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Fort Bend County, At Large
By Cheryl Skinner

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.


 

20 years of pain

I was initially shocked this week when Ben Elledge contacted me and disclosed that after nearly 20-years of fighting the criminal justice system, he was backing off and had agreed to let the Texas Board of Pardon’s and Parole free Timothy Acklen, his son’s confessed killer. (see front page story for details)

I remember the day Brandon was killed. It was the summer of 1988 and at that time Fort Bend County was one of the safest places in the world to live—or so we all thought. I was a small town reporter and while I had covered a couple of homicides since I had been a police reporter, they had been the normal domestic or bar-room incidents that occur in every community. This day was different and it would challenge me as a reporter. The police scanner crackled with activity—a young man had been shot, execution style, in the levee area behind Sweetwater Country Club. The area then was not developed and was considered somewhat remote.

The challenge came when I had to interview the shocked and grieving parents of Brandon Elledge. I can still remember my legs shaking, hands trembling outside of the Elledge’s beautiful Sugar Land home. I knew inside the home was a family in crisis and felt it was cruel to interject myself in their lives with questions in the quest for a news story. After getting up the nerve to go to the door, I was met by Ben Elledge who was gracious and open despite what appeared to be a state of emotional “auto-pilot” with swollen red eyes and a monotone voice, he shared his family’s trauma without me having to ask those horrible questions most reporters ask.

How do you ask a parent, who has just lost a child from a senseless act of violence—“how do you feel?” How stupid is that? If you are a parent, you can only remotely imagine the overwhelming feeling of helplessness and loss the person is feeling. I was glad Ben filled in the blanks without me having to ask. He seemed to want to talk about Brandon—not as the murder victim—but as the son, brother, student, athlete and unique individual he was. Betty Elledge was in another room and under sedation. It would be years later before we actually met. Ben walked me to the door as I was preparing to leave and there were trophies and plaques in a display that further reinforced his stories of the boy whose life had just been snuffed out for a stereo system. As we looked at the display, I noticed that Ben Elledge himself had been an outstanding high school athlete. I also noticed that he had attended the same school that my deceased father had attended. Still uncomfortable about the intrusion, I mentioned that to Ben—perhaps as a way of making me seem less like a piranha. It turned out that my father had been his high school football hero.

Perhaps that is what gave us a bond that has continued through the years. Perhaps it was because a crime of this magnitude is usually prosecuted to the fullest and the convicted stay behind bars for many years without incident and the reporters’ job is over after that is accomplished. Since this was not the case, I found myself covering the aftermath of the story for nearly 20 years.

So, I was humbled last week when Ben gave me a preview of his book. Much to my surprise in the draft that is to serve as a press release and will, according to Ben, be a part of the book one passage caught me off guard. It read: “Cheryl Skinner, who stood by me from the first days of this nightmare almost twenty years ago and her inimitable boss- lady, Ms. Bev Carter , who in this county is a force that gets folks moving, never once faltered in their support and it is to Cheryl that I will send the first draft of this statement. She has earned it.”

It has been a long and winding road. The one thing that sticks out in my mind is the promise Ben Elledge made to Brandon at his gravesite, which Ben visited daily to grieve. He promised his son that he would see justice done on his behalf no matter how long it took. Last year in the middle of the emotionally-charged battle to keep Acklen behind bars, Ben made a routine visit to his son’s grave and said he feared that he and Betty would not be able to continue the battle for many more years. He feared that once they were gone no one would be there to keep the promise. They were tired and emotionally drained but still determined to keep the promise.

So, it was understandable when Ben announced his decision to stop the battle but by releasing a tell-all book, it appears he will live up to his promise for justice to Brandon.

It has been a long and difficult road. May Brandon Elledge rest in peace and may his family finally find peace. They have done everything that can be done—against all odds.

 

Contact skinnerc1@tconline.net, if you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column. Write a SIGNED letter to the editor with valid day time phone number--name can be withheld by request.

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   Last Update:  April 30, 2008