The Tree

It’s page 18 of 365 in 2016. One of my favorite quotes is by C.S. Lewis “There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” How true is that?

It’s been a busy 3 months since the last update to my blog, but really there has been no forward motion from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in our case since September. Frustrating? Yep. I’ve learned that a 30 year old case with a guilty defendant and miles of boxes full of documents just seems to bog down a very broken system with nothing we can do but keep looking to the horizon…

To be honest, I’ve struggled to write this blog for more than a week. I’m not sure why, when it comes to writing or conversation, I’m not usually a loss for words… those who truly know me can insert your comments and laughs here…

Looking back on all that has happened, both wonderful & amazing and heartbreaking & trying, and I feel I’ve really needed to stop and listen more … Who has truly had “ahhhh haaa” moments? I’ve had quite a few lately…

Vicki Lynne's Tree planted at Homer Davis Elementary School Arbor Day, 1985

Vicki Lynne’s Tree planted at Homer Davis Elementary School Arbor Day, 1985

See in February of 1985, we planted a tree in the courtyard of Homer Davis Elementary School where Vicki & I attended school to bring hope that she would be found alive. When Vicki’s remains were recovered in April of 1985, that tree continued to grow and bloom for 30 years. Last October (2015) it was uprooted and blown over in a storm… it was as if a piece of what we watched grow through our journey was gone and we were absolutely devastated. And, I feel we started to mourn again.

Our initial reaction was to replant a tree to replace it… and in time we realized we could never do that, it would never be the same. Honestly, I know with all my heart Vicki blew the tree over for a reason, and we may not be able to understand it right now, but in time, we will.

We were able to recover a substantial amount of the wood from the fallen tree and have plans as a family to have something made with it and rededicate it to Homer Davis at a later date. We will take the fallen pieces and make them beautiful again… just as we have done with our lives.

I want to make a very public thank you on behalf of myself and my family to Flowing Wells School District. From Dr. Baker, Mr. Miller, Governing Board, and the entire staff with a big SHOUT OUT to the Grounds Crew, each and every person has been so protective, caring and sensitive to us as we have moved through this process. The love that continues to shine in our community is extraordinary and comforting.

I will continue to keep my blog updated as we begin forward motion in the appellate part of this story, and as each day of 2016 unfolds, we will continue to look ahead and embrace our past as it is the seeds that continue to grow our future.

#dontforgetvickilynne #loveneverforgets

Why are some years so hard?

In my last blog, I asked “Why are some years so hard?”

This anniversary was probably one of the hardest I have faced in many years, and as the days march forward each one gets easier. Some wounds will just never heal, it’s as if you are carrying a box of puzzle pieces and they drop on the floor, scattered all over for you to pick back up and put back together again, unfortunately, when my life was shattered on the 17th of September 1984, no one provided a “How to” book for surviving the murder of sister. You just pick up the pieces and look to the horizon…

Vicki Lynne, Age 4

Vicki Lynne, Age 4

In the last week and a half, I have spent much of my time answering the hundreds of calls, texts, messages & emails that I have received. I continue to be so humbled by the outpouring of support from people who knew and loved Vicki, to people who have just been touched by her story. Until this war is over, there is a huge army still so willing to fight.

Very much to my surprise, the defense counsel filed their Reply Brief in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday, September 25, 2015. Honestly, I think I can count the number of times a defense team hasn’t asked for a delay in court over the course of this 31 year battle with one finger.

A few points I want to make sure everyone who reads this blog knows:

  1. Atwood’s innocence is NOT in question. He admitted to the crime in detail down to the last words she spoke as he took her life and his guilt has been upheld in court.
  2. This case has been to the United States Supreme Court twice. First on the automatic appeal, the second time on the Post Conviction Release. Both have been denied.
  3. The Writ of Habeas Corpus (this appeal) was started in March of 1998, 17 years ago. All claims in the initial habeas filing have been denied but these last claims of ineffective counsel & the famed claim that “he” suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I promise, I will expand more on the points above in the future, I just want to make sure that you, as the reader, are clear where we stand in this relentless fight. I will continue to keep the entire process that looms

before us updated here as the wheels of justice continue to turn… 

Tonight, as I look into the beautiful pink and blue sunset in the horizon, I hope, for my parents, my family,

friends and our army of supporters that things turn faster than they have the last 31 years.

Don’t forget Vicki Lynne… 

September 17, 2015

September. The start of fall, absolutely my favorite season, yet a time that holds my heart completely hostage. This year I would equate my emotions to that of a “soup sandwich”. I’ve wore my feelings on my sleeve and the battle in my mind has gotten the best of me more days than not. It’s a relentless war that started 31 years ago and still wages on as we continue our legal fight to bring justice for my sissy.

