'Letting go of poison': In wake of grief, families offer astonishing acts of forgiveness
Anger may prompt someone, like an abused spouse, to take action. But holding on to that anger longer than necessary may be "toxic," he said.
Forgiveness is "like letting go of the poison," Derezotes said. "If I stay angry my whole life, you're still victimizing me everyday."
But letting go of the anger and forgiving someone is "a process, not a single event," he said.
Each person will let go of their anger and forgive at their own rate, Derezotes said. "Your forgiveness process will look different than mine."
In most cases, people who offer forgiveness do it based on various religious traditions, philosophies or temperaments.
"I think some people say, 'You're in somebody else's hands now, whether it's the court or some greater being,'" Skordas said.
Some victims look to scriptures or religious leaders when searching for the strength to forgive a perpetrator.
"Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." — Colossians 3:13
"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. ... For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." — Matthew 6:12-15
"Forgiveness ... allows the love of God to purge your heart and mind of the poison of hate." — LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, 1980.
But for those who don't offer forgiveness to the person who caused harm to them, Cassell said in the eyes of the court, that's OK, too. There is no right or wrong way for a victim to react, he stressed.
"No one should suggest what kind of reaction (a victim) should have," he said. "There's no right or wrong approach on any of this."
"There are a lot of crime victims who are angry forever," Skordas added.
Forgiveness has played a role in many court hearings in Utah, by both those who offer it and those who don't.
In 2010, Jacob Daniel Ethridge, 33, was sentenced to two consecutive terms of 20 years to life for the shooting deaths of two Ogden prostitutes.
"I hope you never have a good day the rest of your life," the mother of one of the women wrote in a letter. "My God says I should forgive you, but I cannot."
In 2009, career criminal Davey Joe Williams faced new charges after already serving prison time for his role in a double shooting that left one man dead and a teen critically injured. A relative of one of the victims of the earlier crimes said she planned to testify against Williams.
"We've tried to forgive, but we haven't forgotten," she said.
In 2008, John Dean Bevan was convicted in Tooele County of stabbing his fiance 17 times, killing her while she lay in bed.
"I know as a Christian, I have to forgive you, but I can't right now," the victim's mother said during sentencing. "I can't."
In 2007, Nathan Ellis offered forgiveness to the man who gunned down his wife, Teresa Ellis, and killed four others during the massacre at Trolley Square.
"I forgive the guy who shot and killed those people," he said. "It was a tragedy. We don't know what he was thinking, what his fears were, what his childhood was like. But we can all forgive, just as she would have forgiven."
In 2005, David Luis Burns was sentenced for shooting an Orem police officer in the back. The officer survived and was able to go back to work.
"I forgive David; I don't hold any bitterness toward him," Mirian Murphy, wife of Lt. Phil Murphy, told the court. "Of course, the circumstances are that my husband is alive right now. I don't know how I would have felt had things turned out differently."
Other than religious philosophies, another reason some offer forgiveness is because it can give them a sense of empowerment over their attacker.
"Think of that act. Who is able to grant that to someone? Not the judge or the board of pardons. There's only one person that can forgive and that's the victim," Skordas said.
"That's a tremendous thing you have over them. I can see a perpetrator being hurt by those words just as much as 'I'll never forgive you and make you suffer as long as possible.'"
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