When Silence Interferes With Healing
Silence can be golden—unless its presence is so loud, so abrasive, that it drowns out everything else in the room.
One week later, Shelia Eddy’s guilty plea is still on our minds. Some people say they have cried for hours, others for days. Still others wake up from nightmares about the case, the crime, and last week’s disturbing hearing.
The memory is a hard one to let go of, and I doubt it matters whether you were an observer in the courtroom, a member of the media watching on closed-circuit television, or you followed online, through the live streaming feed.
The trial of the decade didn’t happen. Instead we watched Shelia plead guilty on January 24 to the first-degree murder of Skylar Neese. Those were almost the only words she spoke.
Shelia’s own silence drowned out the words of her defense attorney. When asked if she wanted to speak to the court before her sentencing, Shelia chose to remain silent.
I can’t imagine being Shelia’s parents. Or Rachel Shoaf’s parents. I especially cannot conceive of being Skylar’s parents. We just wish them peace and an end to their suffering, for all of the parents in this case have suffered. Continue to suffer, even now.
It’s clear from last week’s hearing that I’m not the only one thinking of these teenage girls’ parents. No doubt most people in our community were thinking about them. Some people have blamed them—the Shoafs and the Eddys—while others have felt pity for them.
Although defense attorney Mike Benninger’s words were overshadowed by his client’s silence, they bear repeating. Not just for the hope they express for the futures of these three families, but because of his reminder about why criminal cases like these should be surrounded by silence.
Benninger said he spoke in behalf of his client, when he said “the silence which has surrounded these proceedings and our work in them should not be construed by the Neese family or any member of our community as a sign or expression of disrespect or as a sign of lack of remorse by Shelia Eddy and any of her family.”
Of course, he’s right. Even while the newshound in me clamors for the facts, I know that high-profile cases like this one can easily be derailed if an appropriate level of silence isn’t maintained throughout. That in order for justice to be served, sometimes silence is necessary.
Benninger elaborated on this, explaining that the “silence which has surrounded these proceedings was caused and insisted upon by me so that the work we needed to do on the defense was to preserve the integrity of the defense to protect the rights of Shelia Eddy, the rights of Rachel Shoaf, and most importantly, the rights of Skylar Neese and her family, so they could be protected without interference . . .”
Shelia’s attorney said the silence from the defense shouldn’t be interpreted as a “sign of any lack of concern, worry, or caring by Shelia Eddy and any member of her family resulting from Skylar’s death.”
Still speaking on the teenager’s behalf, Benninger said, “I can state without hesitation or reservation that all concerned must know and understand that Shelia Eddy, my client, and her family recognize that the Neese family is in a constant state of despair, loneliness, and sadness.”
Then came the only apology the court heard. “For that, Shelia Eddy and her family are and will be eternally sorry. These proceedings are now coming to a close. With this conclusion, we hope that all families, the Neese family most importantly, the Eddy family, and the Shoaf family, all tragically affected by the actions of Shelia and Rachel, resulting in Skylar’s death, can move forward in a more peaceful and hopeful way.”
Benninger’s sentiments on behalf of Shelia and her family were certainly important. No doubt the Eddy family needed the Neeses to know they are sorry for what’s happened, for the loss of their daughter.
But what a shame those words didn’t come from Shelia Eddy’s own lips. Instead, she chose to continue her deafening silence.
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My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.
For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.
Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!
Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”