A Murder Trial and Faith Formation

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April 21, 2016: The trial was entering its fourth month and the crown prosecutor had established a method that was meticulous, thorough, and calm in a pincer-like way. Dellen Millard and Mark Smich were on trial for stealing a pick-up and then murdering its owner, Tim Bosma, husband, father, member of Ancaster (ON) CRC. My wife and I were able to attend the proceedings on the first day that Smich’s (former) girlfriend, Marlena Meneses, testified. Tim disappeared on the night of May 6, 2013 at 9 PM.

Millard and Smich sat impassive, remarkably close to Tim’s family.  Ms. Meneses, 18 at the time of murder, looked and sounded frail. The prosecutor took the court through a ten minute sequence of events beginning at 7:52 AM, the next morning after Tim’s disappearance:

  1. We see records of texting between Smich’s and Meneses’ cell phones.
  2. We see video footage of Meneses entering an apartment elevator and then leaving the building through the lobby.  
  3. We see video footage of the accuseds’ vehicle entering the grounds, and Smich helping her into the vehicle.
  4. The prosecutor then asks her, “what was the mood like in the vehicle?” She replies, “Celebrative; they told me they had accomplished their mission, and they wanted to celebrate.”

It was just one sentence, a sentence that illustrates a great divide.  

In the front row of the visitors’ gallery sat Tim’s widow and his parents, surrounded by thirty relatives, friends, and church members, absorbing that one word used to describe the accuseds’ mood after they had killed their loved one: “Celebrative.”

One could say that the first three months of the trial described in careful detail the “faith formation” of the accused ones and their community: as the prosecution described the kinds of relationships they formed, the activities they engaged in and the priorities they lived out, the court was actually receiving a profound account of their faith formation. After all, relationships, activities and priorities are the key indicators of anyone’s faith formation. One could sense how step by step their formation developed to the point where committing murder became more and more possible. The process was heart-breaking.  

In a very different and much more subtle way, the court also experienced a different story of faith formation: the formation of the grieving community. It’s not my place to describe what they are going through, but I am deeply struck by two things:

  1. The Ancaster CRC is bathing the family, friends and the entire trial process in prayer and love that they may be protected, persevering through the grace of Jesus, and this prayer covering has been noticed by all who are following the trial.  
  2. The reporters covering the trial are deeply struck by the contrast between the social world of the accuseds and the social world of the grievers. The events of this trial contain ALL the ingredients needed for lurid, sensationalistic journalism, but this type of reporting has not materialized. Instead, the coverage has usually been respectful, gentle, warm towards the family, building capacity in the wider community to grieve with the family and friends through its tone and content.  

It’s a cliché that the most intense events in life reveal what we are truly made of and how we have been formed. In this case it’s much more than a cliché: it feels like a powerful glimpse into the contrast between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light.  

And it leaves me with this prayer: “Dear Lord, we have witnessed the wounding power of darkness. Now our longing is that when this trial is over, we will also hear about the power of your light penetrating this darkness and testifying to the gospel of reconciliation and hope, so that these two men and their community will see the power of your grace and be changed forever.  Amen.”  

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