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Rhonda Fields

Rhonda Fields


By Bill Johnson, Rocky Mountain News

It had taken so long.

There was the public pleading, the bus-bench ads she paid for, the weekend vigils she and Christine Wolfe stood in parks, holding photographs of their slain children.

Then, Tuesday arrived.

Rhonda Fields sat erect in her chair, leaning forward and nodding each time the judge read jury verdicts that made the young man seated to her far left eligible for the death penalty.

Rhonda Fields, 53, did not smile or reveal any hint of joy. She simply rose to her feet and walked briskly out of the Arapahoe County courtroom to once again face news cameras, to speak on her dead son's behalf.

"I'm just extremely proud of this jury," she said, her face still emotionless. "This is not easy."

Death, of the state-sanctioned variety, now sits firmly on the table after the jury agreed with prosecutors that there were five aggravating factors surrounding the ambush murders of Javad Marshall-Fields and Vivian Wolfe at an Aurora intersection in June 2005.

Had jurors, who convicted Sir Mario Owens last Wednesday on seven of eight felony counts, including first-degree murder after deliberation, found no aggravators, he automatically would have been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Attorneys for Owens today will begin their attempt to persuade jurors to spare the 22-year-old man's life.

It had been some time since I last saw Rhonda Fields, at a time when she seemed on the brink of absolute despair.

She had just purchased the bench ads and almost everyday was making public appeals for someone to come forward with information on the murders of her son and his fiancee.

"I'm fatigued," she said, as we stood in a courthouse corridor. "It is just a very sad thing that I am here and not preparing for my son's wedding or tending to my grandchild."

There was a moment after the hearing that Owens, wearing handcuffs, looked directly at her before staring for a long moment at me. He had not once flinched or offered any emotional response when the jury verdicts were read, never once looking up from his doodling on his lawyer's notepad.

Dressed in a purple tie and long-sleeve plaid shirt that he did not tuck into his baggy blue jeans, he looked the way all young killers do in a courtroom - almost like a choirboy.

And he just stared.

Later, I asked Rhonda Fields if she had noticed. She said she had not.

"When I see him," Rhonda Fields said, "it's just hard to get involved in much of any emotion."

Has she entertained any thoughts of forgiveness?

"Forgiveness?" she repeated, a quizzical look on her face. "It is in the hands of the Lord," she finally said. "It is up to Him to forgive . . . " We talked for a long time about the elephant in the hallway: the death penalty.

She has struggled with it, she confides. Before her son and Vivian were killed, she was foursquare against it.

Today, she speaks simply of seeing justice, that the system is set up with a series of laws, the death penalty being one of them. At one point, she abruptly looked away, clearly considering her thoughts and religious beliefs.

"You know," she finally said, "to me (him getting life without parole) would be like he got two free murders."

Sir Mario Owens currently is serving a life-without-parole sentence for the murder of Gregory Vann on July 4, 2004, which her son witnessed and was scheduled to testify about for the prosecution when he and Vivian Wolfe were killed.

"He should be held accountable," Rhonda Fields said. "For me, it is not about revenge, it is about seeing justice done for my son and Vivian. When I think of it, getting life on top of life in this case is not acceptable to me."

She did not in the past understand the high standards that are applied for death penalty cases, she explained.

"I've learned in this process that the death penalty is not given out like candy. There has to be strong criteria. He killed three people. He killed a witness. He qualifies."

Her life, she said, has totally changed over the past three years. She remains in her staff-training job with United Airlines, but in those years has lobbied hard with Christine Wolfe to pass two witness- protection bills in the state legislature. She has started a foundation in her son's name and is working on still more witness legislation she wants passed.

"I'm still in touch with the pain," Rhonda Fields said. "When my son died, I lost everything. Right now, my hands tingle, my face feels flush, just from the tension of all of this.

"This search for justice helps me, it diverts me," she said.

"You see when you ask me to 'feel,' it requires me to touch my pain, which still runs all through me."

Come this morning, she will be where she has been for the past six weeks: in the front row of Judge Gerald J. Rafferty's courtroom, watching and listening and remembering.

"This will never become 'over,' " Rhonda Fields said, as we said our goodbyes. "I am so happy that the system is working. But I must tell you, I would much rather have my son back." or 303-954-2763

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