My family and I will always grieve the death of Kelli Hall. Our daughter was just 17 when she was raped and murdered by Jeffrey Ferguson and Kenneth Ousley in February 1989. We were elated when Ferguson was finally given an execution date. Speaking for our family, I told reporters in March 2014, minutes after Missouri officials executed him, “It’s over; thank God.” But it wasn’t.
Several weeks later, our family viewed the documentary “Potosi: God in Death Row” by Lisa Boyd. It features comments from four prisoners, including Ferguson, and The Sons of Thunder, a Christian ministry of motorcyclists who visit prisons offering spiritual support to inmates.
Ferguson conveyed such genuine remorse for the pain he caused both our family and his because of his horrible actions — that we were able to forgive him then and there.
We have since come to deeply regret his execution and appeal to Gov. Jay Nixon, during his final days in office, to commute to life without parole the death sentences of the remaining 25 men awaiting an execution date.
Months after Ferguson was executed, we learned he had also been a leader in the prison’s hospice, GED and restorative justice programs. He participated frequently, for example, as a panelist among prisoners who listened to victims share how crimes had devastated their lives. Such programs allow offenders to better understand the impact of their crimes and promote healing for surviving victims.
We can’t speak for all such victims, but my family wishes we had known of his involvement in these programs and been invited to participate. Through a protective and respectful process, offenders can be a key element in helping crime victims rebuild their fractured lives.
Sadly, one can only imagine. But I’m convinced significant healing would have occurred for us all if our family had engaged in a frank conversation with him at the prison. I wish I had had the chance — consistent with my Christian beliefs — to have told him in person, that I forgave him for what he did to our innocent and precious daughter.
We later learned he was hesitant to reach out to us to express his remorse, worried he’d be inflicting more psychological harm by bothering us and would be seen as exploiting us just to convince officials to spare his life. This in itself would have shown his change as a human being.
Ousley meanwhile, was sentenced to 15 years to life through a plea bargain agreed to by my family. We didn’t want another emotionally draining trial. He admitted in court to his part in the crime but has subsequently denied his involvement at every parole hearing.
Our family believed the myth that Ferguson’s execution would close our emotional wounds. Only time’s passage, we have found, has somewhat lessened the ongoing pain of Kelli’s absence, all the more acutely felt during these holiday seasons. Our sadness is further compounded knowing that Ferguson’s daughters plus other relatives — who had nothing to do with the crimes he committed — also mourn the death of their loved one.
Our family applauds Gov. Nixon for his strong advocacy of restorative justice. The death penalty, however, stands as the concept’s polar opposite, implying that the God-given life of some people is devoid of any value and can justifiably be taken. Our prisons can safely detain those who continue to be a threat.
In this season of joy, goodwill and forgiveness, we urge our governor to show mercy by commuting all the death sentences to life without parole. This would be a true gesture of restorative justice.
Jim Hall resides in St. Charles.