After years of waiting, Sonoma Valley teen prepares to meet man who killed her dad
Siobhan O’Reilly has waited more than 10 years to look into the eyes of the man who killed her father.
She’s 18 now and on the cusp of graduation from high school. She was just 7 ?when a drunken driver’s pickup plowed ?into her dad, Danny O’Reilly, as he pedaled his bike after work toward his family’s Sonoma Valley home.
At last old enough to go into prison and encounter inmate Mike Albertson, Siobhan prepares, emotionally and procedurally, for the visit she expects to occur as soon as early this summer at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.
Everyone can imagine being in her shoes and formulating what to say to the person who widowed her mother and “changed my life so profoundly and suddenly.” Siobhan isn’t at all certain where her conversation with Albertson will go.
“It’s not going to be a chat over coffee with a friend,” she said. But she also has no intention of unleashing hatred or scorn on Albertson, who has nearly served out the 14-year sentence he received for the hit-and-run killing of her father, who was 43 and a playful, environmentally conscious Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates market analyst.
Siobhan plans to reiterate what she told Albertson in a letter she wrote at age 8: that she forgives him. She’ll want to make clear that her forgiveness doesn’t let him off the hook for what he did in April 2004. She will likely describe some of how the loss of her dad has affected her, her mother and older sister, and others.
And she expects to tell Albertson, who was 46 and living in Cobb at the time of the crash and now is 57, that she wants to hear what he has done to accept responsibility for the tragedy and to assure that he’ll never be at risk of causing such pain again.
“I think it will be very important for both of us,” the teenager said. “He’s obviously had an impact on my life, and I don’t think it’s too egotistical to say I’ve made an impact on him.”
She surely has. Though she has yet to stand face-to-face with Albertson, Siobhan has had an effect on his life by introducing him and her own family to the concept and practice of restorative justice.
In 2005, the year after she lost her dad, she made a card for the imprisoned Albertson. She drew a portrait of herself with tears on her cheeks and she wrote, “My name is Siobhan. I am ?8 years old. I’m not mad at you.”
She says it’s hard to say why she wrote that card, why she decided she would not detest Albertson.
“I was a little kid and I didn’t have a special agenda,” she said. “To me, it was simple and intuitive. I think a lot of it came from how I was raised by my mom and dad.”
She showed the card to her mother, Patty, and she announced that she wanted to see Albertson. Initially, Patty O’Reilly recoiled at the notion of her daughter forgiving and wanting to visit the killer.
Then she reflected. Rather than carry her hatred for the man, might it be better to confront and lay before him what he has wrought in her life and in those of everyone who loved Danny O’Reilly?
Patty did some research and learned that she could indeed meet with Albertson if he would agree to the encounter and agree also to examine what he’d done, why and what he needed to do to assure he wouldn’t ever do it again.
Patty, a Sonoma dance instructor who’d met Danny when they both performed as dancers, met with Albertson at Folsom State Prison in 2006. Their encounter was arranged by the state’s Victim-Offender Mediated Dialogue Program.
Patty suspects that the four-hour session made for Albertson’s toughest day in prison. He wept as she described the anguish he’d caused and showed him the happy pictures of Danny, herself, Erin and Siobhan in her family albums.
“I really do believe it’s the most effective form of justice,” Patty said. She figures that Albertson could have simply stewed in a cell and counted the days to his release, but instead he has confronted the consequences of his actions and has examined his life and alcoholism.
Patty’s belief in restorative justice has fueled her involvement as a volunteer in victim-offender programs at San Quentin Prison. She has played the role of a surrogate victim in emotional, mediated sessions with inmates willing to confront their destructive behavior and its root causes.
Saturday evening in Santa Rosa, Patty will join two former San Quentin inmates, Robert “Red” Frye and Leonard Rubio, in a discussion of restorative justice that will accompany a screening of the documentary “Meeting With a Killer.” It recounts what a Texas woman named Linda White did following the murder of her adult daughter by two 15-year-old boys.
The screening and panel discussion are part of a film series on restorative justice at Congregation Shomrei Torah. Joining Patty O’Reilly and the former inmates on the panel will be Rochelle Edwards, who created the victim-offender program at San Quentin.
The public program starts at the temple on Bennett Valley Road at 7 p.m.
Any discussion of restorative justice is good news to Siobhan O’Reilly, who days ago presented her own take on the approach as her senior project at Credo High in Rohnert Park.
“A lot of people haven’t been exposed to the concept,” the teen said.
As she prepares to meet the man whose deadly behavior slammed her family like a hit-and-run truck, she’s convinced that to work with willing offenders on taking responsibility and repairing their lives is far more effective way to address crime than punishment alone.
“And a much more healing way.”
Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and email@example.com.