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Victim Brian Muha's mother and brother address Yarbrough in the courtroom

Thursday, September 28, 2000

These statements were made in Jefferson County, Ohio, court during the penalty phase of Terrell Yarbrough's homicide trial. A jury yesterday sentenced Yarbrough to death for the 1999 kidnap and murder of Aaron Land and Brian Muha, students at Franciscan University in Steubenville.

Statement from Rachel Muha
Brian Muha's mother:

I am Brian Muha's mother and I can think of no better way to describe myself except to say I am Chris Muha's mother, also. I have two wonderful sons. I am that beautiful boy's mother, Terrell. You did not even know his name, Terrell, and did not care.

It is so hard, so painful, to look into the face of my son's killer ... just to say those words is unbelievable. The son that I held when he was born, that I rocked, quieted, loved, protected -- as much as I could -- and watched and helped grow into a kind, compassionate, loving young man who would have been kind to you, Terrell, if you had let him. A mother never imagines she would have to face her son's killer; that she will have to stand in a courtroom and look at someone so young, so little -- and so mean -- and let the horrible truth sink in that this person -- you, Terrell -- took a gun in your hands and became the cold-blooded killer of my son. That you looked at Brian's face after having shot his dear friend, Aaron, and you saw his silent look of realization that "his time was up" as you so flippantly put it. That last look on his face of knowing, knowing that you were going to kill him, that you did not care if he died, that you did not think of him as a person who deserves to have his life, more than that, that you hated him and what he stood for. He knew that there was no use pleading for his life. You put that gun to his head and pulled the trigger anyway. My poor Brian. What a lonely, terrible way to die.

There were prayers going up to "Father God" last week in the hallway by your family and friends, asking Him to "set you free" -- free from a guilty verdict. Those prayers, I am sorry to say, mock God -- as if He would want a killer set free to kill some more. God is Truth and Justice, Terrell. The truth is, you hurt and killed two innocent boys. You did those things, Terrell, and you have to face yourself and see how bad that makes you. Then you pray to God, Our Father, to set you free. Free from sin, Terrell, not from prison. Prison may be the only place that saves you. Justice demands that you be punished and others be protected from you. That is exactly what the dedicated police officers, prosecutors, judge and jury have done. If I had to mention one person who did his job exceptionally well, I would say it was Detective Lelles, who was ridiculed in this courtroom by Mr. Olivito, your lawyer, Terrell.

You should be ashamed, Mr. Olivito, to have said those things. I could not have more respect for Detective Lelles and I will always be grateful to the people in Steubenville, Father Scanlan and everyone at the university, from the mayor and city manager on down who worked so hard to find Brian and Aaron, to find the vicious killers and to bring us to this conclusion, today. I also want you to know, Mr. Olivito, how surprised I was when you said, "If only Brian Muha had waited one more day to come to Steubenville." Mr. Olivito, Brian and Aaron were exactly where they were supposed to be that early morning of May 31, 1999. They were not in the wrong place at the wrong time. Your client, Terrell Yarbrough, and his friends Nathan Herring and probably Brandon Young were in the wrong place doing the wrong things.

And so that you do not feel singled out, Mr. Olivito, I also want to say that for 16 months now we have had to endure the humiliation caused by local gossips starting soon after Brian and Aaron died, such as local radio talk shows that allowed their hosts and listeners to spread false rumors about Brian, Aaron, Andrew Doran and other students who lived in or visited 165 McDowell. They lied when they said there was a drug connection between the killers and Brian and Aaron. You know that no one owed anyone money, don't you, Terrell? They came up with the ridiculous lie that Andrew Doran was involved in gun trafficking and they also had no right to criticize Andrew personally. If anyone has a question about Andrew Doran's character, they can ask me and I will tell them about the Andrew Doran I now know. These people didn't stop to think about the pain Brian's and Aaron's friends and family were already enduring and how these lies were like stabbing us in the heart.

I want you to know, Terrell, that when Brian looked at you that early morning, he saw the hate in your eyes, he saw the viciousness in your face, but I know he didn't see the color of your skin. He didn't care about skin color, as you and your so-called "friends" seem to. He didn't hate people because of their skin color -- he didn't hate anyone. Hate is madness of the heart -- it makes people mean -- and Brian's heart was, and is even more so now, beautiful. There is a woman in Steubenville named Loretta Johnson, a black woman who came to me after Brian and Aaron were found and told me about Brian helping her out at her home -- she is very poor and her home needed repairs. Many of the Franciscan University students do the same.

