A Mother Clings to Faith, Strives to Forgive Killer


Just four months after Lesley Moreland became a Quaker, she faced an agonizing test of faith.

Moreland got a shattering glimpse of the worst in human nature when her 23-year-old daughter, Ruth, was stabbed to death. But despite sometimes overwhelming grief, she held fast to her Quaker belief in humanity's goodness.

Ruth's 1990 murder set her mother on a decade-long journey that included a jailhouse meeting with the killer and brought Moreland an unlikely new friend--a death row inmate in Texas.

For four years after Ruth's murderer was convicted, Moreland battled Britain's prison bureaucracy for the chance to talk with the man who carved a 4 1/2-inch gash across her daughter's throat.

She wanted a human face and voice to put to the gruesome act. That, she hoped, might let her ease his pain and her own with the balm of forgiveness.

In the Quaker faith, "one of the basic, central tenets . . . is that of God in everyone," she says. "You can't have any exceptions. You can't say, 'Well, that's only in the people that I like or love.'

"It's in everybody, and therefore one of the tasks is to try to ensure that you do try to seek it. . . . It's quite difficult to find in some people."

Moreland says she has not been able to forgive the killer, but she's grateful that their 90-minute meeting in 1995 helped her gain a fuller picture of him as a person, something more than his worst deed.

Her belief in separating the sin from the sinner is central to her lifelong opposition to the death penalty, which was abolished in Britain in the 1960s.

And it helped lead her to a correspondence with another murderer, a man awaiting execution in Texas.

"It just diminishes all of us to actually frame somebody by a single act," she says. "If somebody kills somebody else, they are described as 'murderer'--that is their definition, that is the thing that people focus on, and they block off everything else about that person.

"Obviously, it's a key thing about them, but it isn't the sum total, far from it."

Moreland says her ability to cope with Ruth's death was hindered by knowing so little about the killer, whom she discusses on the condition that his name not be used.

His lawyers said at trial that he was not responsible for Ruth's murder because he was high on LSD when he stabbed her at her home. The jury disagreed and convicted him of murder.

Moreland, 60, attended the entire trial with her husband, Vic, but because the defendant did not testify, she never heard him speak and learned little about his life.

Prison officials dithered for four years while Moreland pressed for a meeting, a campaign she details in her book, "An Ordinary Murder," released in Britain in March. She is seeking a publisher in the U.S.

"I felt he owed me an explanation," says Moreland, who lives just north of London and is a consultant to community groups. "There were things only he knew. . . . Even if it was imperfect, incomplete, I wanted to hear him say what had happened."

More than anything, she wanted to know why he had lashed out at Ruth, whom he knew through her ex-boyfriend and claimed to have liked.

She also felt that the killer, in his early 30s, wouldn't be able to change unless he understood the impact of his act.

When she finally sat across a table from him in a prison office, she told him she'd wept uncontrollably for two years after the murder and described the young niece and nephew Ruth would never meet.

"I cry every night," she quoted the killer as saying in response. "Scared, ashamed, there is no ending. I'm glad you came. What pushed me more was to understand your feelings, what happened to you and your family. I've got to be able to understand that and never let anyone else go through that."

He apologized and made a stumbling effort to explain the swirl of emotions that drove him to violence, she recounts.

In the end, Moreland says, she felt he lacked the self-understanding necessary for her to forgive him, although she does not rule it out for the future.

"I don't bear him ill will . . . I genuinely hope that he does get the support and help that he needs," she says.

Her feelings for another prisoner are far warmer.

Moreland began corresponding with Texan Micheal Richard less than a year after Ruth's death, contacting LifeLines--a British group that finds pen pals for American death row inmates--partly because she wanted to get to know a murderer.

"It was one of those letters that reduces you to silence and wonder that there are people who can react like that," recalls LifeLines' Jan Arriens, who received her request.

Moreland's friendship with Richard, who was convicted of fatally shooting a mother of seven during a burglary, has given her a sometimes painful view of the other side of murder.

Impressed by his maturity and remorse, she testified at his 1995 retrial in Houston and saw his relatives' anguish when a conviction put him one step closer to execution.

The grief of a criminal's family could be just as powerful as the pain of a victim's loved ones, she realized.

"It just broke like a huge tidal wave," she says. "Their anguish was just dreadful."

Later, a friend put her in touch with a daughter of Richard's victim.

Celeste Dixon, a Roman Catholic, decided for religious reasons to forgive Richard for killing her mother. While the rest of her family awaits his execution, she campaigns against the death penalty.

She and Moreland, both touched by murder, have become friends. Dixon says she's glad Moreland's letters have helped ease Richard's time on death row.

"She's doing the same thing I'm doing," Dixon says. "Just trying to make something good out of something incredibly bad."

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