In reality, the middle of August is when I started to feel the spiral of emotions happen and in one conversation with Mackenzie, it’s as if the dam broke… 

I had kept telling myself my emotions were crazy because summer was coming to an end. (Is it possible to have a “summer hangover”?) We had a hectic but great time with family & friends, memories made and lots of miles traveled, with school starting it would come to an end. And then the reality of my talk with Mackenzie made me realize that what happened to me 5 years ago when our oldest, Madison, started 3rd grade was happening again. 

Why are some years so hard? 

Vicki Lynne 1984

Vicki Lynne 1984

Accepting things you can’t change or control and rationally asking your heart to work through them can be the single most difficult thing a person will ever do. I had to face the fact that my 8 year old daughter would be starting the 3rd grade, she’s the same age and grade as Vicki was when she was taken from us. Coupled with the fact that Mackenzie resembles Vicki not only in looks but personality, has stopped me in my tracks a thousands times, sometimes taking my breathe away. There isn’t a moment that I look at Mackenzie and don’t think about or see Vicki, from her freckled face and gapped tooth smile to her witty personality.

Can you imagine a fear that some days is almost paralyzing? Flashes of feelings from my childhood while telling my 42 year old mind everything will be ok is the toughest thing I have ever done. I feel as though I am telling myself every 5 minutes I can work through it because I have a two beautiful girls who are walking this world and I will do everything I can everyday to keep them safe. 

When Mady started 3rd grade, I did my best to keep it together. I cried every day for weeks as I left her at school, some days sobbing so uncontrollably in the school parking lot I couldn’t even drive. I still think Mady’s teacher is a saint, she was so patient and gracious when dealing with me, the ultimate crazy mom.

And to be completely honest, I truly thought this year, would be easier than what I experienced with Mady. Things are supposed to be smoother with your second child, right? It’s true for many things, not this… I’ve been prickly most days, and feel so blessed that my family, friends and co-workers have loved me without truly understanding the battle in my heart and mind. Mackenzie’s teacher has embraced her with a special heart that I’m not sure I could ever properly thank her for, and she is patient with me, the ultimate crazy mom. Fourteen days into the school year and I’ve cried every one, but am so thankful that I am in a position that I can grab a hug & kiss from Mackenzie anytime during the day. 

As far as the conversation I had with Mackenzie the middle of August, I will share that some day, but the dam it broke is meant to help heal emotions that I need to make peace with. Each day is a new beginning, and I will be stronger tomorrow.  “After your season of suffering, God in all His grace will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10

Our legal battle continues on, the defense has until September 25, to file their Reply Brief to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. I will assume they will ask for an extension, and expect another delay, because one thing Atwood’s counsel has shown us is they are really good at delaying everything they can as many times as they can, buying a child murderer more time on our tax paying dime. Once the defense files their brief, we will wait to see if the 9th Circuit will hold a hearing in the matter, and that date. And the time continues to tick by as the fate of the man who took Vicki from us still fights the system while dragging us through hell.

31 years later, September 17th, the battle continues but we will win the war. 

Today, I hope that everyone who was touched by her life takes a moment to share a memory. This day will always be one to reflect on and honor the life of a very special freckled faced, blue eyed angel, my sissy. Don’t forget Vicki Lynne.

2nd Annual Vicki Lynne Memorial Scholarship

Vicki Lynne 1984

Vicki Lynne 1984

Last Thursday, May 7th, another scholarship at Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, AZ was given to a graduating senior in memory of my sister, Vicki Lynne Hoskinson.

It’s the second one we would give in her honor. Last years recipient, Anisa Jimenez, is such an amazing young woman, and I am so blessed that our families have grown very close over the last year. I have so much to share about her and will do so in a blog to come soon!

This year’s recipient was a young man. He is an aspiring engineer student and will attend the University of Arizona in the fall. His academic accomplishments, awards, leadership roles and community service spoke greatly about his drive and spirit. When my brother, Brian, saw that he played baseball it struck a sentimental place in his heart. My sister, Carie, loved his aspiration to become an engineer, it’s what my nephew would like to do do as well. So to say this candidate was chosen on his academic accomplishments alone would be untrue.

