Isonhood lives with the regret of sending man to his death

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

“Let history be your judge.”

That was the message scribbled before Lindy Lou Isonhood moments before she decided whether or not to send a man to his death.

Days before, the Yazoo County native was planning for her church’s Bible school. Now she sat as Juror No. 2 in the sentencing trial of Bobby Glen Wilcher, who was convicted of stabbing two women more than 20 times each on a deserted, wooded road in Scott County.

Unfamiliar with the legal system and provided with what she says was erroneous information, she reluctantly agreed to giving Wilcher the death penalty. It’s a decision she regrets every day.

“He wasn’t a prince of a person, but he was still a human being,” she said. “Who am I? How am I so much better than him that I can pass judgement.”

In an instant, Lindy Lou went from thinking that it was an “eye for an eye” to mercy and forgiveness. Her stance on capital punishment isn’t the issue. It is the aftermath that remained with her after sentencing a man to death.

“You don’t send a man to be killed and just come home and wash the dishes,” she said. “Life is never the same. How can anyone be equipped to reach a verdict that a person should die?”

Lindy Lou was living in Florence, preparing for Bible school, when she received the summons to serve on the sentencing jury for Wilcher. Wilcher, who was 19 at the time of the murders, stabbed Katie Bell Moore and Velma Odell Noblin after they gave him a ride home from a Forest bar in 1982.

Wilcher had been on a drug and alcoholic bender the days leading up to the double-homicide. His daughter had been taken away from him, and he was labeled as a “trouble maker who never had a chance.”

Now it was 1994. And it was time for a jury to determine what punishment would be given to Wilcher.

“It was a change of venue case and an important one,” Lindy Lou said. “I went thinking I wouldn’t be selected. So, as about 200 people filled that courtroom, I began reading a magazine.”

But Lindy Lou would soon become Juror No. 2. And her life would change.

“The death penalty is an unspoken thing in Mississippi,” she said. “It’s just something people don’t talk about. It’s almost the norm to say that if a person murders a person, they automatically get the death penalty. But now here I was, sitting on a jury.”

As the trial progressed, Lindy Lou entered a world she was unfamiliar with. Photographs of the victims, left with around 20 stab wounds a piece, were put before her. Wilcher’s attorneys, who were assigned as public defenders ten days prior, remained silent for the most part. The mood was tense.

Then something changed.

“On the third day, I looked directly over at Bobby,” she said. “He was silent, not showing remorse. He never looked at the jury. But something changed in me. He was a living, breathing human being.”

Lindy Lou did not begin to see him as innocent. Rather, she saw him as a person. He had black hair, a moustache and dark eyes. And the weight of the world fell on her as she realized his life was in her hands.

“I started to think about my own son,” she said. “If that was my son, I knew he would need to be punished. But I wouldn’t want him put to death. I began to wonder if we could give him life without parole. I simply did not want to have a hand in his death.”

Based on what she said was inaccurate information, Lindy Lou said the court led her to believe life without parole wasn’t a possibility. The only conclusion the jury could agree on was the death penalty.

“As the sentence was read out, I was standing right in front of Bobby,” Lindy Lou said. “If I had turned around, I could have reached out and touched him. It was that close.”

Lindy Lou left that courtroom and headed straight to her pastor’s office. Yet, life went on.

But as signs of anger, depression and anxiety began to consume Lindy Lou, a therapist would soon diagnose her with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

More than a decade later, one of Wilcher’s attorneys contacted Lindy Lou. It was time for some closure.

“I told him to tell Bobby that I was sorry,” she said. “And to please forgive me for sending him to death.”

Shortly afterwards, a letter arrived in Lindy Lou’s mailbox. It was a letter from Wilcher. The tone was friendly but anxious.

“The letter said he had dropped all his appeals and that he was ready to die,” she said. “He said Parchman was hell, but he didn’t want me to feel guilty. I knew then that I needed to visit Bobby before he was executed. I wanted to personally ask him to forgive me for my hand in his death.”

Two months later, Lindy Lou was staring across from the man she helped sentence to death. He was close to 400-pounds, and oddly had a sense of humor. Through a secure glass visitation chamber, she asked for forgiveness.

“He said, ‘I forgive you,’” Lindy Lou said. “He said, ‘you didn’t put me in here. I put myself in here.’”

Wilcher was scheduled to be executed on July 16. Lindy Lou left her visit with him two hours before a lethal injection would be stuck in his arm. But then, a stay of execution at 5:58 p.m. arrived.

“He called me, so upset that they didn’t kill him,” Lindy Lou said. “I told him that God wasn’t finished with him yet. I used it as an opportunity to minister to him. I wanted him to know he had some kind of self-worth.”

Wilcher never admitted to the killings to Lindy Lou, and she never asked. On Oct. 18, 2006 after a last meal of fried shrimp and a phone call to Lindy Lou, Wilcher was executed at Parchman.

Later, Lindy Lou would run into the chaplain who visited with Wilcher leading up to his execution during a random visit to Missouri.

“Looking back, I think God had a hand in this,” she said. “Of all people to run into, this happened.”

Lindy Lou’s story caught the attention of French filmmaker Florent Vassault, who wanted to make a documentary to put a face to a juror after the trials are over, the sentences are given and life is expected to return to normal.

After a few years and even a film that was confiscated by Parchman officials who Lindy Lou said “thought the film would smear Parchman,” the documentary is making its way across the country and world.

“Lindy Lou: Jury No. 2” will air on PBS Monday night at 9 p.m. The airing will fall on July 16, the day Wilcher was initially scheduled to be executed.

“I am right where God wants me to be,” Lindy Lou said. “If God had not had a hand in this, it wouldn’t have gotten as far as this. This many lives would not have been touched. And if nothing else, I hope this film would spark legislative action to offer counseling to jury members after the trial is over.”

Lindy Lou sentenced a man to death. But she also became a friend to him. And through her regret, she hopes to change the system through counseling efforts and more.

“We are all human,” she said. “And we are all guilty of something. But we are all people, deserving of God’s mercy and grace. And I hope these efforts don’t slow down but make a positive change.”