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Cover 06/12/2013

Murder Destroyed Charity Lee's Family, Forever Altered Her Concept of Justice





Paris and Ella, ages 10 and 2

He continued, “I’m aware that my flat affect hurts me in here… I’m fairly helpless to do anything about it. I’m not going to act like somebody that I’m not.”


“He doesn’t fit any typical categories,” Charity Lee said shortly after my interview with Paris. They spoke over the phone two days after my visit, on Mother’s Day.

“It was probably one of the most in-depth conversations we’ve had in a while,” she said. She considers whether she’s still afraid of Paris. She thinks that maybe the dangerous side of him has gone dormant, for now.

But dormant doesn’t mean gone, Lee says. “If Paris were to be released, as he is today, I’d be afraid,” she told me.

Last week, right before Lee gave birth to her newborn son, Phoenix, she got a letter from Paris that shows an emotional side he rarely reveals. In the letter, Paris expresses both joy for his mother’s baby and sorrow that he’ll likely never be involved in his brother’s life.

“There’s nothing easy about dealing with Paris,” Lee repeated. “It’s tough to love him, but I still do.”

The day after giving birth, Lee again spoke to Paris over the phone. She relayed what doctors had just told her: that Phoenix was born with a faulty heart valve, and would need open heart surgery this week. To her surprise, Paris wept.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever heard him that emotional before,” Lee told me.

Lee now fears she could lose yet another child. “There’s this metaphor I just can’t get out of my head,” she told me. “It’s the woman with the broken heart giving birth to a kid with a broken heart.”

For the past six years, Lee has kept the copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz she had been reading to Ella before the murder. Where they stopped, before Dorothy reaches the Emerald City, was still bookmarked.

Lee is now reading the very same book to Phoenix in Christus Santa Rosa’s neonatal intensive care unit, where he’s waiting for surgery.

“I keep telling Phoenix he has to stick around long enough for us to finish this book and the thousands of others I never got to read to Ella.”

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