Good Afternoon your Honor, Mr. Beaderstat, Mr. McAuliffe, Anne Hensley and Mr. Komie.

Beyond words, well beyond mortal reason. Where white light and white noise Meet the howl of my wounded dying soul There is much despair and the primal animal passion of loss. Few words, Fewer yet to listen To the mourner’s tale Of journey & voyage beyond what I once was & further still to what I must become. This haunted wooded place has been, has become my sanctuary. Though there is little comfort here. The sound of breakage echos in the dark recesses of my mind …………….my soul. The cold wind shaking barren branches slowly warms & calms to a gentler breeze through new green leaves. This place absorbs my anger, my hate, and my hopelessness. My energy is spent exploring this forest. There is no sudden escape & no hope of rescue. I must navigate this on my own. Sometimes I run expecting to break free. Sometimes I merely run without purpose. Seeking only exhaustion and the troubled sleep that follows. Now I walk. Sometimes in strength, Sometimes with muscles protesting each movement. I live in the barrenness of this nightmare Despite its harshness on my mind, body and soul. I survived the early nights in the depth of winter. Too early for joy. The spring is unstable yet and kills the unwary. But I watch what there is to see, listen to the sounds of life insistent above the din of death. I know the way out. I know also it is too early for me to leave

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The shelter this hell provides. I’ve lessons yet to learn, strength yet to gain & wounds not sufficiently healed to withstand the light of day. I’ve something of what I intended. What I am living is life and death. I will not understand more until I face my own physical death. I cannot see more clearly than I do now. The duties and demands of living will pull my attention away. The forest will recede and I wither away if I stay beyond my time. But for now, I am a forest creature. I am free Loneliness is one cost of such freedom – others are less severe. I am a young man with old eyes… an old soul. It would have been easier to face my own death. I was powerless and unable to prevent their deaths. I am ashamed of my impotence, my own frailty, my inability to save my family. I know of no other way to survive this fact Other than to be broken by it. When I began writing this poem it was a calm, cool spring evening after a mild, sunny day. Now the winds are howling. Hurricane force gusts are expected. The windows whistle. The house shakes. The foundation groans. The leaves are not yet on the tress and their branches rattle like brittle bones. Things left unattended today are blown into the night to haunt me in my dreams.

Mr. Depner, I have forgiven you for killing my family. If you are a praying man, then next time you say your prayers, you should thank God. It is because of God that I have forgiven. If your forgiveness was left up to me, then it never would have happened. In fact, I have moments when I hate myself for forgiving you. I don’t understand how or why I forgave you. It makes me feel weak that I did; that somehow, I have failed my family or have shirked my responsibility as father and husband. This act of forgiveness leaves a vile, wretched taste in my mouth, but it’s something I had to do. It’s far better than the cold, dank, bottomless, black hatred I felt for you during the months immediately after the accident.

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That hatred led me to the very cusp of suicide. I know that without forgiveness I would not be able to survive, much less get on with my life. However, that does not make forgiving you any easier. Mr. Depner, you killed my wife, Eva Marie Burleson, my son, Daniel James Burleson & my daughters, Tiffany Nicole Burleson and Dallis Leigh Burleson. I vividly remember when the doctor in the ER told me that my family had been killed. He said my family did not suffer. I don’t think Eva and Tiffany suffered physically; Eva and Tiff died instantly. Yet, what were their last thoughts in that second before you drove your minivan through my family? What were your last thoughts before the accident, Mr. Depner? Do you remember or were you too drunk to realize what was happening right before your eyes? My son, DJ, laid in a puddle of his own blood, alone in the middle of Rt. 120: gurgling, fighting for his life; a hole in his head large enough to accommodate a human fist. My daughter, Dallis, lay pinned in my microbus, struggling to breathe, fighting for her life. What did you do that night Mr. Depner? You called your wife on your cell phone. Did you ask Mrs. Depner to call 911? No, you did not. You asked her to call your lawyer. Then you lit a cigarette and smoked it while my family lay shattered, broken and dying all around you. Did you look down at my son and just walk away? Why didn’t you call 911 then? What would you expect someone to do if that was one of your family members lying there, instead of my son? I have nightmares about Daniel and Dallis. I see Daniel ejected from my VW microbus. I see the look on his face when Daniel realizes that he is about to die. I watch Daniel hit the concrete. I hear the crunch of his skull. Suddenly, I am standing over Daniel, looking down at him, watching the blood pour out of my son’s head. The last vision I have is standing in a puddle of Daniel’s blood. I wake up screaming, covered in sweat. I watch Dallis struggle to free herself. I can read her thoughts. Dallis does not understand why her mommy and daddy are not there to help her, to save her, to stop the pain. The last thought Dallis has before she dies is: Do my mommy and daddy love me? Once again, I wake up screaming, covered in sweat. In July of 2001, Mr. Depner, you mailed a letter to the Daily Herald explaining your socalled innocence. In the letter, you made the following statements: 1. You saved my life by pulling me from my microbus. 2. You smelled alcohol on my breath. 3. There was a can of beer between my legs. 4. You were ordered by the McHenry Cty. Sheriff’s Police to not mention any of these supposed facts. 5. You accused me of having an alcohol and drug arrest on my record. And finally, 6. That you are a good man.

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All these statements are false. They are lies. Are these the actions of a caring, and good man? No, these are the actions of a cold, callous, hateful man; a man that has no regard for anyone even if that person is lying in a puddle of their own blood, with bones protruding through torn flesh. Mr. Depner, you are a man that is only concerned with himself. Mr. Depner, you have destroyed my family, my wife’s family and your own family. It is time you are held accountable for your actions. Please do not mistake my forgiving you as a plea or grounds for leniency; I still believe you should receive the maximum penalty for your actions. I hope prison is hard and it breaks you. I hope that it breaks you to the point that you will personally accept responsibility for killing my family and feel some remorse about committing such a heinous act. Your Honor, please sentence Mr. Depner to the maximum allowed under the law. We both know that is not justice. However, anything less would be an injustice to everyone but especially to Eva, Daniel, Tiffany and Dallis.

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