On March 2 Dave Meyer made an announcement over the intercom at Aplington-Parkersburg (Iowa) High. "The verdict for the Mark Becker trial has come in," said Meyer, the school principal. "Mark Becker has been found guilty in the first degree." Nobody celebrated. Nobody protested. "More than anything, you can feel relief here," Meyer says. "Now we can start to heal."
Becker was sentenced to life in prison for killing Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas (SI, July 6, 2009), who spent 37 seasons at the school, won 292 games, produced four current NFL players and helped rebuild the town of Parkersburg after a 2008 tornado. On June 24, 2009, Becker walked into the Aplington-Parkersburg weight room and shot Thomas several times with a .22 caliber pistol before kicking him in the head. Becker, who played for Thomas, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. After five days of deliberations, a jury convicted Becker of first-degree murder.
That day, Thomas's oldest son, Aaron, had been at the state capitol urging legislators to pass the Ed Thomas Bill, which would require hospitals to notify law-enforcement officials before releasing psychiatric patients facing criminal charges. Becker (who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia) was released from the psychiatric ward at Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo the day before the murder.
Yet again Parkersburg is trying to redefine normal. Aaron succeeded his father as athletic director. The football team went 6--3 before losing in the first round of the state playoffs. One of the bright spots was Becker's younger brother, Scott, a senior All-State lineman. Scott's position coach was Thomas's youngest son, Todd.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
For a Black History Month parade, three Los Angeles elementary school teachers (later suspended) reportedly encouraged students to carry pictures of Dennis Rodman and O.J. Simpson.
MATTHEW PUTNEY/AP (BECKER)
CASE CLOSURE Becker (above, right) was ruled sane when he shot the adored coach.
MATTHEW PUTNEY/THE WATERLOO COURIER (THOMAS)
[See caption above]
GREGORY HEISLER (RODMAN)
RICHARD MACKSON (SIMPSON)