As a young girl, Stacey Lannert adored her father. He shared his special yellow Tupperware bowl of buttery popcorn with her after dinner. He called her Tiger, and encouraged her to fight back when boys at school teased her.
He also molested her, and by the time Stacey was 10, her father was routinely raping her. He threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the abuse. She kept their secret. As she writes in her raw, plain-spoken memoir, Redemption, “I didn’t think I had any other choice.”
When Stacey was 12, her parents got a divorce. A babysitter asked Stacey if her father was hurting her and she said yes. But when the babysitter told Stacey’s mother, she shrugged it off—only years later saying she thought the babysitter meant that Stacey’s father was spanking her. “That’s why it’s so important to find the real words,” Lannert says, discussing her book from her home. “If we don’t name it, people can make it mean what they want it to mean. If you say, ‘My father raped me,’ they get it. But I didn’t even have that word.” The abuse continued.
But then, when Stacey was 18, her father raped her younger sister, Christy. Something in Stacey snapped. She took her father’s shotgun and shot him twice while he was passed out drunk on the sofa, killing him.
When police asked Stacey if her father had been abusing her, she said yes, but they didn’t press for details and they didn’t do a rape-kit test. Stacey was charged with first-degree murder, and sentenced to life without parole.
In prison, Stacey began coming to terms with what had happened. “I found out from other survivors that most of us wanted to kill our abusers,” she says. “The thought is powerful, but the act is not. It would have taken so much more courage to put him in the defendant’s seat and make my accusations against him.”
For 20 years, Stacey petitioned the court for clemency, but was refused. Stacey’s lawyers heard that the prosecutor, Bob McCullough, maintained that Stacey had lied about the abuse and killed her father for money. They began a publicity campaign on her behalf. She told her story to Montel Williams, Nancy Grace, and eventually Oprah Winfrey.
“Having to go public was the worst moment for me,” she says. “It was so shameful. How was I going to be able to look anybody in the eye again? But then I did it, and I started receiving letters from so many people, saying, ‘You could have been me.’”
In 2009, the governor of Missouri commuted Stacey’s sentence, and she now runs Healing Sisters, a website for victims of sexual abuse. “The biggest thing that lets sexual abusers hurt their victims is silence,” she says. “The more we talk about it, the more we bring this shameful thing out of the dark.”
Redemption, by Stacey Lannert, 336 pages, Crown, $24.99