The Day After the State Killed Her Only Son
I don’t remember ever talking before to the mother of a condemned killer, certainly not after she’d spent the previous night counting down the hours to her son’s execution.
“I’m in bad shape, but we can chat for a few minutes,” Inge Lochrie says as we talk in the late afternoon Tuesday. It has been 15 hours since her son, Tom Thompson, was executed for the 1981 murder of Ginger Fleischli, and Lochrie has had little sleep. “I don’t wish what I went through last night on anyone in the world,” she says.
On Monday night, when it was painful to watch the clock ticking toward her son’s midnight execution, but impossible not to, Lochrie sat in her home in Orange, surrounded by about 15 friends and her daughter, Lisa, and prepared for her son’s death. Thompson had forbidden his mother to attend his date with fate and insisted his sister stay with her.
“We all sat and talked and watched the clock and the news,” Lochrie says. “These are all very close people, all who know and love Tom. As the hour approached, Lisa and I grabbed each other around the neck and cried our hearts out, and all the people came up to us and they all put their hands on us. Everyone was very tearful, because it was so final.”
Lochrie never imagined that she’d be in such a place, waiting for the clock to strike 12:01 a.m.--the standard hour for executions--and that her son would be the object of widespread hatred. She’d never even given much thought to capital punishment before her only son was accused of rape and murder 17 years ago.
On Tuesday, when the light of a new dawn only reinforced the reality that the state had executed her son, Lochrie was still grappling with emotions, as she has for years. “It’s not over for me, because I have such anger,” she says. “I feel it’s so unjust. I feel our country has let him down.”
To his last breath, Thompson professed innocence. I ask Lochrie if she thinks her son could have or would have confessed such a heinous deed to her: “Absolutely. If he had done it, before he died, he would have said it, for sure. . . . If he had, I would have still loved him as a mother, but I know he didn’t kill this girl.”
She knows, of course, that prosecutors, jurors and many others are convinced of Thompson’s guilt. Though in the beginning she was horrified by the crime and the allegations, she believed her son was innocent, and nothing at the trial proved otherwise, she says. Over the years, Lochrie found rays of hope in outsiders who came to agree, even as his execution date neared. She maintained hope, up to the last few hours, that a federal appeals court would stay the execution, as it had a year ago.
In the end, the moment she had feared for the 15 years since her son’s conviction finally came. At 12:06 a.m., authorities said, Thompson was dead.
“He and I talked, and I said, ‘Tom, if you don’t get a stay tonight, you’re going to be free, in a much better place.’ He said, ‘Mom, I order you to take care of yourself and to take a walk down to the end of the block. I’ll be looking over you.’ ”
Lochrie, 67 and afflicted with leukemia for six years, last saw her son a year ago. Her doctor said her prison visits weakened her, so she and Tom “said goodbye” in person then.
“We feel good, in that he died with dignity,” Lochrie says. “I told him in our last conversation, ‘Tom, I’m so proud of you.’ ”
Lochrie expresses deep sympathy for the Fleischli family and its friends, but reserves unbridled contempt for Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren and Gov. Pete Wilson for doing nothing to spare her son’s life. She notes that Thompson was especially close to two nieces, ages 7 and 17, both of whom are “severely damaged” by his execution.
Now that the uncertainty over her son’s fate is over at least, Lochrie, whose husband died eight years ago, says she will move on. “I’m a very strong person,” she says, but “I’m the weakest right now I’ve ever been.”
She thinks efforts might continue to someday clear her son’s name. She’s convinced that David Leitch, Fleischli’s former boyfriend and her son’s roommate when the murder occurred, killed Fleischli. Leitch was linked to the crime and charged with second-degree murder. He went to prison and is now eligible for parole.
Mindful that her form of leukemia can claim victims within 10 years, Lochrie says her life has taken on a new purpose. “I can’t bring Tom back. All I can do is try and help anyway I can to change the [capital punishment] law. I’m sick and I don’t have a lot of time to devote to it, but I’m very much against the death penalty for what it does to everyone concerned.”
Ginger Fleischli’s family and friends have said for years that the execution would provide closure for them. I ask Lochrie if, in some odd way, she now has closure too.
“Today is Day One of the beginning of the rest of my life,” Lochrie says, “because I’ve suffered as a mother for 17 years. At night, I’d wake up and think of him in small quarters and all the indignities you go through as a prisoner. A mother always looks back and thinks about how bad he really does have it. I know now he’s not a prisoner, and he is free.”
Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to email@example.com.