I called him the other day to ask permission to share about him on my blog. I was curious to talk to him, and honestly less than a minute into the conversation, it took a lot to hold back the tears. He started out by telling me that he and his sister went to Homer Davis Elementary, and that his mom taught 3rd grade there for a lot of years before going back into Special Education at another school within the Flowing Wells District. He said she had actually come to Homer Davis not long after Vicki had died. And, although, we have not made any requirements that a student attend FWSD from elementary school through high school to be awarded the scholarship in memory of Vicki, it blew me away that again this year we would unknowingly pick a recipient that had. He said that he had spoken to his mom about Vicki and shared his appreciation that we would believe in him to award him this scholarship in her memory.

My mom flew down to present the award to this years winner, Nathan Syers. We are honored to help such an amazing young individual again this year. We look forward to following you as you make your dreams come true!!

Here is a video of the presentation of the 2nd Annual Vicki Lynne Memorial Scholarship!

Thank you to all you who have helped our family this possible! I wish I could explain how deeply touched my heart is to honor Vicki in such a positive way and to help Nathan & Anisa make their dreams become their reality!

The last chapter…

An Opening Brief was filed by the defense in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit yesterday. 

The original file date was June 12, 2014 delayed to November 21, 2014, delayed again to March 12, 2015 and finally filed on May 11, 2015.  

It took almost 11 months to produce 99 pages arguing technicalities and reasons why Frank Atwood should not be put to death. Imagine the money the tax payers have spent in 333 days just for this brief? 

I am so relieved to have some sort of forward motion again…  for my parents, for my siblings, for my children, for my family, our friends… for our community.

But, I have to be completely honest here… I am having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that people actually get paid to defend a monster like Atwood. I know this may sound silly, but I can not imagine the time and man power it took to put together 99 pages of this crap!

And now… how many hours it will take the State of Arizona to rebut this…

On September 17,1984, Atwood hit my sissy with his car while she was riding her bike home from her best friends house. He drove with her in his car to the desert not far from our home and I can not fathom the fear she experienced on that ride. He sexually assaulted her. And, he didn’t kill her the first time, I know Vicki’s last words still haunt and puzzle him today… He would eventually bury her in a shallow grave in the desert… 207 days later only parts of her precious little body were found… placed in a small box and given to my parents to lay to rest. 

And more than 30 years later we are fighting him on technicalities. Nothing will change the fact that he brutally murdered this little girl in 1984. And I am confident that this brief will be the start of the last chapter in this book that has had no ending or justice for this beautiful little girl. 

Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, 4

Don’t forget Vicki Lynne.

April 12th… 30 years later…

It’s hard to believe that time has gone by so quickly… 30 years is a long time, but this day is still as vivid in my mind as yesterday. My heart still aches the same it did that day… that pain will never go away.

I wrote the following a couple years ago and felt the need to re-share it again today. Thank you for those who continue to follow our case and support us as we fight for justice for my sissy.

Reflecting back on April 12, 1985

Today marks a significant anniversary in my life. It is a day that is forever etched in my mind, a day to reflect and a day to be thankful for.

On September 17, 1984, my 8 year old sister, Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, disappeared from our neighborhood. She had gone on her bike to mail a birthday card to our Aunt Lori for our mom. When she didn’t come home, I road my bike to find her. At that time, being 11, there was no doubt in my mind that she had stopped off at a neighbors or was playing with kids from the neighborhood and had lost track of time. We lived in a community and time when you left the house, played outside & people watched out for each other. Kids didn’t just disappear, and if they did it happened on T.V. and not on your street, let alone to your sister.

Vicki had been gone 6 months, 26 days…. or 207 days total. 

April 12, 1985 was a friday, and I was sitting in Mr. Abrams 6th grade core class. When the door opened and one of the ladies from the office walked in, I knew she was there for me.  Mr. Abrams paused, looking down and then up at me. He squeaked out the the words that I needed to gather my things and go to the office.

I sat in the yellow polyester cushioned chair against the windows that looked down the sidewalk and out into the parking lot. I was 11, and trying to understand the world that I had been thrusted into so many months before. There, in the office of the junior high school, everyone was quiet, and working just as hard at keeping it together as they were trying to act like they were working.

I can not tell you how long I sat in that chair in the window, but I knew when I looked over my left shoulder and saw my parents walking down the sidewalk it’s as if the world stopped.

They had found my sister….

Today, 28 years, 6 months and 26 days later, I can close my eyes and remember that day. The warmth of the Arizona sun through the window in the office, the look first on Mr. Abrams face, then on that of my parents, and the feeling of despair by those who surrounded me.

There are no words to express how incredibly grateful I am for the man who went looking for his dog that day and stumbled upon her remains, for at least we could have closure and lay her to rest.

If I had a penny for every time I thanked him, and those who gave so unconditionally those months we searched for her I would have enough money to buy the world.

