Home
Episodes
About Us
Store
Other Programs 
Donate 
Contact Us 
Guests
Transcript
Newspaper Articles
Feedback




Sunny Jacobs

  
Sunny Jacobs:

When we were taken into custody I thought I was being saved…rescued. And then later on I realized that we weren't being rescued at all and that this was just the beginning of a nightmare that would last for 17 years

Music

 
Dwight Nelson:

Sunny Jacobs and her husband were jailed for murder. Sunny's husband was executed in the electric chair for the crime. But after 17 years previously suppressed evidence was uncovered proving them innocent of the crime. Sunny was released. But 17 years of her life are gone. And her husband is dead. Are some injustices too great to be forgiven? What does it mean to forgive? Hilary Carr reports.

Hilary Carr:

The year was 1976. Sunny Jacobs received a call from Jessie Defaro, her common law husband the man of her dreams. Every once in a while Jessie left to go earn some money for the family. Sunny didn't know how he earned it and she didn't want to know. Jessie Defaro had promised Sunny this particular trip would be the last. But the business he was conducting with his friends in South Florida fell through leaving him broke and in need of her help.

Sunny Jacobs:

I packed up the kids in this old car that we had with a case of oil because it was the kind of car that just spewed black smoke out behind it down the road. And every once in a while you had to stop and pour in another can of oil and spew more black smoke. And I drove with the kids, breast feeding my daughter, singing songs to my son, driving.

Hilary Carr:

After picking up Jessie their old car broke down. So they called one of Jessie's friends, ex-con Walter Norman Rhodes. Rhodes eventually agreed to take them to another friend's house where they would wait for money to be wired from her parents. But it was getting late so they pulled into a rest area to sleep. In the early morning hours trooper Phillip Black and visiting Canadian Constable Donald Irwin stopped to do a routine check. In the process ex-con Walter Rhodes shot and killed both officers.

Sunny Jacobs:

And so I covered the children. And then when the shooting stopped I looked up to see where Jessie was…to see if he was ok. And he was standing there in the middle of the cars. And Walter Rhodes was running between…around the cars with a gun in his hand saying that we were to take the police car and to hurry.

Hilary Carr:

Sunny wanted to stay behind but because they were eye witnesses to the murder Rhodes threatened to kill them. He drove the terrified hostages to the parking lot of a retirement home where he kidnapped an elderly man and stole his car.

Sunny Jacobs:

We could hear the helicopters overhead and I knew that we were rescued at that point because it was all over. I knew the police were on to us. It was obviously a road block. And so when we got to where we could see the road block Mr. Rhodes made some sort of snap, last minute decision and he swerved hard to the left. I assume trying to avoid the road block. And that's when the police opened fire. They had a whole line of policemen with long guns, rifles of some sort. And they basically blasted the car. It was the most extraordinary thing. Because I knew that they knew there were hostages in that car. And I didn't know at the time but the man's wife had called the police. So they absolutely knew with certainty that there were hostages including women and children in the car.

Hilary Carr:

Miraculously Walter Rhodes was the only one hit in the barrage of gunfire. The police pulled him out of the car and placed him in an ambulance.

Sunny Jacobs:

So they took Walter Rhodes out and put him in an ambulance. They brought the old man out of the car. And then they took Jessie out of the car and handcuffed him. I was standing in the crowd at that point watching. And then a policeman came out of the crowd with his gun turned around with the butt end forward and smashed Jessie in the side of the head and knocked him to the ground. At that point I ran over and threw myself over him because the man had raised his gun again and it looked to me like he was just going to smash his head in. So I covered him with my body and at that point I was arrested and pulled off of Jessie. They took the children in one car and they took me in another and Jessie in another. On the ride to the substation, the first of I think three police stations that we were taken to before we were finally taken to the main one, they pulled off to the side of the road to argue between them, the police, whether or not to take us in or to take us over to some rail road tracks to kill us and say that we had tried to escape.

Hilary Carr:

Fortunately those who argued to take them in prevailed. Sunny was taken to the police station and now allowed to see her nine year old son or her ten month old daughter.

Sunny Jacobs:

And I tried to tell them that, that she didn't know how to drink from a bottle. But she was nursing. No one would listen to me. And I never knew where she was taken and I was never allowed to communicate that information to whoever was taken care of her. Until finally after about a month my parents were able to get the custody of my daughter. And then it took almost another month to get custody of my son who was kept in a juvenile detention center in isolation because he was so young.

