OGALLALA, Neb. (BP) -- A grieving father's Scripture-laden plea for mercy led to a lenient 180-day jail sentence for the truck driver who killed a missionary family of five in an auto accident last year.
Cedric Pals told Keith County (Neb.) District Judge Richard Birch he has experienced "unrelenting anguish" since learning July 31, 2017, that his son Jamison Pals had been killed in an automobile collision along with his wife Kathryne, both 29, and their three children Ezra, Violet and Calvin, ages 3, 2 and 2 months.
But "in spite of the anguish, there were other words that came to me -- words like forgiveness, mercy and hope," Pals said according to the Keith County News.
Tony Weekly, 55, pleaded no contest to six felony counts of vehicular homicide for slamming his semi into the Pals' Dodge minivan in an Interstate 80 construction zone while distracted by a jumbo drink and talking on his hands-free phone. The crash also killed Terry Sullivan, 56, of Denver, who was driving a separate vehicle and died the following day.
At the time of the crash, Jamison and Kathryne Pals were on their way home to Minneapolis from a missionary training in Denver and planned to begin serving as missionaries in Japan in October 2017. They were part of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, the congregation pastored for many years by author and speaker John Piper. Bethlehem cooperates with the Baptist General Conference.
Citing the Model Prayer's petition for God to "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12), Cedric Pals told Weekly in court July 20, "I can honestly say, Tony, both families have forgiven you. I know how much God's forgiven me. How could I not forgive you?
"In Luke 6, Jesus says, 'Be merciful, just as your Father in heaven is merciful,'" Pals said, according to the Keith County News. "I am not in a position of authority to extend mercy to you, Tony. However, I can request mercy for you." Then he turned to the judge and requested mercy.
Pals added, "Were it not for hope, I do not believe I would be in this life anymore. The grief is real, but it is temporary. The hope is just as real, but it is eternal.... I'll just leave you with those three words: forgiveness, mercy and hope."
Family members, jail inmates in court that day and other attendees wiped tears from their eyes as Pals spoke, The North Platte Telegraph reported.
Despite the prosecutor's request for a two- to three-year prison sentence, Birch sentenced Weekly to 180 days, including 30 days already served, and two years of probation for each victim. The judge said he gave significant weight to the family's wishes.
Weekly told the court he has spent every day since the crash thinking about the suffering he caused. Some days, he said, "I can't go to work," according to The Telegraph.
After the sentencing, Weekly and Pals hugged outside the courtroom, The Telegraph reported.
Cedric Pals' wife Kathy told media she was comfortable with the sentence. "I think the suffering [of knowing] that you killed six people is enough," she said according to the Telegraph.
Weekly began his prison sentence on Aug. 3.