To a large extent, the tragic case of Lori Hacking's murder was laid to rest Monday with the 6-years-to-life sentence handed down to her husband, Mark. But the sentence guarantees that at intervals the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole will consider whether he should be released, and that likely will trigger more public agony.
Even if he serves 30 years or more in prison, Mark's release would not happen quietly. This is a case that has gripped people more than any murder in recent history. For weeks, police and firefighters combed through the landfill for Lori's remains, finally locating them against all odds.
Of course, the murder was especially difficult and awful for the families involved. They will have to live with Mark's act in a thousand different ways for the rest of their lives. But it is a difficult one for the public in Utah, as well. We now know much about what happened on the night of July 19, 2004. But we are never likely to really know why.
A young husband and expectant father apparently felt embarrassed by the many lies he had told about his schooling and his acceptance to a medical school. He suffered from some emotional and mental distress. But that doesn't explain why he decided the only answer was to take Lori's life after revealing his lies to her. His attorney, while careful to note there is no real excuse for the crime, said Mark described it as a killing of love. "He loved her so much, he wanted to take her out of her pain," attorney Gil Athay said at a news conference Monday.
That's hardly an explanation for a hideous and senseless act.
For his part, Mark has of late been remorseful. His letter to the family and his emotional statement at the sentencing hearing were full of regrets. But his history of lies, which seemed to stretch until the moment when he had few choices other than to tell the truth, make it difficult for many to believe he really does feel sorry.
We have in the past preferred to focus on the only positive aspects to come from this case. The starkest of these has been the dignity and poise with which both families have publicly handled the situation. Even after the sentencing, Lori's father showed evidence of plenty of personal anguish but no bitterness toward the Hacking family. Their reactions have been a shining example for a nation that seems to rely more and more on incivility as the only proper response to wrongs committed by others.
Sometimes, horrible things happen to decent families, but even horrible things can be handled with dignity and grace. Utahns will never get a satisfactory answer as to why Mark killed Lori, but they can always remember with admiration the examples of those who were Mark's victims.