Hilary Carr:

At the trial the prosecution bolstered it's case against Sunny by intimidating a cell mate arrested for possessing diet pills. They told her she could go free if she helped them get a conviction but could face years in jail if she didn't.

Sunny Jacobs:

It became apparent to me at that point in time that they weren't looking for truth. They were looking for a conviction. And that things were not what they were supposed to be.

Hilary Carr:

In order to avoid the electric chair, Walter Rhodes plea bargained for three life sentences in exchange for his incriminating testimony against Sunny and Jessie. Jessie Defaro's trial lasted only four days. After which he was convicted and sentenced to death. A jury found Sunny Jacobs guilty and sentenced her to life in prison. But the judge, a former highway patrol officer, over ruled the jury and illegally sentenced her to death.

Sunny Jacobs:

And I think he knew eventually that his sentence would be overturned. But that it would take…he would get a good chunk of my life in the mean time. And he did.

Dwight Nelson:

We'll have more of this amazing story when we come back.

Music

 

Dwight Nelson:

On the basis of tainted evidence Sunny Jacobs and her husband Jessie were convicted of killing two police officers. Both were sentenced to death.

Sunny Jacobs:

I was very angry. Very disillusioned. And I had lost all faith in any thing I had been taught to believe in including God. I was real mad at him. I didn't understand…I couldn't imagine. I had never hurt anyone in my entire life. I never was even in a fight. And now this. Basically I spend the whole time in solitary confinement which was also a form of sensory deprivation because there was no one there. They cleared out a building and put me in it. And I stayed in it by myself. I was the only one who lived in that building. So the only sound I heard was the sounds that I made. And the only movement in the room…in the cell was the movement that I created. So at first I was really angry. And I paced the floor. It was more like a tomb than a cell, really. Because the walls were made of concrete block and the floor was cement and it had a solid metal door with a small window in it for them to observe me on an hourly basis. Write down what I was doing but they didn't communicate with me. They wouldn't even make eye contact with me. And it was in the rules that they not.

Hilary Carr:

Sunny was given a Bible and a law book, pencil and paper, white pajamas and a pair of shoes and nothing else. She read the Bible searching for answers by randomly opening it and reading whatever it had to say to her. Every day it told her something she needed to know.

Sunny Jacobs:

And so one day it told me that they don't say when I die. They just don't say. They are not really in charge of that. And so I also realized that in a way I'd been given a gift. You see, because they were supplying my basic needs. I didn't have to cook, clean, work. I would have loved to be with my children but I couldn't be. So I really had no responsibilities except one. And that was whether my life be long or short, to become the best person that I could be. On death row what happened was I connected. I connected with a source of strength that I guess you have to be pushed into a corner to even look for in your life. I think seeing the face of your own death has a sort of life affirming affect, you know. It makes those days all the more precious and meaningful.

Hilary Carr:

After five years on death row the judge's illegal death sentence was overturned and Sunny was released into the general prison population. After five years of silence she talked to her fellow inmates non-stop for three days until she lost her voice. She had visitors again. And her life had almost regained a sense of normalcy.

Sunny Jacobs:

Then a year after I was released from death row, my parents decided that maybe they could go on a vacation for once and not have to come to prison. So they dropped my daughter off with Jessie's parents and went on for a holiday and unfortunately on the way the plane crashed and they were killed . And that was…that was the most difficult day of my life. My children were devastated once again they lost their home and their security in the world. That was the most difficult thing for me was the children. I couldn't help them. I felt so helpless.

Hilary Carr:

Then on May 4, 1990, after fifteen years of incarceration Sunny Jacob's husband, Jessie Defaro, was executed in the electric chair. After his execution Sunny's lawyers found a statement by a prison guard who had overheard Walter Rhodes bragging that two people were on death row for murders he had committed. That statement had been hidden by the prosecution.

Sunny Jacobs:

Jessie's lawyers said that had they had that statement before the execution, Jessie never would have been executed. And in fact, it would have been grounds for a new trial. So he might be alive today. Tomorrow the anniversary of his death, we might be celebrating instead. And that hurts me. That's hard for me. The first year that I was out on the anniversary on his birthday, what would have been his birthday and the anniversary of his death, I …there was no consolation for me. Because I was free and he should have been here.

