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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

10-01 The Courier

ABA GAYLE, whose 19-year-old daughter was murdered in 1980

A Mother’s Message of Forgiveness
By: John Graber
    BLUFFTON --- Aba Gayle got a “funny feeling” one fall day in 1980.
    The Auburn, Calif. Woman couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but something just wasn’t right, so she left work and went home to lay down.  That’s when she got a phone call from someone in the local sheriff’s office, telling Gayle that her 19-year-old daughter, Catherine Blount, had been murdered.
    “That was the moment I started my journey of darkness,” Gayle said Tuesday to a packed audience at Bluffton College’s Yoder Recital Hall.
    She was there to tell her story of faith and forgiveness for Douglas Mickey, the man convicted of killing Catherine.  She was there to speak out against the death penalty --- for her daughter’s killer or anyone else.
    “I know that having another person murdered would do nothing to honor Catherine’s memory,” Gayle said.
    She is spreading her message during a 17-day speaking tour of Ohio called “Journey of Hope,” sponsored by the Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation.  She will speak in Findlay on Thursday.
    Gayle spent Monday, the 20th anniversary of Catherine’s death, speaking to seven different groups of students.
    Catherine was stabbed to death, along with her boyfriend Eric, at a peach ranch where they were living.
    The killer’s motivation wasn’t real clear, but it apparently involved a drug-induced paranoia, Gayle said.  Mickey was out to kill the boyfriend, Eric, and Catherine just happened to be there, she said.
    A man who drove Mickey to the ranch eventually told police his story.  Mickey was tracked down in Japan, convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
    Gayle felt very alone.  Her other son and daughter were both away at medical schools, and her husband (not Catherine’s father) got the mourning out of his system and told her he wanted to go on with their lives.     
    But “I went through all of the normal stages of grieving,” Gayle said.
    She cried, made her way through the denial period, and got stuck in anger.
    She talked to survivors of other murder victims and learned they had all been promised the same things from the legal authorities; the murderer would be found, convicted and put to death.
    “That’s the magic bullet they promised us, that we were going to have closure,” she said.
    She liked that, until she took a couple of classes on meditation and miracles.
    One of the class speakers was a Jewish man who had come to forgive the guards at the Nazi death camps where most of his family was killed during World War II.
    “I thought, ‘Wow!’ “ she said.  “If I could do that, then maybe, and it was a very, very small maybe, I could forgive the person who killed my Catherine.”
    She thought she had obtained that forgiveness until she got a newspaper clipping in the mail saying Mickey was to be put to death.
    All of the anger and “lust for revenge” poured back into her as she demanded to be at the execution.
    It was a mistake; Mickey was not scheduled to be executed yet.
    Then one night, driving home, she heard a voice telling her that she must forgive Mickey and she must tell him.
    After a sleepless night, Gayle found herself at her computer around 4 a.m. writing Mickey a letter.
    She started by introducing him to Catherine.
    “Twelve years ago, I had a beautiful daughter named Catherine,” she wrote.  “She was a young woman of unusual talent and intelligence.  She was slender and her skin glowed with health and vitality.  She had long, naturally wavy hair that framed hair sparkling eyes and warm, bright smile.  She radiated love and joy!”
    She went on to tell Mickey that she had forgiven him.
    “This does not mean that I think you are innocent or that you are blameless for what happened,” she wrote.  “What I learned is this: You are a divine child of God.  You carry the Christ consciousness within you.  You are surrounded by God’s love, even as you sit in your cell.  There is no devil.  There is only goodness of God.  The Christ in me sends blessings to the Christ in you.”
    The letter made a little clicking sound when it went in the e-mail mailbox.
    “When I heard that click, all the anger, all of the rage, all of the lusting for revenge, all of the ugliness in my life I experienced for the last 12 years was gone, and I was filled with the most glorious feeling,” she said.
    Mickey wrote back and soon Gayle found herself visiting him in prison.
    “I looked around the (visiting) room and I was surprised because I didn’t see a single monster,” she said.  “They were ordinary men.”
    The two walked and cried together, and she realized that she did not want Mickey put to death.
    That is when she began speaking out against capital punishment.  She believes everybody can be rehabilitated.
    She also figures she doesn’t stand a chance in getting the death sentence overturned.  Too many politicians use capital punishment as a campaign tool to show they are “tough on crime,” she said.
    Joel Koerner, 18, a freshman at Bluffton College from Kalona, Iowa, was moved by Gayle’s story.
    “It’s very difficult to comprehend, but I think the only way to reach that level of forgiveness is through the power of God,” he said.
    Koerner said he already opposed the death penalty; Gayle reinforced his beliefs.
    “I think there is something terribly wrong with the justice system when the relative of the person who was murdered has no say in the punishment,“ Koerner said.
    Gayle was invited to speak Tuesday by college officials.  Bluffton College is connected to the Mennonite Church, which opposes the death penalty, said Steve Shenk, public relations director for the college.
    “We want to introduce students to a variety of viewpoints,” Shenk said.
    Gayle will speak in Findlay on Thursday from noon to 1:30 p.m. at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church, 120 W. Sandusky St.  The brown bag lunch talk is sponsored by St. Andrew’s and Howard United Methodist Church.
    For more information on Gayle’s story, visit her Web site on the Internet at