My name is Hector Black. This is my
wife, Susie. We first met Patricia Ann Nuckles when she was a thin and
neglected child of eight living with her mother and younger sister in Vine
City. We moved to Vine City in 1965, working in a tutoring program
established by the Atlanta Friends Meeting. Although Patricia was not our
child by any claims of birth, she was our child by the very claim of love.
She lived with us and became a
much loved part of our family. She was one year older than the oldest of
our three girls. Because my wife is handicapped and mostly confined to a
wheelchair, our children all learned to help her with basic chores. Trisha
also took her turn - it somehow put her on an equal footing with our other
children. I can still hear her scolding her sisters when they tried to
avoid helping. Trish always took her responsibilities seriously. She
became our daughter, our children’s sister. We watched for 35 years as
she grew into a beautiful woman, beautiful in every way. We thought we
were helping her, but as can happen when we give, we received far more
from her than we gave. She was God’s gift to our family.
She was not ashamed of her
background. Rather, she used this experience to help others, especially
children in the Emmaus House Program on Hank Aaron Drive, and in the
public library in Kirkwood where she worked with children such as she had
been. She wanted to make the world a better place, and she did.
November 21, 2000 was the darkest
day our family has ever experienced. Our lives, mine and the lives of my
wife and three daughters were changed forever as we learned piece by piece
what had happened to Patricia, our daughter, our children’s beloved
sister. Every day we struggled to try to remember the beautiful and loving
person she was, and drive out the horrible thoughts and visions of how she
died. Many times it seemed as though the darkness was stronger than we
were, that this terrible deed was so burned into our lives that we would
never be able to celebrate who Patricia was. How much we loved her, and
how much she loved us. I thought God had abandoned me.
About three months after Trish
was killed, I remember looking at the table we had set out with
photographs of her from different periods of her life. The one that caught
my eye was a picture of her at about 9 years of age looking back over her
shoulder with such a sweet expression on her face, and I smiled for the
first time remembering her as a child. It was the first time I had looked
at those photos without a stab of pain.
We were not abandoned. The love
of family and friends surrounded us, and God worked through them. I knew
that I could not live in this darkness. A friend had given us a book of
writings for people who have suffered loss. Among them was the saying, ‘All
the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.’
Those words helped us. They are written on her headstone in the little
graveyard on our farm where Trish is buried, where my wife and I hope to
I know that love does not seek
revenge. We do not want a life for a life. Love seeks healing, peace and
wholeness. Hatred can never overcome hatred. Only love can overcome hatred
and violence. Love is that light. It is that candle that cannot be
extinguished by all the darkness and hatred in the world.
Judge Goger, that is the reason
we are not asking for the death penalty.
I know that ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass
against us’ was not meant to be empty words. I don’t know if I have
forgiven you, Ivan Christopher Simpson, for what you did. All I do know is
that I don’t hate you, but I hate with all my soul what you did to
My wish from my heart for all of us who were so terribly wounded by this
murder, including you, Ivan Christopher Simpson, is that God would grant
Notes written Jan 14, 2001 after the hearing on Patricia's case.
When we entered the courtroom, there was a man who looked to be in his 30s
sitting in the jury box. It occurred to me that this could be Ivan
Simpson, the man who murdered and raped our daughter.. At one point he
looked in our direction, but I lowered my eyes, not wanting to look at him.
If it was Ivan Simpson, I was not ready to meet his eyes. There were
many familiar faces. Beona, Trish's father, two uncles, an uncle by
marriage and his twin daughters, several people from Emmaus House where
Trish went to church, some Friends from Quaker meeting, Harriet
Coppage who also spent a year or more with us when she was a young
There were two minor drug cases before ours and I studied this man who
might be Ivan Simpson. His shoulders drooped, but he was strong, he hung
his head except for the one time he looked over our way. I had written
Judge Goger a 4 page letter about Trish and what she meant to us, and why
we did not want the death penalty. I could see him looking over at us,
trying to take our measure.
When the hearing began, the man in the jury box moved to one of the tables
in front of the judge, and I knew it was he.
The DA, Paul Howard, who had been so cold to our request that this not be
a death penalty case sat next to me. After a couple of minutes he reached
over and shook my hand.
I don't remember the sequence of events after this. The atmosphere was
tense. I remember they wanted to be sure that Ivan Simpson understood what
he was doing in pleading guilty. Then the charges were read. There were
several times during the more painful parts of the hearing, that I remembered the friends and family who were thinking of us, and holding us
in the Light and I felt uplifted. I thought of Trish several times and
felt her close. This chronicle of all the terrible things Ivan Christopher Simpson had done to our daughter was extremely painful,
although I had read most of them some months ago in the autopsy report.
