Francis W. Decker
Katie, Shannon, Beverly and grandson Asher
|Gathered around a table Beverly Monroe and her two adult daughters,
Katie and Shannon, are looking at pictures of their family. They carefully
select among the finished glossy prints and slowly tape them to a piece of
white poster board. "Some of our family is coming in to see Mom from out
of town," explains Katie. "They haven't seen her in years."
The family gathering is especially important for Beverly, who, up until three weeks ago, was able to see very little of her friends and family. For the last seven years Beverly has been serving a 22-year sentence for a murder she says she did not commit.
On March 5, 1992, Beverly's boyfriend of 12 years, 60-year-old Roger de la Burde, was found dead on the couch in the living room of his home. He had been shot through the forehead in what investigators first deemed a suicide. However, Detective David Riley soon convinced state police officials that Beverly, stricken with grief, was the top suspect in a case that he thought not to be a suicide but a homicide.
According to Monroe it's Riley's interviewing technique that was really suspect. Riley "bombarded" Beverly with endless "confusing" questions during a grueling six-hour interrogation session. "They feed you details and then turn them against you to try and find inconsistencies in your story," Beverly says. It was this interrogation, as well as the rest of the investigation, that ultimately led to Monroe's conviction and sentencing on Nov. 22, 1992.
Ten years later, on March 28, 2002, the U.S. District Court granted Beverly federal habeas corpus relief, vacating her conviction completely. Judge Richard L. Williams called Beverly's case a "monument to prosecutorial indiscretions and mishandling." The prosecution's case was openly criticized for the "manipulative tactics" used in the police interviews as well as its overall weaknesses, particularly in the field of forensics. Now, three weeks after regaining her freedom, Beverly is trying to come to grips with what happened to her.
When Beverly talks about her time in prison her voice trembles. "I lost several friends and a brother while I was in there," she says, wiping tears from her face. In addition, her mother, who lives in North Carolina, was very sick and could not visit her. Before her release Beverly had not seen her mother in three and a half years. "I worried a lot about her. I worried that she would die when I was in there ... the worst part I think was the pressure I felt I was putting on my children. Not knowing if we would get the decision we were looking for. The frustration ... it was awful."
Despite her time in prison, Beverly doesn't look like your typical hardened criminal. She has short, salt-and-peppered hair and looks and acts more like your best friend's grandmother than someone who has been accused of murder. Beverly now lives with her daughter, Katie, in a sun-filled house on the North Side. Her grandson, Asher, was born while she was in prison, and she has been spending the time since her release just getting to know him.
"My faith in the justice system has been completely shattered," Beverly says. "I was raised to trust the police. I have always believed that if you trust the truth everything will work out."
Beverly's daughter, Katie, a lawyer herself, thinks the issue is much larger. "It's not just one police investigator that is flawed. It's the whole system. The whole system is flawed ... It's hard to believe that this kind of thing is allowed to continue. It's hard to believe that the state has a right to do this to someone."
During her years in the Pocahontas Correctional Center for Women in Chesterfield County, Beverly says, she kept very busy. She taught a computer class and, using her background as an information analyst, she helped other imprisoned women with their cases. Beverly says that the presence of other cases similar to her own is sobering. "God only knows how many others there are. This is not the only case of it in Virginia. We aren't the only ones who have been hurt."
Beverly's personal knowledge of these problems, as well as the suffering that she underwent during her imprisonment changed her in many ways. "I have a totally different view now then I did before. I have done a lot of reading on prison issues and how we can better use our resources. I would like to continue to work with people in rehabilitation and transition programs. I have a lot of empathy for these women now, and I want to help ... there's still a lot of work to do."
When Beverly speaks of the moment she learned of the judge's decision to release her, her face lights up and her eyes become wet with joy. "When the judge's decision came it was like sunshine pushing all the clouds and the rocks away. I was given the phone and Katie was on the other line and we just cried. We could barely talk ... It was that sense that something's going to be right ... It was just like sunshine."
But Beverly wasn't the only one to celebrate the judge's decision. As she walked back to the dormitory to gather her things she was surrounded by well-wishers. Everyone offered her hugs of congratulation, from her fellow inmates to the prison staff. "As I left," Beverly says, "the entire dorm roared with cheers. Everyone was cheering."
Despite the struggle it has been for Beverly and her family, they aren't out of the woods yet. The state attorney's office has vowed to appeal the judge's decision, despite the multiple problems with the case. There is no timetable for the appeal yet.
"It just feels like more of this senseless insanity, and we just hope that someone will put a stop to this," Beverly says. "It doesn't make any sense. Of course it never made any sense and it makes even less sense now. If anybody looks at just some of the facts they'll know that it's not right ... They (the prosecution) could put us right back in this horrible position again ... they could tie our lives up for another year."
Beverly and Katie think that it's imperative that the public find out as much as they can about the case. "Its important for people to not always accept what is the first impression about something but to start to ask questions," Beverly says. "The very basic questions (about the case) haven't been asked. The very basic questions show that this thing is not logical at all. And it never should have happened ... I would like people to know that this could happen to anyone."
Whatever may happen in the future, Beverly and her family plan to hold on to the victory that they have won and hope that it will not be in vain. For now the Monroe family gathers around the dinning room table placing their images next to another and take solace in the fact that, for the present at least, they are together.