Today, I miss Vicki just the same as I have in the 28 1/2 years it has been since she was taken from us. And I appreciate how incredibly blessed I have been in my journey between here and there…

**Our family has set up a Vicki Lynne Memorial Scholarship Fund at Flowing Wells High School where I graduated, and Vicki would have. If you would like to make a donation in her memory, you can do so by sending a check to:

Flowing Wells Unified School District

Attention: Monique Mata

1556 W. Prince Road

Tucson, AZ 85705

Flowing Wells Tax Id # 86-6003684

Please make sure you indicate that the donation is for the

VICKI LYNNE MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP

I am also doing a fundraiser, Be-YOU-tiful Lashes for Vicki!!!! 100% of my proceeds will be given in her memory to a graduating senior at Flowing Wells High School in May!! If you haven’t tried our famous 3D Fiber Lash Mascara or LOVE all natural skin care & beauty products you will LOVE Younique!!! Click the link to shop!!!

www.youniqueproducts.com/SBrandt/party/1716475/view

Apache Lake, AZ, Vicki & I

Apache Lake, AZ, Vicki & I

Delayed until May 11th, 2015

Someone recently said to me “Can you ask the courts to change Atwood’s sentence to life in prison instead of the death penalty so you don’t have to go through this anymore?”

I said, “Sure, if I want to take the chance of him being a FREE man.”

“Why? I thought if we abolish the death penalty those guys just get life in prison…”

Let’s face it cases just like Vicki’s are classic examples of why the death penalty does not work. Delay after delay, appeal after appeal, hundreds of thousands of dollars spent, and heart ache with each step forward or back.

To honestly answer the question of WHY we don’t fight for life imprisonment for Atwood vs. our continued quest for the death penalty has nothing to do with closure for our family.

Based on the laws at the time of Atwood’s sentencing almost 28 years he would be parole eligible today. And, although I would like to think that a parole board would never grant him parole, I never dreamed in a million years that my family would still be fighting for justice for her 30 years later. The sheer thought of him possibly ever walking the streets as a free man is reason enough to continue my quest to fight for the death penalty.

For those who are under the impression that converting these ‘ol death penalty cases to life imprisonment would be simple and easy think again. It’s not.

Late yesterday we were notified by the Attorney General’s Office that Atwood’s defense team was granted yet another delay to file in their brief to the 9th Circuit Court until May 11th.

I realize that the defense is playing a game with time and lots of money. And, to try to express the frustration and anger is virtually impossible. The delay was well anticipated but the punch in the gut when you receive the news always feels the same.

What we will do is continue to push and fight for justice for a little girl who no longer has a voice. We will do our best to believe in a broken system. We won’t ever give up on her…

Don’t forget Vicki Lynne.

Vicki Lynne 1984

Vicki Lynne 1984

Grieving through the holidays

“This is the most wonderful time of the year…” I love what the holidays bring to our home. The traditions we continue to embrace, the time with our family and friends building memories and remembering the true meaning for the season.

But, I have to admit, it can also be the most difficult time of the year. My heart has ached in recent weeks as I have scrolled through social media and had a glimpse into the personal loss and mourning or struggles with illness that so many of my friends are going through. One who just lost his brother in a tragic car wreck, one whose young son is battling the ugly “C” word, one who will have her first Christmas without her mom, another who had to say good-bye to their family dog, one who’s husband is battling the ugly “C” word along with other’s who are living through another year without their grandparents, parents, siblings, spouse or best friend…

Grieving through the holidays is the hardest thing I continue to do in my own life. When one of my dearest friends posted pictures on Facebook of the beautifully decorated gravesite of my sister, I wept and memories flooded my mind of Christmas past, especially the first one without Vicki…

Vicki's Gravesite  December 12, 2014

Vicki’s Lynnes Gravesite
December 12, 2014

Such a bittersweet time of year.

So, as Christmas is approaching, my wish is that you take a moment out of your busy and hectic schedule to reach out and say hello. Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while, flash a smile to a stranger, but let people know how much you love them, no matter the time or distance between you. Take a moment to get on your knees and pray. Life is a beautiful amazing gift, no matter how hard this moment may be.

From my family to yours, I wish you all the very best this Christmas season.

Delayed in the 9th Circuit… again…

Vicki & I, 1979

Vicki & I, 1979

March 12th, 2015 is the new filing date that the defense counsel in the case of State of Arizona v. Atwood, Cause # CR 14065 has to file in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Stalled again in our fight to bring justice to Vicki Lynne. 

