Their capacity to forgive is beyond me

Could you forgive someone who murdered your child?

I stumbled across the A&E show I Am A Killer last week on Netflix. Season 2, Episode 1 is the story of Lindsay Haugen, who strangled her boyfriend of four weeks, Robby Mast, in her car in a Walmart parking lot in Billings, Montana in September 2015.

There are so many shocking things about this story it’s hard to know where to start

Not surprisingly there was an element of drugs and alcohol to the murder, for which Haugen is now serving a 60-year prison term.

She insists she did it at Mast’s behest. She says he was suicidal and that she loved him so much she gave in to his repeated request to put him out of his misery.

But in her initial interview, she admits to the detective that she guessed she just wanted to know what it felt like to kill somebody with her bare hands.

She also said she tried to stop when he seemed to lose consciousness, but that he pulled her hands back onto his neck and made her continue.

And while she maintains her motive was love, other testimony points squarely at jealousy over a previous girlfriend Mast was trying to return to.

The whole thing is so implausible, it’s no wonder a jury decided to lock her up for six decades.

But who knows? The spectrum of human behaviour is so bizarre, especially when drugs and alcohol and a history of abuse are involved, that anything might be possible.

In any event, I was almost ready to abandon the episode, when the story took a turn that just blew my mind.

Mast’s mother and stepfather, Dori and Gene Greeson, not only say they have forgiven Haugen, they have an ongoing relationship with her.

“I was able to forgive Lindsay because I know I am forgiven by God,” Dori Greeson said. “The person who took my son’s life, her just saying ‘I’m so sorry,’ and receiving our forgiveness—she’s been an example of how I need to be with my savior, the one who has forgiven me.”

The episode even shows the couple having video chats with Haugen and they seem to have genuinely grown very fond of her. They say forgiving her has actually brought them joy.

I really want to believe this capacity for forgiveness exists in the world, but I can’t help but think they must be experiencing some form of Stockholm Syndrome. That concept is more commonly associated with kidnap victims developing sympathy for their captors, but it kind of fits.

“The hostages experience a powerful, primitive positive feeling towards their captor,” explained psychiatrist Dr, Frank Ochberg, who was tasked with defining the syndrome for the U.S. National Task Force on Terrorism and Disorder in the 1970s. “They are in denial that this is the person who put them in that situation. In their mind, they think this is the person who is going to let them live.”

It occurs to me it may be easier for them to live in that denial than accept the horrible thing that happened.

If not, I think they are far better people than I am.

Then again, how I might react to something so far outside the realm of my experience, is hard to predict.

Maybe Haugen is genuinely repentant, maybe the Greesons are genuinely (and unnaturally) forgiving, but it seems far more likely Haugen is a stone-cold sociopath playing on the emotions of grieving parents in anticipation of her first date with the parole board in 2030.

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