For Sonoma cyclist's widow, meeting husband's killer changed her life

  • Patty O'Reilly, left, and her daughter Siobhan O'Reilly in Agua Caliente, Thursday, November 1, 2012. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

For many months, Patty O'Reilly plotted and rehearsed and steeled herself for the perfect act of vengeance on the man who killed her husband on a rural Santa Rosa road in 2004.

On the appointed day, O'Reilly strode into Folsom Prison. Led to a small room, she took a seat across a table from Michael Albertson, who'd been an enraged alcoholic when his careening pickup slammed into the bicycle Danny O'Reilly, 43, was riding toward home in Sonoma.

In the prison room, Patty O'Reilly looked straight at Albertson, who is serving a 14-year sentence. Sparing no details, she recounted for him the horrors and sorrow he'd inflicted on her and her daughters, who were 12 and 7 when a deputy sheriff bearing grim news knocked on the door on the worst day of their lives.

O'Reilly, the proprietor of Sonoma Conservatory of Dance, set on the prison table the book she'd carried in. It was an album full of photos that told the story of the happy family that traced its beginning to the day she and Danny married in 1991, after having met in a dance class in San Francisco.

"I went through the whole album," she said. One picture after another caught free spirit Danny O'Reilly -- a dancer, cellist, guardian of the earth and Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates marketing ace -- sharing a moment with his wife and their girls, Erin, who's now 21, and Siobhan, 16.

Inmate Albertson, then 48, wept. The Cobb resident, who'd lived a tormented childhood and was sober for 14 years before falling off the wagon and having a blow-up with his girlfriend shortly before the fatal drive, apologized repeatedly for what he'd done.

O'Reilly believes that his expressions of remorse were genuine and that the confrontation and conversation were arduous for him.

"For him to sit there . . . was a lot harder than just being in prison," she said.

That four-hour meeting at Folsom, inspired by the concept of restorative justice and arranged by the state's Victim-Offender Mediated Dialogue Program, happened six years ago, in 2006.

O'Reilly left feeling that true vengeance was served because her understanding of the origins of the word pertained not to eye-for-an-eye revenge but the bringing of a transgressor to full justice, nothing more or less.

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