“I Don’t Understand How This Could Have Happened”

Received a comment this week from a gentleman about Martin, the Jew I’ve been filming on death row, that has cut like a knife through my heart.  Here’s what it said:

“I knew Martin as a teen and his mom was such a nice lady. Martin was such a nice kid that I don’t understand how this could have happened…”

I don’t understand how this could have  happened, either, and it’s one of the biggest issues I grapple with in the course of making the film.

“This” refers to the brutal murder of a 26 year old female Wildlife Officer, Peggy Park, 25 + years ago by Martin,  when he was 19.

I’ve been filming Martin, and also his aunt, uncle and cousins.   We were supposed to film Martin’s  mother, Myra, but she  unexpectedly died on the first day we flew in to film this extraordinary family.  I never had the chance to meet Myra, (may her memory be a blessing), but everyone, without exception, has told me that she was a wonderful, sweet, thoughtful and giving woman.  

I’ve seen amazing wonderful, sweet,  thoughtful and giving qualities in  Martin. It’s so hard for me to wrap my head around the paradox of such a brutal crime being committed by a person who possesses such humanity.

I’ve previously written about how Martin declined to be let out of death row to attend his mother’s funeral. This unselfish act took my breath away. Martin thought his presence might turn her funeral into a circus-like atmosphere. Instead of being with family members, some of whom he hasn’t seen in over two decades, he opted to remain isolated and grieve alone in his cold, hard cell.

There’s a great deal we can all learn from the complicated nature of the souls of human beings.  I’m still working my way through all of this.

I only hope the film can do justice to the people who have the courage to be in it,  and the multi-layered, profound and complicated subject matter. Viewers won’t look at anyone, even themselves, the same way.

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