No one knows how Landis Shippert feels. No one but him knows how his mind, body and soul are dealing with the unspeakable — with the loss of a child, the death of a child, the murder of his child.
We human beings sometimes assume we know what others are thinking or feeling, but this is often a misguided notion. This was evident when Shippert said in a Platte County courtroom last week that he had forgiven his daughter’s murderer, Quintin O’Dell.
“I hope and pray Mr. O’Dell will seek out the Lord and confess his sins,” Shippert said in an emotional statement that he read prior to Judge Abe Shafer’s sentencing of O’Dell. “If he does this, I’m sure the Lord will forgive him as I have forgiven him.”
No doubt like many others who heard Shippert say he forgave, I had a tough time wrapping my mind around his words. How could he forgive O’Dell, who admitted to the world that he bludgeoned Alissa Shippert to death with a hatchet on the banks of the Platte River on a sunny spring day in May 2011? How could he agree with a plea arrangement that resulted in O’Dell being spared the death penalty and instead being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole?
As a father, did he not want to avenge his daughter? Did he not want a confessed killer to pay the ultimate price for his crimes? Did he not want justice?
“My first inkling was I wanted an eye for an eye,” Landis Shippert said. “But I’m a very faithful person. The Bible says to forgive others of their sins. How can I expect God to forgive me of my sins if I don’t forgive him (O’Dell)?”
In theory I guess this is logical, but practically speaking, it’s less clear to me. By this I mean that I’m assuming Landis Shippert’s proclaimed transgressions — perceived or real — do not include murder. Lying, cheating or stealing is one thing, while murder is the ultimate sin. I’m certainly no moral authority, but it seems to me that forgiving someone of the former is not the same as forgiving them of the latter
So, after a post-sentencing press conference that Landis Shippert and his family and Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd held with the media, I was anxious to speak one-on-one with the man. Though I had not spoken with him very often in the months since O’Dell’s arrest for Alissa’s murder and the horrific razor assault of a Ferrelview woman, I remembered the considerable amount of time I spent talking with him for a story The Citizen published in the winter of 2011, when it seemed as if Alissa’s murder would never be solved. I remembered how thoughtful and measured he was. I thought then that he showed a tremendous amount of control and patience in the face of what had to be nearly unbearable pain and emotional turmoil.
When I heard Landis speak at the sentencing hearing, he still exhibited a mostly calm and balanced demeanor, though his voice broke at times during his courtroom statement. He seemed to regain his composure for the press conference, when he spoke eloquently about the months leading up to this day and how he missed his daughter and how he played certain songs that reminded him of her.
After the press conference I found Landis standing on the front steps of the Platte County Courthouse, smoking a cigarette as the sun began to peek through the clouds and provide a little warmth to an otherwise chilly morning. He clutched a Bible close to his chest.
We shook hands and engaged in a little small talk. He asked me about the newspaper business and I asked him about his new job teaching computer science at Concorde Career College in Kansas City.
Then I asked him point blank: “Landis, you said you forgive Quintin O’Dell — are you sincere about that?”
He didn’t blink or pause even for the slightest moment. His piercing blue eyes, a physical trait that he had passed to his slain daughter, were locked on mine.
“Yes, I am,” he said, holding up his Bible. “I have given this plenty of thought. I struggled with it, but I know it is right. In my heart, I have forgiven him. My family has pressed me about it, though.”
When he said that, I turned to his daughter, Pam, who was listening to our conversation.
“I don’t know how you do it,” she said. “I’m a mom and Lord help whoever did anything to one of my kids like that.”
Landis Shippert’s daughter is not alone in her sentiments, if the many public comments that have come my way in recent days or posts on The Citizen’s Facebook page are any indication. Many express outrage that O’Dell will live out his days in a taxpayer-funded prison instead of being executed and question why Zahnd did not seek the death penalty.
What many probably don’t know — or don’t want to consider — is that while Zahnd said, “I would have no hesitation in asking a jury to impose the death penalty in this case,” he also knew that a death penalty trial would be a prolonged, emotionally torturous experience for the already traumatized families of O’Dell’s victims.
And so Zahnd listened when O’Dell’s attorney offered a guilty plea on all counts in exchange for the State not seeking the death penalty. And he listened to Landis Shippert when he said, “I don’t want to see those images,” referring to the graphic evidence that would have likely been shown again and again during a trial.
In the end, one of the most shocking crime stories in Platte City’s history has come to an end. A 23-year-old man admitted his heinous crimes and will spend the rest of his days behind bars. It should be noted that he leaves behind not only scarred victims but his own decent, respected family to bear that burden.
Has society’s demand for justice been met? A case can be made either way. Perhaps a more important question is this: Would a death sentence for Quintin O’Dell have comforted the families of his victims?
Maybe, though Landis Shippert says otherwise.
Who are we to argue with him?