Resting Places / Chapter Thirteen: Pieces you can’t put back together
Yoko Kato visits the grave of her daughter and grandson, Sherry Morton and Cedric, soon after they were murdered in January 1993.
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COURTESY OF YOKO KATO
Sherry Morton and Cedric Seabrooks in 1992, months before they were murdered in Northampton on Jan. 11, 1993. Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON - Yoko Kato could still picture the life her grandson Cedric had lived. In her newest memories he was standing on the couch by the front windows of her dress shop downtown. He would bounce across the cushions like a man on the moon, just tall enough to look over the back of the couch and out onto Main Street. He’d call out “car” and “truck.”
Sherry would drop Cedric off at the shop before going to work on days when he was too sick to attend day care. He napped on the couch’s wide pillows. Before he came, Yoko would search her gray carpet for straight pins that might have fallen from dresses she was making. On days that Cedric was visiting, the mailman would step around the switch under Yoko’s hall carpet, so the bell didn’t ring and startle the child.
Once he started to walk, Cedric liked to approach his reflection in the shop’s floor-to-ceiling mirror, high-fiving it. Fingerprints of those greetings remained after his death, visible when the light in the room was right.
One Saturday morning, a Northampton police officer came up the stairs to Yoko’s shop with an evidence kit, the same kind of kit he’d taken to Sherry’s apartment on the night of the murders. Yoko led him to the mirror.
The officer bent to unpack his kit. He had gone to school with Yoko’s husband and was there as a favor. He dusted the glass and transferred several of Cedric’s fingerprints to a card. Yoko placed the prints in a cardboard box and put the box in a safe place in her shop.
The jury deliberated for three hours before finding Sean Seabrooks guilty of two counts of murder in the first degree. Sean had chosen not to be in the courtroom for the verdict, but was brought in for sentencing, restrained in handcuffs. He had been watching the proceedings on a video monitor down the hall.
It wasn’t the first time the jury had seem him in shackles. One morning, he’d stood and overturned the defense table, reacting to the judge’s decision not to let the jury consider whether he was mentally impaired on the night he killed Sherry and Cedric. That decision meant he was facing first-degree murder charges that could send him to prison for life.
Yoko and her daughter, Jeannie Banas, saw what rage did to Sean’s features. Yoko was imagining Sean at Sherry’s apartment. Two court officers had tackled Sean and placed him in leg and hand shackles. The judge cleared the room and Sean’s family and friends, some shouting, spilled into the hall. An ambulance crew arrived to evaluate Jeannie, who was five months pregnant.
With its verdict, the jury concluded that Sean had planned the killings and that they could be classified as representing extreme cruelty or atrocity. The system provided for an automatic appeal to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. Sean was later granted a new trial due to errors in the first. He was convicted again.
Just as the first verdict came in, the sun came out from behind clouds and light poured in through a window behind the judge. Jeannie says people joked that Sherry was in charge of the weather. It had been raining on the day the family dedicated a new headstone at Spring Grove Cemetery. Just as they were about to unveil it, the sun had come out.
Before Sean was sentenced, Yoko got her chance to tell the judge how the murders had changed her life.
I always had this fear ever since she met Sean. Sherry was always afraid that something was going to happen to Cedric. That is why Cedric’s room was never used. Cedric slept with his mom until death. I know why now. ...
Since their death I will never be the same as before. It’s like a crystal ball shattered. You can put the pieces back together, but it will never be the same.
Sean took everything from us. This man did that. All of our dreams are shattered. Sherry’s dream to have a vacation with Cedric. The dream of watching Cedric grow and his future, we hoped, to bring everybody together. That’s been shattered. Jeannie’s baby will never know that he had a cousin. We cannot share this happiness of her baby with Sherry and Cedric.
Sherry became a good, good mother. It surprised me. She changed and developed responsibility. Once, she hated to get up in the morning. But with Cedric, she’d get up in the morning and get the milk ready for the baby. She wanted to make sure she had everything.
Your honor, Sean Seabrooks sent them a life sentence without parole. That’s how I feel. Cedric did not know what was going on. Sherry did not know what was going on. She was very happy staying home with Cedric. Then Sean came into their home and stabbing them that often, to watch them bleed to death.
He kept stabbing, stabbing, stabbing ... through the screams and sounds and everything. How anyone can do this to his own child, how could he keep stabbing and watch them die?
Sherry couldn’t do anything but hold Cedric. To protect her own son. They were helpless. As a mother, to see your own son being slashed.
Of course, if Sean gets a life sentence, that’s not equal to what we lost. Not even nearly equal. He’d still get to see the lights and feel the air. He can smell the flowers. He has every sense and function of the body. They don’t. Your honor, I wish you will give fair justice to Sean. Sean destroyed Sherry and Cedric’s life in a violent manner, also destroyed my family’s life and my life. Our futures were taken away by him. We have to set a good example for the next generation.
On the one-year anniversary, Yoko, Jeannie and their friends asked supporters to meet at a park in downtown Northampton, light candles there and walk through the heart of the city to the First Churches.
Inside the church, the city’s mayor asked the hundred or so who gathered in the sanctuary to remember Sherry and Cedric as people, not just as symbols of what she referred to as a terrible social epidemic.
Yoko had asked her friend Taitetsu Unno, a Smith College religion professor, to speak. He asked everyone to ponder the fragile nature of human life.
Yoko was attending meetings of a grief group in South Hadley called Compassionate Friends. People there had been pressing her to find a way to forgive. In her therapy sessions with Cat Chapin, the question of forgiveness came up again and again. Yoko told Cat one day that she understood why people in the group believed in forgiveness, because God forgives.
But through months and months of sessions with Cat, Yoko was adamant that she couldn’t forgive Sean until she knew that everything was OK with Sherry. Otherwise, forgiving Sean would be betrayal to Sherry.
“Should you forgive?” Cat asked. “When you are old, come and tell me what you think about it, because it may take that long to sort it out. It would be nice if Sherry could send a telegram. But you’re not going to know in this life.”
Yoko: “I don’t want to do anything to hurt her feelings.”
Cat: “That’s right.”
Between sessions, Cat looked up how the Bible treated forgiveness. Sean must ask for God’s forgiveness, she reported to Yoko, and then must work for it.
Yoko spoke with Jeannie, who said her therapist, a Buddhist, held the view that if someone kills a child, especially his own child, forgiveness is impossible. The therapist had stressed that it was only her view, but Jeannie, and then Yoko, took it to heart.
The therapist reminded her that even if a person withholds forgiveness, she must not be consumed by anger.
Once Sean began his prison term, Yoko struggled with a desire to let him know how much happiness he had destroyed. Cat sugested she write a letter to Sean but not mail it.
Yoko hadn’t wanted to be the first to make contact. She thought that might suggest forgiveness she didn’t feel. Silence, Yoko reasoned, would signal to Sean that she was unyielding in her anger.
One week before Christmas, Yoko saw Sherry in a dream. She wore her hair in a pony tail and was getting into a car. Mother and daughter greeted each other like friends who had fallen out of touch. Sherry told Yoko she’d had an operation on her knee. She wore a metal brace on it. Yoko hugged her. Two weeks later, in another dream, Yoko again saw Sherry getting into a car. She noticed that she wasn’t wearing makeup, and that her face was scarred. Sherry said she was looking for a cosmetic surgeon, but not for herself. She needed to find one so Sean could change his appearance. She seemed to have forgiven him.
TOMORROW: Facing up to forever.