Thursday, February 21, 2002

The Tewksburys

Grateful 'to slip into obscurity'

        After an exceptionally gracious statement to the public, after taking questions from the press that were respectful but difficult, and after 19 painful years, Sharon Tewksbury and her family went back behind closed doors. In the privacy of Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen's office, they cried a little, allowing themselves to grieve.


        Since Monte Tewksbury's murder in 1983, his family has been propelled into the spotlight, then drafted into the front lines of the battle over the death penalty. But this was never philosophical for them. It was as real as an empty chair at the dinner table.

A political battle

        Monte Brent Tewksbury was murdered during the robbery of a convenience store. He was Sharon's husband, Kim and David and Matt's father. He would have been a doting grandfather to Jesse and Noah, who will never know him. Even after all this time, Sharon seems stunned to have been drawn into the nightmare. First the murder, reporters at his funeral, then endless legal jousting after John Byrd Jr.'s conviction, bitter debate over capital punishment.

        “It will be such a relief not to be part of the political battle. We have been used to prove a point. It still amazes us,” Sharon Tewksbury says, “that this would have happened to an ordinary, middle-class family like us.”

        An ordinary middle-class family. Music lessons. Little League. A nice lawn. Church. Bowling. Monte, who worked his way through college, came home from Procter & Gamble, then went to a second job, thinking ahead about his kids' future. Worrying. Would the breadwinner win enough bread? Familiar, middle-class dad stuff.

        “We're a little lost now,” Kim says. “It actually means letting go of Dad.” And getting on with her life. “I've been hoarding vacation days for 19 years to make sure I would be there to represent Dad” at every hearing, at every new legal twist and turn.

There for Dad

        Matt, who was 12 when his father was murdered, was in Lucasville, witness to the execution of John Byrd on Tuesday. “When I first saw Byrd, he looked big to me,” he said last month. “And I was scared. I'm not scared now, and I want him to see my face.”

        The young man sat behind glass, about 6 feet from his father's killer, watching quietly. After it was over, he called his mom, who was waiting with the two older kids in Mike Allen's office. Sharon says her son was not speechless, but nearly so. One-word answers. She will keep them private.

        David, 33, lives in California, “where I ran. That's the way I coped. I ran away.” But he, too, came back to stand by his mother. And to honor his father's memory. Clearly exhausted, the Tewksburys want to plan some sort of celebration of Monte's life. In a while. Sharon says right now she needs to go “someplace warm and peaceful and beautiful. We will be happy to slip into obscurity.”

        Monte Tewksbury was 40 years old when he died. Sharon holds a photo of her husband, grinning into the camera, his wedding ring clearly visible. You can see a barbecue grill and his carefully polished car in the background. It's a classic Dad Picture. Many of us, if we're lucky, have a similar one in our photo albums. “His life was his family,” says Sharon.

        Sharon, David and Matt are mourning this good and decent man.

        This time, in private.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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