So, no, even though I’ve ingested more fried foods so far this Chanukah than a carny on a lunch break, this post isn’t about more latkes or Krispy Kremes. It’s a doozy, I’m warning you.
My holiday spirit has dampened a bit this week since I found out that the Arizona Supreme Court has finally been asked to set an execution date for Donald Beaty.
Yes, I said “finally.”
Donald Beaty has been in prison since 1986 for raping and killing a 13 year-old girl named Christy Ann Fornoff. In the spring semester of 1984 at Connolly Junior High, Christy was the new girl. I remember walking into the band room with my awkwardly-sized French horn case and being overjoyed to see a smiling blond girl in tube socks sitting in my section. Not only was I not going to be the only nerd on the French horn anymore, I had a new friend who cracked jokes about the band teacher’s toupee and could tell the difference between “staccato” and “legato.” We sat next to each for a few months before I asked her if she wanted to sleep over at my house. She grinned her gap-tooted grin and said “Sure!” My mother called her mother and made the arrangements.
Before the weekend came, Christy disappeared. She and her mother were collecting money for her paper route in an apartment complex close to school, and suddenly, she was just gone. Donald Beaty, the complex janitor and a known sexual deviant, grabbed Christy in the few minutes she was out of her mother’s sight, raped her, suffocated her and stored her body in his apartment for two days. During that time he made a big show of “helping” the police search for Christy, going door-to-door with them and showing his concern that something so terrible would happen on his watch. He snuck her body behind a Dumpster to be discovered, feigning surprise. Before the police completed their investigation that led straight to Beaty, the sicko actually attended Christy’s funeral and shook her father’s hand.
It was my first funeral, and the first time I’d ever been in a Catholic church. I felt really awkward, not knowing if I should kneel like everyone else, wondering if my prayers would still reach Christy or if only the ones to Jesus counted. I sat with my classmates, our eyes red and reflecting a fear that hadn’t been there before. Back at school we made memorials to Christy and got excused from class to cry in the hall. When the police arrested Beaty, we cut out the newspaper articles to save. We followed the trial every night on the news, and when he was convicted and sentenced to death, we cheered.
In the years after that, I admit, I got caught up in adolescence and only thought about Christy when her closer friends reminded us of her birthday or the anniversary of her murder. I still played the French horn, but I got used to being alone behind the trumpet section again. Christy’s brother was a class below me in high school, and he looked so much like her it was like a quick punch in the gut when I passed him in the hall. I left the Phoenix area for college and bailed from Arizona in 1995, and it wasn’t until a Facebook friend posted a beautiful article about her a few months ago that I realized 25 years had gone by since my happy-French Horn-playing friend was murdered in the worst possible way.
Maybe those last paragraphs aren’t entirely true. I’ve never told anyone the following information, and my heart is beating hard just thinking about writing it down. I’ve kept it to myself all these years maybe because I thought no one would believe me, and maybe because it’s so strange and awful that sharing it would bring too much pain to those who loved Christy. I hope it doesn’t, and I don’t see how it helps to tell you, but something is compelling me to get it out. Those of you reading now who knew her, I apologize if this upsets you in any way.
I had a nightmare in the days Christy was missing, when we hoped she was still alive. In trying to describe it, I realize I don’t want to burden you with the images, but in the dream I watched in horrific detail how an unidentified man hurt and smothered Christy while she called for her mother. When I woke up screaming, I knew she was dead. And when the details of Don Beaty’s confession came out in the newspaper, including the use of a sheet as the murder weapon, I knew I had had some kind of hyper-natural experience that allowed me to see Christy’s murder as it had actually happened. I was 13 and it didn’t occur to me to tell anyone then; I was so hoping to be wrong. When her body was found, a kid’s dream wasn’t going to help the police anyway.
I haven’t brought the dream up for total recall in a very long time, and I’ve certainly pushed Donald Beaty’s disgusting mug out of my mind. I suppose I assumed that when the bailiffs led Donald Beaty away in 1986, they took him straight to the electric chair and meted out the court’s justice.
I have always been torn on the subject of capital punishment. As a loud, proud liberal, the thought of an innocent person being put to death by our justice system infuriates me. The Jewish view supports the death penalty in Talmudic theory, but Jews historically oppose it except for extreme circumstances like the execution of Nazi Adolf Eichmann – the only official execution in Israel’s history. The great Jewish scholar Maimonides said “It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.”
But I have not a single doubt that Donald Beaty is guilty of murder. And with the images burned in my consciousness of what I believe to be the actual circumstances under which he killed my friend, I feel no conflict at all in expressing my wish that the State of Arizona fry the cretin as soon as possible. In fact, I’m pissed off for the taxpayers who have been paying for his food and shelter for the last two and half decades.
Perhaps tomorrow I’ll feel differently. If Christy’s parents have found forgiveness and faith in their hearts, perhaps I can, too. They’ve turned their grief inside out to help others whose children have been murdered, creating sanctuaries for spiritual growth and offering respite. They are an inspiration.
To contact the Christy House in the Pines, please call (480) 540-4845 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about the grief and bereavement support groups at the Christy Center for Loss and Renewal, contact Diane Smaw at (480) 775-5202.
May we all come to live in a world where children are safe.