Many times, when somebody is wronged, it is difficult to move past the betrayal. It is even tougher to forgive. Roy and Jeanie Willmon were pushed to their limits, having their faith and ability to forgive stretched beyond recognition.
In April 1995, the Willmons’ lives were turned upside down. Their daughter Carla, a 20-year-old junior attending Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas was kidnapped by two men from the Walmart parking lot.
The two men tormented, and raped her, ultimately taking the young woman’s life. The suspects shoved her lifeless body into the trunk of her car with the intention of going to a remote area and burning her body.
However, the car became stuck in the mud in the ditch along one of the dirt roads they traveled. The men had then planned on burning the car with Carla in it, but a car turned down the road and they realized the area was too populated.
A few days after the murder, one of the suspects turned himself in, implicating the other man in the grisly crime.
Willmon said the eight month span between the arrests and the trial were excruciating to handle.
“The eight months before the trial dates were months of bitterness and hatred, filled with a determination to seek revenge through a death sentence for each murderer,” Willmon said in a speech in front of a church congregation.
However, the morning of the trial saw one of the suspects – Patric Patterson – changing his plea, possibly in a ploy to save his own skin. He changed his plea to guilty and agreed to testify against his accomplice, Mitchell Skinner, in an attempt to take the death penalty off the table.
Patterson’s plea postponed Skinner’s trial for a month to give the defense ample time to prepare after Patterson flipped the script and pled guilty.
On the morning of the second trial, Skinner would follow Patterson’s footsteps and pled guilty in exchange for a life without parole sentence.
Willmon said he and his wife agreed to the deals, and he ultimately believed God’s hand orchestrated the plea deals. “Perhaps it was God’s Spirit intervening to keep us from having to sit through the gory details of the trial or perhaps God was simply using that moment to set the stage for the transforming of four lives through the transforming power of forgiveness,” Willmon said.
Even though Willmon thought he forgave the two criminals for taking his daughter from him, he realized he actually had not, he was still harboring hatred. Eventually, 20 years after the murder of his daughter, Willmon truly forgave Patterson and Skinner for their heinous act that changed multiple people’s lives on that fateful night.
In 2015, Willmon wrote to both inmates who were incarcerated at two different locations in Arkansas, and told them he forgave them. He also offered to correspond through mail with them, if they wanted to learn the word of God.
Even though both men were hesitant at the time, eventually, they began learning the word of God. Willmon said the inmates both were baptized and “transformed into lights of instruments” of God’s kingdom.
Willmon continues to correspond with both inmates bi-weekly, and watches their faith grow. Both inmates are leaders of the Christian faith in their respective prisons.
Willmon will speak at the Madill Church of Christ on October 6 to present his road to forgiveness. The event begins at 10:30 a.m.