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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

06-16 Dayton Daily

Forgiveness Is Her Focus
Woman Befriends Parents’ Killers, Opposes Death Penalty

By Mary McCarty

Sue Norton never hated anyone in her life until her parents were killed in their rural Oklahoma farmhouse for $61 and a beaten-up truck.
“Everyone who talked to me said, “Killing is too good for this person.’ Everyone was showing hate and expecting me to hate. But that hate was terrible.
Norton then began a difficult journey of forgiveness that led her to befriending the killer and becoming an advocate against the death penalty.
She came through Dayton on Tuesday as part of the Journey of Hope, a two-week tour by slaying victims’ families who are speaking out against the death penalty.
She told her story at a noon rally at Dave Hall Plaza attended by more than 100 death-penalty opponents and picketed by a dozen supporters.
Shortly after the trial, Norton visited the convicted killer, Robert Knighton, in prison.
“I don’t hate you,” she told him.
“You should; you’d be better off,’ he responded.
She put her hand through the cell bars and said, “If you are guilty, I forgive you.’ I prayed for God’s will to be done in his life and for God’s will to be shown to him.”
She looked up to see a single tear on his face.
It was the beginning of a friendship that continues to this day. Norton frequently visits Knighton, who she calls B.K., on death row at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester – a four hour drive from her home in Arkansas City, Kansas.
B.K.’s friendship and conversion to Christianity has comforted Norton even as it has baffled some of her own friends, family members and fellow homicide survivors.
“People thought I had lost my mind, but I have found it. I have the peace that comes from doing God’s will. If I ever have a question about the right thing to do, I think about what Jesus would have done. I know he would have forgiven and reached out and wrapped his arms around B.K.”
Crime can be prevented by reaching out to children in need and by treating prisoners humanely and preparing them for life after prison, Norton believes.
Beyond that, and despite all the naysayers, Norton must do what she believes is right. “If I don’t speak out against the death penalty, I’ll feel as if I have B.K.’s blood on my hands, just like the blood I have cleaned from my parent’s home.”
The pickets, members of a support group for homicide survivors, marched quietly on the sidewalk throughout the hour-long rally. One wore a black executioner’s hood and carried a sign reading, “The death penalty saves lives.”
The pickets said their beliefs are more representative of victims’ families. “I feel they have the right to freedom of speech, but I don’t understand their opinion,” said Wanda Lai, the widow of Billy Lai, slain in 1992 while working at Schear’s Marketplace downtown. “It’s very puzzling to me. I can never forget. My anger is never going to go away.”