The phrase the Rev. Walt Everett wanted to hear most in the trial of his son's murderer wasn't "life in prison" or "execution by lethal injection." It was something that the man convicted of the crime, Mike Carlucci, said at the sentencing hearing itself: "I'm sorry."
"I believe I needed to hear that more than anything else," Everett said.
Everett was in Pittsburgh last week to share his son's story, his path to forgiveness and his humanistic views toward the death penalty. His appearance was among several events sponsored by Pittsburgh's Faith-in-Action group
"I am willing to work as hard as I can to abolish the death penalty," says Everett. "When the state executes somebody, they're eliminating that which they claim to abhor."
Faith-in-Action strives to raise awareness of the death penalty with various faith communities.
"We joined together because all of us believed that our faith calls us to oppose the death penalty," says Vivienne Selia, a spokeswoman for Faith-in-Action.
Everett's son, Scott, was murdered on July 26, 1987 in his apartment building. He was 24 years old. Months after his son had been killed, the state prosecutor asked Everett to come in and discuss the case. He presented a plea-bargain deal, one that involved a guilty plea with a 10-year sentence of which five would be suspended. Everett was livid.
When it came time for Carlucci to be sentenced, Everett sat at the witness stand and gave an impassioned, 10-minute delivery of how Carlucci had ripped apart his life. Everett walked away from the stand, and sat with his family as they listened to Carlucci's words:
"I'm sorry I killed Scott Everett. I wish I could bring him back but I can't. These must be empty words to the Everetts, but I can't think of anything else to say," Everett recalled Carlucci saying.
Everett then had an epiphany: He had to forgive his son's killer. On the anniversary of his son's death, Everett wrote a letter to Carlucci ultimately forgiving him for his senseless crime.
"Those were the hardest words I've ever written," Everett said.
Three weeks later while Everett was away from home, Carlucci sent his response. After several letters were exchanged, Carlucci asked if Everett would visit him in prison. The two formed a friendship and Everett testified for Carlucci and helped him get parole. He has worked for the same trucking company for 16 years.
"Mike is a very special person," Everett said. "There is a deep love between us. Mike is a new person; he is a gift to society today."
Now Everett shares his story with high school assemblies, church communities and anti-death penalty groups urging his audiences to create a restorative justice system, rather than a traditional retributive system.
"The world is way ahead of us and we've got to catch up."