Hilary Carr:

Seventeen years after Sunny and Jessie were sentenced to death the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals was given proof that witness testimony had been falsified. The results of Walter Rhodes lie detector test were also falsified. Additional evidence that would have cleared Sunny and Jessie had been suppressed. On October 19, 1992 Sunny's conviction was over turned and she was released from prison.

Sunny Jacobs:

When I went in I was a mother, two young children, a daughter and a wife. And I was in my twenties. When I came out I was a widow, and an orphan, and a grandmother. Who can compensate you for that? Well the answer is that only you can compensate yourself. Really. And in a way maybe that's the answer in all cases. Only you can compensate yourself. So that's what I have chosen to do.

Dwight Nelson:

Sunny struggled with her loss and with her anger and with a sense of betrayal. She was free but after suffering so many wounds how could she go on with her life? We'll find out when we talk to her here in the studio right after this.

Music

 

Dwight Nelson:

We've been recounting the amazing story of Sunny Jacobs who spent five years on death row and then an additional twelve years in prison for a crime you didn't commit.

Sunny Jacobs:

Yes.

Dwight Nelson:

Sunny, we are delighted to have you.

Sunny Jacobs:

Thank you.

Dwight Nelson:

Glad you are here.

Sunny Jacobs:

I'm very happy to be here.

Dwight Nelson:

The story ends with prison. You eventually get out of prison. What next?

Sunny Jacobs:

Well, that's my favorite part.

Dwight Nelson:

Is it?

Sunny Jacobs:

Yeah….the getting out part. The police escorted me to the door with my little box of belongings. That was all I had after 17 years. And opened the door and handed me my box and told me to have a nice life. And I didn't know what to do. Because there was no one there to tell me. And you know, in prison someone always tells you what to do. So I walked over to the stairs and I hesitated because I thought again someone would surely say something. No one did. And I took a few steps down the stairs and again I waited. There was no reaction. So I started down the stairs. And by the time I got to the bottom of the stairs I was running. I ran down the stairs. And I ran down the street. And the sun and the moon were both out at the same time. You know that moment? It was so perfect. And it was in the evening and I thought this must moment was just made for me. The sun and the moon were there to celebrate the moment with me.

Dwight Nelson:

And yet even at that moment you have lost practically your whole world. You've lost your husband, Jessie. Your parents are gone. Essentially you lost the childhood of your children. Why did you make the choice to forgive?

Sunny Jacobs:

Well, on my own behalf I did it for myself. Because if I was going to have a beautiful new life, it would be ashamed to drag all that muck into it. Hatred and anger and grief and bitterness and revenge and all those negative things that would just hold me back.

Dwight Nelson:

How would you define in its essence forgiveness? What is forgiveness?

Sunny Jacobs:

Letting go.

Dwight Nelson:

Just letting it out.

Sunny Jacobs:

Uh huh.

Dwight Nelson:

Gone.

Sunny Jacobs:

It's a choice just like everything. It's the choice…it's choosing healing over revenge. It's choosing life over death. It's choosing to move forward rather than to look backward.

Dwight Nelson:

Just an intellectual choice…ok, I choose to let go. No more. It's gone.

Sunny Jacobs:

No, it's just the beginning.

Dwight Nelson:

So how do you do it?

Sunny Jacobs:

The intellectual part is the decision. But then you have to get down into the deeper layers and it has to become a spiritual process.

Dwight Nelson:

Sunny, who do you blame?

Sunny Jacobs:

Blaming is useless. It's a waste of time, really. WE can figure out what went wrong but the main thing is to figure out how to fix it. And that's my focus.

Dwight Nelson:

So you never thought about blame.

 

Sunny Jacobs:

Oh sure I did. Oh yeah, a lot in the beginning. But in order to move on, I got over it. I realized that the focus has to be on moving forward. Blame is looking backwards.

Dwight Nelson:

So revenge…just a little bit of revenge? How much revenge satisfies the heart?

Sunny Jacobs:

Well that's the point. There is…there is never enough. That's the whole point. I'm glad you asked me. There's never enough as far as revenge goes. And I've seen that over and over again in different circumstances. So for me revenge is not as important as healing. You got to choose. And I choose healing.

Dwight Nelson:

I'm sure people who hear your story ask what in the world is that women not angry? You're not angry are you?