The range of emotions that come with yet another delay are hitting every scope of the spectrum. Trying to convince my logical mind that there is a reason for everything, to be faithful & trust in God’s plan and not let this consume my every thought and emotion is simply difficult…

And the questions are pouring in… Why another delay? How many more can he have? Why is it that the justice system seem to keep giving him all the breaks? How come others from death row who committed murder long after Atwood took Vicki’s life in 1984 have been executed but he still sits, wasting our tax payer dollars every day?

I can’t answer any of them… nor can anyone else, which is even more frustrating, and makes me feel even more helpless when all I want to do is bring justice to a little girl who’s life was taken far too soon… who was a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, a friend…

And while we face this delay, I also have to be realistic that the March date isn’t definitive either. Or the fact that our road is still very long, and there are no guarantees that new case law can come along and alter our path as it has in the past. But, what I can hope for is that in the grand scheme of things that our case will impact a very broken judicial system, and that maybe, just maybe it will help make legislative changes so that another family might not have to suffer this judicial hell the way we have.

So, tonight, I will do my best to smile through the tears and continue to fight for justice for my sissy…

September 17… 30 years later

Vicki Lynne 1984

Vicki Lynne 1984

September 16, 1984, we were an average American family, normal as far as I knew. My parents had divorced, both had remarried making my family larger. Vicki & I lived with our mom who had married George (dad), he brought his daughter, Carie, from his first marriage into our lives, together they had my brother, Brian. My dad (Ron) married Tammy, who was pregnant and expected to deliver my brother, Larry, in October of 1984.

As kids, we spent many of our Saturday nights going to the race track to cheer on our Papas, and our weeks playing softball, a sport we both loved! We enjoyed trips to the lake, playing in our neighborhood with friends and going to school.

Sunday, September 16, our mom, dad, Vicki, Brian I were out looking at campers we were going to purchase for our family. I remember being pretty excited about one we had looked at! I was sure my parents would go back and buy it!!! Funny, how some of the happiest moments can be replayed in our minds…

Monday, September 17, was a normal school day. Vicki & I got up, and she went on to Homer Davis Elementary where she was in the 3rd grade. I had just entered the 6th grade at Flowing Wells Junior High, both schools were just a few blocks from our home. Little did I know that that morning when we parted ways to school that it would be the last time I would ever see my sister alive or that the events of that afternoon would still be such vivid memories in my mind today. 

I had joined the Cross Country Team at FWJH, we generally had practice daily after school. But during my last period of the day I was informed that practice had been cancelled. 

I can still close my eyes and see the girls locker room of FWJH. There was a big glass window in the office that looked into the locker room, it was where I used the phone to call my mom to tell her cross country practice had been cancelled and I would be coming straight home after school but the line was busy. No call waiting, no call waiting caller id. It was 1984. 

I headed home after school with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood.

I still remember the look of surprise on my mom’s face when it was me walking through the front door… Mom told me she had let Vicki ride her bike to the mailbox a few blocks away to mail my aunt’s birthday card. My mom never let us go out alone, but was growing concerned because Vicki should have been back by now. I could ride my bike and find her, she probably stopped by to see her best friend, Jen.

And the innocent sense of freedom I felt riding my bike for the first time alone, knowing Vicki would be in BIG trouble for stopping off at Jen’s house (her best friend) and losing track of time, when she got home…

And how puzzled I was when she wasn’t at Jen’s…

And the sense of panic I felt the moment I found Vicki’s bike in the middle of the road, she was no where to be found…

And the faces of my friends as I road my bike frantically through our quiet little neighborhood calling for Vicki, them asking me what was wrong??? 

And my mom’s utter distress when I came back home without her…

It was 1984… and when I learned pure evil exists. 

I have struggled these last weeks, searching for the words to properly convey the emotions that this day brings but I have honestly come up short… 

And as much as I wanted to post a blog filled with loving memories about Vicki on the 30th anniversary of her death, I can’t. 

I can’t because there has been no justice in our failed system. The monster that took Vicki’s innocent life that September day still sits on Death Row in Florence, AZ. 

Because we are NOT battling whether or not Frank Atwood is guilty of the kidnapping, sexual assault or brutal murder of my sister, but whether or not his counsel was “ineffective” at the time of his trial and if he actually suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the time he murdered my sister. 

And we are still waiting to see if his defense team will actually file an opening brief by November 21, 2014 in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or file yet another extension that could possibly be granted by the court. 

Because I have to explain to my children the evils of the world; not because they exist, but because it happened to my life and still continues to happen, 30 years later. 

And because 10,957 days is a really, really, really long time for a family to not have closure and be able to move on…

So, today, I will do my best to to smile through the tears, and continue to fight for justice for my sissy…