Carla Anderson, the Victim Witness person, told us that we should feel
free to leave the courtroom if this would be too much to hear. I just held
Susie's hand and we wept quietly. I was grateful for my deafness which
made some parts inaudible to me. At some point after this, one of his
lawyers read out some of the things that had happened to Ivan Simpson -
that he had been born in a mental hospital, that his mother had repeatedly
tried to drown him and his 3 siblings, and had succeeded in drowning one
while he was present. That she had put another sibling in a coma from drowning. That he had been
raped and nearly strangled to death by a brother. I could only hear parts
of what was said.
I think after this Ivan Simpson was asked How do you plead? To each of the
charges he quietly said "guilty", and the judge pronounced
sentence for each charge. Life, 9 years, life, life.
At this point the judge I think asked if there were any victim impact
statements to be read. Michelle, Trish's cousin, spoke first. She told of
how she had learned of Trish's death watching the TV, of the agony she
felt, the terrible loss, and she repeated several times "I hate you
Ivan Simpson for this" I hate you Ivan Simpson for this"
She was standing with her twin sister and weeping. After she returned to
her seat it was my turn.
I had my briefcase because a friend had suggested that I bring a couple of
photos of Trish to show the judge. I asked the judge if I could approach
the bench . "I have a couple of photographs with me. I would like to
show them to you so that you would have an idea of who we are talking
about here." He indicated that this would be OK. So I showed him a
picture of Trish taken the summer before she was killed, and explained
that the young white girl in the photo was the daughter of the woman who
had tutored Trish when she was a child. She had come with her mother to
visit Trish in Tennessee that summer. The other photo was of Trish as a
child, maybe 10 years old, together with her sister and our daughters -
all in dresses made of the same color and pattern. The judge thanked me
for bringing them and looking at him, I could tell that I was dealing with
a real human being who knew how much this pained me. That was a comfort.
Susie told me afterwards that a big sheriff had come up behind me to stop
my approach to the judge, nearly grabbed me but someone else restrained
The statement which is attached is what I read next. I improvised a
little. When I came to the place where I read the lines about forgiving
those who trespass against us, I said ,"I don't know if I have
forgiven you, Ivan Christopher Simpson. I don't hate you , but I hate with
all my soul what you did to our daughter" I was facing the judge and
the microphone, but Ivan Simpson was behind me. Something made me turn
around so that I could speak directly to him.
When I read the last line "My wish from my heart is that all of us
who have been so terribly wounded by this murder, including you Ivan
Christopher Simpson is that God would grant us peace" I was looking
directly at Ivan Simpson and he lifted his head, our eyes met. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. Both of us were in great pain. It was one of
those rare moments when raw wounds and pain will strip away all pretense,
all falseness. It was somehow a moment of terrible beauty that I will
There was such torment in his look. How could I hate this man? Certainly I
could hate what he had done, but hate someone who had suffered so much as
a child, someone tormented by what he had done and filled with remorse?
Even Carla Anderson, the victim witness person who must have seen countless cases of false remorse and stony silence said with awe
"This is something we rarely see, genuine remorse"
I feel that Susie and I have been through a fire and come out the better
for it. I was reluctant to drive to Atlanta, so far away, I did not want
to go through more pain, I was afraid I would break down and be unable to
say what I wanted to say. Susie had a stress fracture in her foot and we did not want to aggravate it so she did not stand to speak.
After Ivan Simpson was given a life sentence without parole and was being
led away, he said he wanted to say something. He turned and faced us and
said twice with tears running down his face "I am so sorry for the
pain I have caused" I am so sorry for the pain I have caused."
As we left the courtroom, Paul Howard the DA shook my hand. I thanked him,
but could tell that he was not happy with the outcome. Outside the
courtroom people were seated on some benches and Carla Anderson was asking
if we had some questions. I saw Michele, Trish's cousin who had
said how much she hated Ivan Simpson, sitting with an empty space beside
her. I thought she might feel that what I had said invalidated somehow
what she had said, so I sat beside her. Told her how sorry I was about her
mother's death (about a month after Trish's) and we hugged each other.
Debbie, the priest from Emmaus House asked if we any of us who wished
would like to say a prayer together. We all held hands - it took her a few
minutes to get control of her voice.
Quite a few people thanked me for what I had said. I talked to Ivan
Simpson's lawyers Susan Wardell in particular. She told me how important
she felt my letter to the judge was because otherwise he would not have
known how we felt about the death penalty or our relationship with Trish.
I could not sleep that night. I kept thinking about what had happened. It
was as though a weight had been lifted from me. I knew that I had forgiven
Ivan Simpson. That I must write to him and tell him this, and encourage
him that his life is not over. That he can help others also in prison,
perhaps especially in prison, where there is so much darkness. This
forgiveness like everything before, does not seem to be something I have
"won" or "earned". It is a gift of grace.
VIOLENCE IN ANY FORM SHOULD NEVER BE CONDONED!
You can contact
Pam Davis, who submitted this article, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ms. Davis is the TN CURE chair,
and started InvisibleBarS - a support
network for the family members left at home.