shoulders and took me in, but I kept nodding out while they asked me
questions. Next morning, they told me they had good news and bad. The
bad news was Scott was dead and I was being charged with first-degree
manslaughter. The good news was my bond was only $50,000, so I called my
daughter's godfather to put up his cabin."
nothing, studying his poached salmon. Through most of three courses, he
has eaten in silence, giving Carlucci the floor. Now and again, he put
in a phrase as Carlucci recounted the jailhouse conversion that
Everett's letter, forgiving him, inspired. He talked about getting on
his knees that night to ask for God's forgiveness, and being answered,
in a loud and cryptic phrase, by a voice from out of the dark. He
further described, with manifest pride, his hard-fought triumph over
drugs and alcohol, and his path to literacy and spiritual attainment
through a Bible course in prison. But at Carlucci's matter-of-fact
mention of the murder itself, Everett's neck colors and his jaw line
stiffens; I all but hear the blood jump in his ears.
"So I'm up in this
cabin in Indian Wells awaiting trial and shooting so much coke I almost
died a bunch of times," Carlucci goes on. "I'd be begging God, 'Please
don't let me die, I'll never do this again' -- then forty minutes later,
I'm feeling better, I stick another needle in my arm. It's like I always
tell people: 'I didn't get arrested, I got rescued. God wasn't done with
me yet.' " He stops here to carve himself a hunk of sweet potato pie.
Everett has gone as pink as his entree.
"And during that
time," I ask, "were you thinking about the damage you had done to this
man and his family?"
his fork and sits up tall, fastening me with a glare. "Well, not just
his family -- my family, too," he says. "My family was just as important
as his. I needed to make amends with them, too."
"How did you go
about doing that?" I ask.
Carlucci turns to
Everett, who meets his stare with a steady, neutral gaze. This further
serves to pique Carlucci's quick-start ire, which looms, suddenly, in
the air between us.
"I feel that every
time I do these interviews, I'm [making amends]," he says with a grunt.
"I don't like talking about it, and for you to get that personal and not
even know me, I should tell you to fucking take a hike. I don't owe you
nothing -- I owe it to myself and my recovery."
"And to Walter?"
"Well, of course,"
he snaps. "This is the man who taught me how to be human, gave me the
opportunity to get my life back. What he did was unconditional love."
I try asking it
another way. "Did being forgiven open you up to what you'd done that
bristles at the allusion to murder. During the dozens of appearances he
has made with Everett (they speak several times a year in schools and
churches), he takes pains to stress that he's not a killer but rather a
man who once, long ago, killed. "Asking God to forgive me opened me up,"
he says. "I'm a very spiritual person and know God saved me for a
reason. God put Walter in my life, and maybe someday I'll find out why."
Having tried now,
and failed, a half-dozen times to elicit rue from Carlucci, I repair to
higher ground. "If someone came along and killed your daughter, do you
think you'd be able to forgive him?"
He allows himself
a jaded nod, having seen the question march up Main Street. "I'd like to
think I'd have the courage to subside that anger, but to be honest with
you, I don't know. I don't understand how Walt was able to, and I was
suspicious in the beginning. But he kept showing up as a genuine person,
and he's been there every minute, steady and constant. And, meanwhile, I
killed his son, but yet he saved my life -- how many people would do
It is one thing,
after being horribly wronged, to forswear vengeance against the offender
and sue, instead, for peace. We have all been harmed, in greater and
lesser measure, by the transgressive act of another and know how
wasteful rage can be in its militant call to arms. But it is another
thing entirely to bridge the gap and cultivate the person who did us
harm, to insist upon his full humanity as a creature of moral worth. And
it is yet a third thing when the recipient of that gesture doesn't seem
too terribly sorry or in any great rush to bow and scrape.
"What I'd say,"
says Everett, in defense of Carlucci, "is that we all do penance our own
way. Mike's is giving public accounts [of his crime], and I know it
pains him to do so. It takes him back to a stage in his life that he
doesn't want to remember -- yet he's said he'll go anywhere, at any
time, to keep someone from going down that path."
We are talking
over lunch at a regrettable Greek diner not far from Everett's church in
West Hartford. In his spare, even cadence, the pastor has spent much of
the hour explaining that forgiveness is an act of will, not an epiphanic
favor from on high. It is sourced in the victim's wish to heal and has
little or nothing to do with his faith in God or his political
orientation. Indeed, in some cases, it even omits the offender, who
either spurns the survivor's offer or who was never brought to justice
in the first place.
"If I do something
to harm you and say I'm sorry, but you say, 'Sorry, that doesn't cut
it,' then I begin to heal and you're stuck," says Everett. "By the same
token, if you say I forgive you and I say, 'I don't need it,' then I'm
the one who's stuck and you can heal. But if both things happen, then
you can have a reconciliation: the coming together of two people after a
Though he is
speaking, in broad terms, about rapprochement, not just about the link
between murderer and survivor, what comes to mind chiefly is his bond
with Carlucci. They have what Everett calls a "deep-going friendship,"
though they see each other mainly now at speaking gigs and the
occasional lunch or dinner. Asked what the basis of that friendship is
and which of them has more at stake in it, Everett waves the question
off, saying that he and Carlucci saved each other's lives. "I've done
some things for Mike, as I'm sure he'd tell you, but what I did was in
the spirit of my own healing. As I told you before, I was very badly
lost once, and it was only through his penance that I healed."
He backs up a
moment, stipulating that these are his views, not ones I should ascribe
to MVFR. Many of its members want no part of the killer or have found
the killer hostile to their plea. Everett joined the organization, in
1998, because of its respect for "human life, even the life of someone
who has killed." It gave his "grief and struggle" a purpose, he says -
the elimination of the death penalty in his lifetime. Other groups play
their part in that cause: the defense attorneys who focus on trial
errors; the church groups arguing the sanctity of life. But alone among
its comrades, MVFR has the bona fides to speak out for survivors, saying
that their burden is freighted, not eased, by the state's enactment of
"And where," I
ask, "does Mike fit in there?"
Everett beams like
a Christian with four aces. "I was speaking at a local high school
recently and listing some of the reasons I oppose the death penalty.
Someone said, 'Well, that's fine and good, but what if it happened to
someone in your family?' I said, 'I'm glad you asked that question. Let
me tell you my story.' "
Everett on a lot of school visits, and it's easy to imagine the
impression Mike makes on a bunch of jaded kids. There is a power that
murderers wield over the imaginations of others that isn't strictly
measurable in words. Linda White, the housewife turned professor in
Texas, talked about the "negative reach" of killers, their ability, for
instance, to haunt survivors' dreams. Kate Lowenstein, the daughter of
the New York congressman, described to me the terror in which she'd
lived as a child, though the man who had shot her father was locked
away. What I'd heard, in each of their vivid stories, was an effort to
take back power from death and vest it where it belonged, with the
living. Determined to turn suffering to account -- to wrest from it
something of lasting value and make it available to others -- Everett,
White and Lowenstein had somehow rebuilt themselves in the process and
were now stronger, truer versions of who they'd been. For most people,
murder is the end of the story; for these three, it was just the
Rolling Stone, June 24, 2004
© Rolling Stone LLC 2004 - All Rights Reserved. Broadcast by Permission