Sunny Jacobs:

Occasionally. But that's when I realize that I need to do the work again. Because anger takes the place of much more joyful things that I would rather fill my life with.

Dwight Nelson:

And when you say, do the work again, that means just revisiting forgiveness? Is forgiveness something you keep revisiting?

Sunny Jacobs:

Yes.

Dwight Nelson:

Ok.

Sunny Jacobs:

Yes, it's a process.

Dwight Nelson:

You've got to come back to it again. And again.

Sunny Jacobs:

It's like posture.

Dwight Nelson:

Stand up straight.

 

Sunny Jacobs:

Yep. You have to…oops…there I go again. But that's ok. Because I can.

Dwight Nelson:

The justice in all of this. Where's the justice?

Sunny Jacobs:

Just us. That's it.

Dwight Nelson:

Oh, I like that. Just us.

Sunny Jacobs:

Just us.

Dwight Nelson:

What does that mean?

Sunny Jacobs:

That means that if we each individually take up our responsibility to see that this…that we are just to one another that's the only justice we're really going to find in this lifetime. Hopefully social justice will follow.

Dwight Nelson:

Should I try to find justice for others?

Sunny Jacobs:

I think really if each of us concentrated on ourselves then it would be a better job.

Dwight Nelson:

And I can't always find justice for me.

Sunny Jacobs:

Yeah. It's sort of like the story that someone told me in Ireland about the father and daughter trapeze artists. She said, don't worry dad, I'll look out for you and you look out for me and we'll be ok. And he said, no daughter. You look out for you and I'll look out for me and then we'll be all right. And I think that justice and forgiveness are sort of like that. But I think that…yes. Once you decide that you will live a just life, you visited upon all those with whom you have feelings.

Dwight Nelson:

Is it possible that in this life justice sometimes is never really done?

Sunny Jacobs:

The only justice that you can really count on is the justice that you give yourself. Justice is up to us. So punishment isn't up to us. Revenge saith the Lord I believe shouldn't be up to us. So we have to give ourselves justice. And my personal tragedy, I got to a point where I felt that in order to honor the lives that were lost my own life included. The lives…all the possible lives I could have had, Jessie's life, my parents life, my children's lives that they could have had. In order to honor those it didn't serve me to hold on to the anger and the bitterness and the resentment and the…and the right to compensation. I should be compensated. But I realize that the only one who could compensate me was me. And in this situation for me to take the mother from them too, and replace her with a miserable old bitter woman, sitting there waiting to be compensated just…that's not justice. The only justice that I could bring to the situation was to give them a loving, joyful, open person who can show them…who can be an example to them of what you can do when a tragedy happens and you have nothing and you pick yourself up and you move on. And you make it better. And that's what forgiveness did for me. And that's the justice in the situation. I make that. That's my choice. And everybody has that choice. I can't make the whole world. This…this big. That's the only part of the world that I control. And within that…that sphere I can make the world right and that's great.

Dwight Nelson:

Beautifully put. Thank you Sunny Jacobs.

Sunny Jacobs:

Thank you.

Dwight Nelson:

For sharing your story with us.

Sunny Jacobs:

Thank you.

Dwight Nelson:

God bless you. Would you like to learn more about Sunny's story and her remarkable insights into forgiveness? Sign on to our website, theevidence. That's one word: theevidence.org. And you'll find additional information we didn't have time for in this episode. We'll be back with some final thoughts right after this.

Music

 

Dwight Nelson:

Sunny Jacob's story stretches the quality of forgiveness to its human limits. But it's people like Sunny, people who have suffered terrible injustices who show us that forgiveness is the way to rise above the pain. The way out of the anger and bitterness. Human instinct usually send us in the opposite direction. We want to hang on to that hurt, that sense of outrage. We want someone to pay so that we can feel better. But in the end no one can pay enough to heal our hurt. Atheist and believes alike question how in the face of so much pain, so much suffering and injustice, how can a loving God possibly exist? Could it be that the human ability to forgive such deep wrong itself comes from the heart of one who offers ultimate forgiveness? Sunny believes the answer is yes. It's stories like Sunny's that persuade me that God does exist. God does care. For me it's easy to believe in a God who loves like that. That's what I think. I'm Dwight Nelson. Join us next time for more of The Evidence.







SiteMap. Privacy Terms Privacy Notice Powered by SimpleUpdates.com © 2002-2017. User Login / Customize.