The Strange Side of Compassion

“So, how did it actually feel to have dinner with a serial killer?” my colleague at the law firm asked. Shuffling depositions between color tabbed manila folders, I quickly changed the topic to billable hours for a client.

I’d avoided this topic for so many years. Even when an author asked permission to use the story in his mystery book, my voice cracked and the phone in my hand shook.

How could my dad have represented a known murderer? Especially one that killed women? Was “insanity” really his defense?

These are the questions that I asked as I walked away from my colleague at the firm that day. I wish I had been old enough and brave enough to answer these questions when I was in middle school, when all of this happened. Seeing one’s dad on television with a mugshot of a murderer in an orange jump suit in the upper right hand corner of a newscast doesn’t quite make for suitable after-school entertainment.

I knew my father to be one heck of an attorney in other areas, but criminal law took my childhood to an entirely different level. One day my dad finally sat me down and explained that he had no choice but to represent this villain because the law mandated that he have legal counsel and my dad was assigned by the county. I guess you could say that fate just happened to land in his lap, and so did a lesson on forgiveness.

As the months rolled on, time seemed to drag by and then speed up rapidly like a temperamental roller coaster. I was granted permission to attend the closing arguments of the trial. To see my father in action that day was something out of a movie. He always kept the courtroom packed, but this case was on everyone’s “must-watch list” across several states.

I watched my father pace the floor in front of the jury, and towards the end, a single tear fell from his eye. My dad was not the crying kind. I thought to myself that he must have really been sad for this insane man. Obviously, he lost the case. But what happened at the dinner table was still etched in my mind.

The phone rang and I heard my mother say: “You want me to do what? Are you sure? Ok, fine.” Swiftly she started cooking an entire thanksgiving meal. I thought we were having a party. I ran to my closet and pulled out a dress and sat at the table, only to be ushered away by her. Suddenly, a big van pulled up. I peered over the table and saw police officers standing outside, two ladies walking with a guard towards the door and then it happened: Two shackled feet planted firmly on the ground covered slightly by a sea of orange. It was him. The murderer came to a meal.

His mother was dying of cancer, his sister was not handling the trial well, and both would not make it to the end. My dad had arranged with the prison and court system his own version of “The Last Supper” for the client and his family at our own home.

If a mass murderer of women came to your house, would Jesus be at the table, and more importantly, would you?

At a young age, I learned compassion and empathy on a level that I’ve never seen again. To treat a criminal like a human being isn’t new to me. What is new is the treatment of human beings like criminals. I don’t believe that is on God’s menu.

We don’t have to physically kill people. We are doing a great job of that with our mouths. Would you eat with yourself in the dining room? Words are often more powerful than weapons as we know them.

Forgiveness comes in the most mysterious ways, and sometimes it takes the shock of electricity piercing through a man’s veins as he cries out to God to save his soul in order for us to take a look at ours. I think of Jesus’s words to the criminal hanging on the cross next to him at Calvary: “This day you will be with me in paradise.”

Strength and compassion were on the menu the night I dined with a serial killer. Even though that’s not what I ordered, God knew that one day I would need them both. Not condoned, but still convicted, without the condemnation.

Natasha Stevens is passionate about humanitarian efforts ranging from empowering girls and women through education, writing, counseling, and speaking engagements, to hands on mission work in various places, including the eradication of forced child labor and early marriage through human trafficking. She loves a hearty laugh in summer gardens as much as a healthy bowl of oats in winter. She enjoys interacting with people from all walks of life, giving back where needed, and ministering the love and grace of Jesus without a title.