Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Fact Of A Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

The facts are grim and undeniable.  In the first week of February, 1992, in the rural town of Iowa, Louisiana, Jeremy Guillory, six, goes next door to see if his buddy can come out and play.  The man who comes to the door, Ricky Langley, tells Jeremy that his buddy is gone but will be back soon.  Does he want to come in and wait?  Jeremy knows Ricky who rents a room from his buddy's parents and who has babysat for him and the couple's children so he goes in.

Later that day his mother, Lorilei, goes out and calls Jeremy to come in for supper.  He doesn't respond, so she goes next door.  Ricky comes to the door and tells her he hasn't seen Jeremy.  She goes to her brother's house close by but they haven't seen Jeremy either so they call the police.  A massive search ensues, lasting for three days.  But the search will find nothing because Ricky Langley killed Jeremy in the first minutes after he entered the house.  He stored his body in his bedroom closet, wrapped in blankets and a garbage bag.

Years later, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich comes to Louisiana as an intern at a firm that handles Death Row appeals.  The case she is given to help with is that of Ricky Langley who was sentenced to death at his trial for the murder of Jeremy Guillory.  Although she has spent her life opposing the death penalty, she is amazed to find that her overwhelming response is to agree with the verdict and wish for the death penalty to be applied.  What causes this emotion which seems to contradict her core beliefs?

The author then delves into the backstory of both Ricky and her own family.  The central truth of her childhood is that she was molested for several years by her maternal grandfather, abuse that her family denied and shoved away.  That denial shaped her childhood and made her determined to find another life that the one she had led to that point.  She was also traumatized when she found out that she wasn't a twin, but a triplet with one sibling that didn't survive for long and wasn't mentioned in the family.  Ricky's childhood started with a family tragedy; a car wreck that killed two of his siblings and put his mother in the hospital for months in a full body cast.  On a home visit, she is somehow impregnated and that was Ricky.  No one believed it was possible so his mother continued to receive massive amounts of medicine and painkillers.  The doctors wanted to terminate the pregnancy when it was finally discovered as they thought there was a high chance of birth defects but the parents refused and Ricky was born.  Was this the reason that he started molesting children when he was nine or ten?  No one will ever know.  Ricky was always a strange child who didn't have friends and was the odd one out in the family dynamic.

Ricky's first trial is overturned and he actually receives three trials before he is finally sentenced to life in prison.  The author follows the trials and the surprising fact that Jeremy's mother testified for the defense in the second trial because she didn't want the death penalty.  As the author uncovers more and more of Ricky's troubled life, she also delves into her own family's troubled lives and states the question of how do we fix the point in time when a story begins?  With Ricky, did the story start when he murdered Jeremy or did it start when he was born with so many counts against him?  How responsible was he as he asked for help multiple times that he didn't receive?

This is a chilling book that raises many questions for the reader.  How do we overcome tragic events in our lives?  Can we push the damage aside and emerge whole?  What is the role of choice, or more simply, nature vs. nurture?  This is a compelling memoir that will leave the reader thinking about these issues long after the last page is turned.  This book is recommended for true crime readers as well as those interested in memoirs about overcoming obstacles.

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