You needed a real friend in your life, Terrell, and Brian and Aaron would have been that for you. A real friend, Terrell, cares about you so much that he or she tells you when you are wrong and when you are bad. A real friend helps you shape up and doesn't stop at anything to help you become a man. A real friend would tell you to take responsibility for what you have done, admit it publicly, be sorry for it and welcome your punishment. I don't think anyone sitting there as family or friend has told you to do those things. They are not your friends, they don't care about your soul. They don't even care about their own souls, because they don't care about the truth. One of your relatives said you were convicted on "hearsay" but I don't think she knows what hearsay means or she wouldn't have said that on TV. Your poor mother, who thinks she is doing the right thing by saying you are a "good boy" and that she "supports" you doesn't realize that this is her greatest opportunity to be an honorable mother -- for maybe the first time? - a real mother who doesn't waste her time, money and energy on drugs while her children suffer, but a mother who will help you get to Heaven because right now, you are headed for Hell. You see, she called you "good," but how do you define a good person if not their actions? And for your mother to say she supports you -- well, "support" means to "hold up," to "advocate." In other words, to help someone in what they are already doing and thinking. Terrell, you need someone to undo your thinking and re-train you to do the right things.

Do you know what, Terrell? You and Nathan were not the only ones with weapons that night. Brian and Aaron had weapons, too. So did Andrew. Powerful weapons. More powerful than your weapon, Terrell. I have one. I would say that almost everyone on this side of the courtroom has one. You had one, too, for a short while. You didn't even know that what you had around your neck was more powerful than what you had in your hand. What you took from Brian -- or did he let you have it? -- was a rosary: a blessed object that helps us pray. It's more powerful because it leads us to Heaven where everything is beautiful. Your gun will take you right to Hell, where everything is disgusting. But you can have this weapon in prison, if you like. You see, when we pray the rosary, we think about the life and death of the greatest Man that ever lived, Jesus Christ.

Brian and Aaron knew the power of the rosary and they knew that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, would watch over anyone who prayed it and would help them in the hour of their death. We are told to live our lives like Jesus and then we will go to Heaven. So, we think about what Jesus did while on earth as we pray and move our fingers along the beads. We spend a lot of time thinking about Jesus' death. You see, early one morning, while it was still dark and Jesus was praying in the garden, some men came. Cowardly men. Weak men who let evil enter into their hearts. And they took Our Lord and they beat him. They hit Him in the face and spat on Him. They whipped Him and pushed thorns into his head and tried to humiliate Him. And that was not enough to satisfy their hate. They took Him to a hill and made Him climb it. He fell three times trying to climb that hill, but they had no pity on Him. Then, at the top of Calvary, they killed Jesus in a horrible way. And they watched Him suffer. He was an innocent man -- all He ever did was love. But His death brought us Heaven.

Well, almost 2000 years later, and early one morning while it was still dark and while Brian and Aaron were asleep, some men came. You were one of them. Cowardly men. Weak men, filled with the same evil that filled the hearts of Jesus' killers. And you beat our sons. You hit them in the face and head. And seeing their pain was not enough to satisfy your hate. You took them to a hill and made them climb it. How many times did they fall, Terrell? Then you tried to make them do humiliating things while they were in such pain. Finally, on the top of Brian and Aaron's Calvary, you killed them in a horrible way. They were innocent boys, trying, trying, trying to live their lives the way God wanted them to. Now, they live in Heaven and they actually want you in Heaven with them one day. They are praying for you, Terrell. They are your best friends. Talk to them. Ask them for help. They will tell you to be kind while in prison, to stop fighting and hurting and then maybe, one day, you will see them in Heaven.

Of course, we don't know what happened to the cruel men who killed Jesus. Did they ask forgiveness and live better lives or did they stay bad and end up in Hell? You have the same choice they did: you can change and hope to go to Heaven, where everything is perfect, or you can stay the same and go to Hell. In Hell, you will be in pain all the time, forever. You will be in fear, forever. You will hate yourself and hate everyone else -- and they will all hate you.

Choose Heaven, Terrell.

Terrell, you don't deserve any kindness -- you didn't show Brian and Aaron any kindness. But Almighty God, who has the power and the right to take your life right now, is showing you mercy because you are His child, too. He is giving you time to change. But you never know how much time you will have. You could die tonight. Admit what you did and ask forgiveness. Then, start to make up for it, Terrell.

Terrell, our lives are changed forever -- and yours should be, too. Our lives are emptier, sadder, lonelier. We can't have Brian and Aaron back, not in the way we were used to. Your life can be emptier, sadder and lonelier than it has been, but it doesn't have to be. That's up to you. Turn to God, Terrell, and you can have a happy life, even in prison.

I will pray for you.

