Tim and Debbie King could have held a grudge against the man responsible for the drunken-driving death of their daughter. Instead, they helped him get out of prison.
Debbie King may see her daughter’s killer in her home sometime soon.
He lives a few miles away.
King’s husband, Tim, already bumped into him once on the street.
When caller ID lists “pay phone” at the King family’s Grand Junction home, the Kings know the man who killed 20-year-old Rebekah Joy King is on the line.
These are happy things in the King home.
Henry Stoltman, 31, originally sentenced to serve 12 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide in Rebekah King’s death, is no longer in prison thanks in large measure to support, and forgiveness, of the Kings.
“I’ve seen nothing like it ... it’s amazing and touches my heart,” said Sharon Walker, a Grand Junction resident and retired parole officer of 27 years. Walker was a member of Colorado’s adult parole board under Gov. Bill Owens and now serves on the case review board for Mesa County Community Corrections.
“I think the Kings should be applauded,” she said. “They’re enabling this offender to take a more positive look at his life.”
‘HE LOOKED EMPTY’
There was no talk of forgiveness for Stoltman in the early hours of Aug. 3, 2010, at the King home. Rebekah King made her last post on Facebook, “I’m going to make this a good day,” before setting out the evening of Aug. 2 to meet friends from work at the Ale House. She drove north from the family home toward Patterson Road. Stoltman would later admit to getting behind the wheel of his Dodge pickup after drinking a 12-pack of beer and several shots of liquor. The first of three blood-alcohol tests showed he was nearly four times Colorado’s legal limit for DUI.
He drove east on Patterson, headed to Clifton’s Burger King, with no headlights activated, around 9:30 p.m., forcing at least one driver to brake hard to avoid hitting him. A Colorado State Patrol trooper engaged in a pursuit with lights flashing and sirens blaring as Stoltman continued east approaching Placer Street. There, King was turning west onto Patterson.
“Bekah King, unable to see Mr. Stoltman barreling down the road toward her, pulled out and the driver’s side of her car was obliterated,” prosecutors observed in a court filing. “Mr. Stoltman’s actions that night were comparable to as if he had fired a gun into a room full of people in it.”
His speed was estimated between 50 and 69 mph at impact.
Yet seeing Stoltman days later for the first time in a court appearance triggered something other than rage, Tim King said.
“He looked empty,” he said. “We just kind of felt sorry for him.”
A pastor at a Baptist church, Tim King 11 years ago left in a bitter split over doctrine and resigned his church leadership.
“We spent about a year grieving the whole situation,” he said. “We developed a view that forgiveness, love and grace should be the driving forces in the way we interact with one another. When Bekah died, we had an opportunity to take what we had learned. Here was an opportunity to demonstrate that, so what are we going to do?”
Stoltman hasn’t asked the family for anything, he said.
What would Bekah have thought?
“I’m not sure,” he said after a pause. “She was a pretty typical girl her age. She had her issues but overall she was a tender-hearted girl.”
Stoltman was sentenced March 11, 2011, by District Judge Richard Gurley to serve 12 years in prison. The Kings exchanged months of prison letters with Stoltman, before writing in August 2011 the first of several letters aimed at convincing the judge to reconsider and ultimately move Stoltman from prison in Trinidad to the much less restrictive Community Corrections program in Grand Junction.
“We would have done this (forgiveness) no matter what sort of man Henry turned out to be, but because of his remorseful demeanor and sensitivity to our plight, we feel like effort beyond personal forgiveness is in order,” the Kings wrote to the judge in a letter dated Aug. 19, 2011.
“We consider the loss of our precious daughter to be a colossal blow to us, but in the bigger picture of life, we don’t think that the slow destruction of a second life is the answer.”
Gurley denied Stoltman’s first bid for reconsideration — which was met with objection from the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office — but said in an order dated Dec. 19, 2011, he’d consider another request after a full year.
Court records reviewed by The Daily Sentinel showed Stoltman’s caseworkers in prison repeatedly praised his progress, highlighting no discipline problems. One Nov. 30, 2012, evaluation called him “focused and pro-active.”
Gurley approved a second motion for reconsideration on April 19, ordering Stoltman to serve what’s left of his sentence in Community Corrections. Stoltman was back in Mesa County on April 26, which would have been Bekah King’s 23rd birthday.
“The court is particularly pleased to learn that rather than becoming despondent and bitter about his last motion for reconsideration being denied, the defendant has continued to take advantage of all the resources available to him in an effort to better himself,” Gurley wrote in an order reducing the sentence. “... The King family has not wavered in their support for the defendant ...”
Stoltman didn’t respond to interview requests for this story.
Assuming good time and completion of an assortment of classes, Stoltman is projected to be a free man by the fall of 2020, possibly sooner, according to Dennis Berry, director of the Mesa County Criminal Justice Services Department. Like any other client, Stoltman has to keep a job and pays room-and-board, in addition to an assortment of class fees and court costs.
Support from the Kings should help Stoltman’s chances for continued success, Berry said. “We have to literally show some people how to build positive relationships in the community,” he said.
Tim King now serves on Community Corrections’ review board. The position brought him face-to-face recently with Stoltman outside the facility. Debbie King speaks of maybe having Stoltman over to the family home for Bible study, although no firm plans are in place. Stoltman, in his perpetually shy manner, thought it might be awkward, Debbie King said.
For now, they’re happy with the weekly phone calls they get from Stoltman.
He’s afforded 15 minutes on the phone. They talk about the Broncos, spirituality or Bekah.
“Just to love unconditionally is a goal we set,” Tim King said. “We hope Henry can come to understand that, too.”