God’s power and love have no limits, which means no heinous act of evil exceeds the potential for redemption and forgiveness. Yes, God may forgive even the cold-blooded murders of children.
The people of Colorado Springs are not God. Not even close.
Gary Flakes participated in the murder of two teenagers, not so long ago. Today, he wants the community that lost kids to his crime — lost them forever — to make him a member of City Council.
The Gazette’s editorial board has two words for Flakes: No way. You shouldn’t even ask.
Flakes is a pretty good guy these days, given a written account and video interview by Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. Flakes, a Muslim, credits his reformation to a religious conversion in prison. He is an educated man who used the prison library as a university. He speaks with the eloquence and sophistication one expects of a learned man.
Flakes sounds genuinely remorseful for the deaths of 13-year-old Andy Westbay and 15-year-old Scott Hawrysiak on Valentine’s Day of 1997, just 15 years ago. He hopes to meet the parents of the murdered children. Flakes presented them a letter of apology during his 1999 sentencing. Authorities said Flakes, 16 at the time of the murders, and Jeron Grant drove up behind the two victims on Canoe Drive. Each victim was killed with a 12-gauge shotgun. A jury convicted Flakes and Grant as accessories to murder and did not conclude who pulled the trigger.
Given the nature of the crime, and the fact neither tried to stop it, their sentences were a gift. They were minors tried as adults — like the teen suspect charged with killing and chopping up the body of Jessica Ridgeway. White collar criminals and nonviolent drug offenders have done more time than the 12 years Flakes originally served. We say “originally” because Flakes returned to prison after violating parole. He has been a free man for less than a year and wants us to trust him with enormous responsibility.
The grace of God reforms some felons so thoroughly they become assets to their communities. Look no further than the Rev. Promise Lee, pastor of Relevant Word Ministries. Lee, at 16, killed a man during a drug deal in 1974. He did his time and in 1982 received a religious conversion. Today he is a long-time community volunteer who has built a successful ministry and driven drug dealers and prostitutes out of his neighborhood.
If Flakes continues in his relationship with God, and lives productively outside of prison for decades, he might achieve the status of Lee or others who are examples of successful rehabilitation. We wish him well, but there is no shortcut around the substantial time required to re-establish trust.
As recently as June, Flakes told Vogrin he refuses to hold teenagers in judgment for committing murder.
“I don’t think I was a bad kid,” Flakes told Vogrin.
We think you were bad, Flakes. While you may have moved on, and might do great things, a teenager who participates in double murder epitomizes “bad kid.”
This tale gets even worse. A news release about the campaign says Rosemary Harris Lytle, president of The NAACP Colorado/Montana/Wyoming State Area Conference, would join Flakes for his formal announcement Wednesday evening. It also announced support from former Democratic State Rep. Dennis Apuan, D-Colorado Springs.
Lytle, a former Gazette columnist, cannot support Flakes without creating a perception he is backed by the mainstream, responsible organization she heads. Lytle stands to marginalize the NAACP with this. If the NAACP wants to advance people of color, Lytle should remember that Flakes helped kill two people of color. They will never seek public office or serve this community in any manner.
We hope Flakes will do great things and emerge as a community leader. It won’t surprise us. It’s just too early to ask for so much in a community that still mourns the deaths of two irreplaceable teens. Mr. Flakes, please end this campaign. Do it for your family, the community and, most importantly, survivors of the boys you helped kill.