Statement from Chris Muha
Brian Muha's brother:

I heard someone earlier this week saying Terrell hadn't been given a fair trial; that he didn't have a jury of his peers. I heard the same thing expressed in the newspaper by someone from the local NAACP just before Nathan Herring's trial. The person who made that statement explained what she meant by it: Nathan's jury was all white. His peers, the only ones who could judge him fairly, were blacks. Do we realize what is being said here?! Does this not promote the idea of "separate but equal" that blacks fought so hard to abolish some 40 years ago? If the only ones who can judge Terrell honestly are black people, what does that say about the races? It says we are so different as to be unable to relate to each other. We are separate, but equal. Martin Luther King Jr. would shake his head in dismay if he were here witnessing members of his own race destroying what he fought so hard to abolish.

Does this mean that I understand what it's like to grow up as a black person? That this jury understands what's it's like to grow up black? Of course not. But in order to be a black person you must first be a human person. And that is why the civil rights movement fought so hard against the language and the idea of separate but equal. We are all human beings. At our most basic level, we are the same. I am your peer, Terrell, because I am a human being. I am in this whole thing we call life with you. What is most basic to all of us is that we have human life. And the wrongfulness of murder is something that applies to all human beings, whether that human is black or white, male or female, pre-born or near death, growing up in a hard part of Pittsburgh or living at 165 McDowell for the summer. To say that Terrell can't have a fair trial because his jury is all white is to fail to realize that what has happened here is not about you being black. It's about the fact that two human beings have been killed. That and that alone is why we are here.

But, there is something else we are in together, Terrell, something even more important, and that is the whole process of salvation. That's right. We are in this together. Yet, you wanted to separate that, just as that woman wanted to separate blacks and whites. But you wanted to go even further. You weren't just separating your race from another race. You were separating yourself form all other people. And so you wrote on that piece of cardboard, "Only God Can Judge Me." And the eminent psychologist Dr. Brams told us that it was your attempt to make yourself look smart. And what a contrast this clear and complete statement was to the scribble of your notepad! But, apparently, she didn't see the need to take that into account. Based on her expert opinion, it was your attempt to look smarter than you are. But as we both know, she was wrong. As we both know, "Only God Can Judge Me' is the title of a song by Tupac, a rapper from New York. Was he one of the rappers you told people you knew? Was he the inspiration for what you did? And who else is being influenced by Tupac's music?

Unfortunately, Tupac was more right about that than he knew. God would judge him, and a lot sooner than he had expected. And as you have said, God will judge you, too. And you are right: God alone will judge you after you die. But that, Terrell, is entirely different from the judgments passed on your actions here, today. For the Bible tells us that only God will judge us. But it also tells us to confront our brothers in their wrongdoing. And why should we do this? Because, unless you change, you will not go to Heaven. And, in that sense, Terrell, we are in this salvation thing together, too. And anyone who makes excuses for you is not helping you into Heaven. Anyone who makes excuses for you does not ultimately care about your soul. Does your family here care about your soul? They have made lots of excuses for you: he doesn't have a jury of his peers; he wasn't raised well; he used to be a good boy until he met Nathan and Brandon. You ... his family and friends ... if you really love Terrell, why do you make excuses for him? Why do you not, instead, tell him to be truthful? You have all driven here to Steubenville each day for this trial and that is commendable. But, where were you when Terrell was growing up? Where were you when he came to Steubenville and met Nathan and Brandon? You have driven out here each day for this. Why did you not drive out here earlier when Terrell was first here? Why did you not drive out here and show him how much you love him and are concerned for him? If you are truly concerned for him, then you will be concerned about what matters most: his soul. If you are truly concerned about that, you will stop making excuses for him and you will show him that you love him by helping him to change.

And what about your lawyers? Do they care about you, Terrell, or are they making excuses for you, too? Do they want you to change? Or do you believe them when they tell you that you are too dumb to think normally? I don't believe that. We heard your own lawyers say that you are borderline retarded. Do you think that's true? I don't. And Mr. Olivito and Ms. Carinci, how dare you act as though the reason Terrell did this was because he is borderline retarded. How dare you act as though it is mental retardation that leads to such things! Mentally retarded people are the simplest, most honest and most lovable people I know. Anyone who knows or has a mentally retarded child ought to be outraged at how you and your expert witness have insulted them.

And what about this expert witness, Terrell? What about Dr. Brams? Did she care about you? Or did she make excuses for you, too? As far as I could tell, all she did was embarrass you. And she, too, made excuses. She tells us that you didn't choose to commit these murders, but then, later, she says you were being compassionate when you showed the police where the bodies were. She said you could have chosen to do otherwise. So, first she says you don't have free will, and then she says that you do. What is it, Terrell? Dr. Brams was not being straight with you, because she doesn't care about what matters most for you.

But there was one thing she said that spoke volumes about what is happening here.

She said that what you have known for your whole life is people telling you one thing and then doing another; people telling you that they love you and then not showing it, not actually doing the hard action of loving you. And you know what? She was right. You say that your are responsible, but then your family says that you don't have a fair jury. What is that, if not an excuse? Mr. Olivito says that he is not making excuses for you, then proceeds to tell everyone that you are retarded. What is that, if not an excuse? Dr. Brams says she is not giving excuses, and then says that you didn't choose to do what you did. What is that, if not an excuse?

Terrell, all of these people have told you one thing and then done another, just as when you were growing up.

But there is at least one person who has said one thing and actually gone through with it. And she had done this because she loves you and is so concerned about you. This woman is not a member of your family, it is not your co-counsel and it is not Dr. Brams. Is my mother. Even before you showed the police where the boys were, before she even knew you, she stood up in front of a packed church and chose to forgive you. And every day since then, she has fought back feelings of anger and rage. She has prayed for you every single day, so that you will change. That Terrell, is love. That is a person who loves you.

And there are others here, too, who pray for you, despite the anger and rage they fight. And they are the ones who truly love you. And I, Terrell, have prayed for you every day since May 31. But do you know who the first person to pray for you was? It was Aaron. Immediately after you shot him. And do you know who the second person was? It was my brother, after you shot him. How ironic it is that the people to whom you showed such hatred were the first ones to pray for you. They love you now more than anyone. And they will never cease to pray for you. We heard Mr. Olivito say that he and the jury were more connected than you had ever been with anyone in your life. Well, he forgot about two people. Because Brian and Aaron are more connected to you, now, than you can even know.

And because of them, Terrell, I stand before you now, and I offer my forgiveness to you. I forgive you not because you had a rough childhood, because that is not an excuse. I forgive you not because you were depressed, because that is not an excuse. I forgive you because I have been forgiven. And, I want so much to believe that you are truly sorry for what you have done. But, until you willingly accept your punishment and change your life, I can't believe you.

What, then, about the death penalty? Does forgiving mean that I don't want the death penalty? Initially, the answer to this question was very clear: I don't want the death penalty. This is, in fact, what the Catholic Church teaches. You see, my Church is about life, both this life and the next. And Her teaching on the death penalty is based on the sanctity of life. Thus, the death penalty is wrong, unless it is the only way to protect life. I had known all of this in the past year and didn't think that the situation of either Nathan [Herring, Yarbrough's convicted accomplice] or you, Terrell, was one in which the death penalty was necessary to protect the lives of others. But, only recently have I heard what you have been doing since put in jail. I now know that you have helped someone try to hang himself and have gotten into at least three fights, the most recent in which someone's nose was broken. I was also made aware that you threatened the lives of everyone in prison who testified against you. And, so I am left to wonder, is the death penalty necessary to protect the lives of other prisoners?

What's more, is it in some way necessary to protect you, yourself? How long will someone like you last in a maximum security prison with the worst of criminals? Would you last longer there, or while you sat on death row for at least 10 to 15 years? I have struggled a lot with this question the last few weeks and didn't make up my mind until just yesterday, when Dr. Brams said that what you wanted most in jail was to be isolated. and, nowhere but death row are you guaranteed to be in isolation. so, that confirmed it for me. I did indeed want the death penalty, but I do not want you to die. There are those who might scoff at this, but it is precisely because I don't want you and the other prisoners to die that I am in favor of the death penalty. More precisely, I want you to be on death row, but I don't want you to die.

Do I want the same for Nathan Herring? No. He hasn't shown himself to have the same problems in jail as you have. Based on what we know (and that is all that we can go on, there is not the same threat to himself or to others. And so there is no need for the death penalty for him.

Some might see this whole thing as an elaborate attempt to justify the death penalty. Some might think we want it in Yarbrough's case because he was found to be the principal offender. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just because Nathan was not found to be the principal offender doesn't mean he was not, indeed, the principal offender. And the opposite is true for Terrell. But more importantly, it is absurd to think that someone who pulls the trigger is any worse than someone who just breaks into their house, just helps beat and kidnap them, just helps march them up a hill, and just watches without interference as they are both shot. No, the accomplice is just as bad as the principal offender and to think anything different is to miss the gravity of being a participant and an accomplice to such an act.

It is for no other reason than the protection of life that I do not want the death penalty for Nathan Herring. And it is for no other reason than the protection of life that I do want the death penalty for Terrell Yarbrough. You, Terrell, will be unable to threaten anyone, to beat up anyone, to kill anyone. And you, in turn, as best as I can judge, will have a longer life. You will also have the isolation you desire, an isolation which I hope will give you more motivation to change yourself and make up for what you have done. I will be praying for you every day. But more importantly, Brian and Aaron will be praying for you, too, as they have been since 5:30 in the morning, May 31, 1999.

I can only hope that you find that some motivation wherever you end up.

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