Deadly Revenge Thwarted by Forgiveness
By Michelle Wilson
The 700 Club
On November 20, 1984, James Leggett murdered his ex-wife in a fit of jealous rage. He’d been drunk and high that night and found his former wife with another man.
"I was so mad," James Leggett tells The 700 Club. "We started arguing, and she grabbed the phone, dialing the police. I snatched the phone away from her and slung it down the hallway. She got mad and hit me upside the head, and I lost it then. I don’t know what all happened. I remember gun shots going off. When I come to and I knew what was going on, I was clicking that 38 upside my head."
James left the scene in a delirious state. He never bothered calling the police. He says, "All I did was just run up out of there, and I remember running and running."
Vera Baker had started dating James when they were 20 years old. Vera’s brother Bert warned her of Leggett’s violent temper, but Vera was in love and ignored the warnings.
Bert recalls, "He could be very pleasant and very likeable, but five minutes later something could kind of start to set him off."
When James eventually asked Vera to marry him, her family wasn’t too excited – especially Jesse, Vera’s dad who was a devoted Christian and Methodist pastor.
"When my daughter was walking down the aisle, my thoughts were, 'Lord, protect her,'" Jesse says. "We knew James had a violent temper, and we knew it was going to be kind of rough."
Not too long after the wedding, Vera told her brother about the bruises from the times when James would beat her. Bert says, "There were a few on her legs [and] on her back."
After three years of marriage, Vera separated from James and filed for divorce. Bert remembers what happened next. "After the divorce became final, she called me and said that James had beat on her. I grabbed a baseball bat and a 12 gauge shot gun, and I went over to her house."
James never showed up that night, and Bert eventually went home. Two days later, James shot his ex-wife six times before turning the revolver on himself.
"The doorbell rang," Jesse says. "There were two police men. They said, 'Your daughter lives in Jacksonville? Her name is Vera Baker?' I said, yes. 'She’s been killed.' I just stood there in disbelief. Then we just put our arms around each other and cried and cried. Then we thought about Bert."
Bert says, "My first reaction was I ran out into the driveway. I was just so angry about the situation that I fell to my knees and beat my head against the concrete. I blamed myself 'cause I didn’t do something about it the day before. I felt that I needed to go find James. When I found him, I was going to kill him."
Bert never got his chance. Police soon arrested James, and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison for murder. He would be eligible for parole after 20 years. Bert was already making plans for the day James would get out.
"I made his release date my ATM pin number, so that every time I would get money out of the bank, I would remember that that’s the day," Bert says. "That’s when he gets out and that’s when I’m going to find him."
After 15 years in prison, something changed for James. He says, "That’s when God come to me and he started dealing with my heart. I told God, 'You got a good talk game, talking about You love me. That Your Son died for me on the cross. I told God, 'Where wasYou at when my dad died?' God just continually kept showing His love on me for the next seven days as the Holy Spirit started pointing different issues out and started purging me. I cried for seven straight days as the Holy Spirit would bring different things to me. The anger that I had towards God with different issues. I accepted Christ into my life. I repented, and that’s what the seven days was about. He gives me the peace that surpasses all understanding."
After asking God to forgive him, James wondered if his ex-wife’s family ever could. He knew he had to ask by writing them a letter. He says, "I had basically asked them to forgive me for the horrible act that I committed against their family, for the pain and the lost of their beautiful daughter, Vera."
James’s ex-wife’s parent’s had only one response. Jesse says, "I laid the burden down, and I said, 'James, I forgive you for murdering Vera.' It was based on the Scripture that’s found in Luke 23:34 where Jesus said from the cross, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.' I’d been angry long enough. It was time to get rid of that anger. It was time to honor her memory."
Then they showed the letter to Bert and asked if he would forgive James. Bert, who had plotted revenge for years, finally started to soften to the idea of forgiveness.
Bert says, "As I finished the letter, I went outside and ended up in the driveway again. This time I looked up and told God, 'Okay God, you win. I forgive James Leggett.' I even told the people in my Bible study that I had done what God had told me to. I had forgiven James. I didn’t have to eat dinner with him.”
In 2002, James was released from prison after serving 20 years. He started working in prison ministry as had Bert. They remember the day they saw each other for the first time in 20 years.
Bert says, "He dropped his head, almost as if in shame. When he did that, it gave me confirmation that he was truly sorry."
"Bert looked at me," James says. "He just told me it’s been a long time coming. At that point, I knew that Bert had forgiven."
Today Bert and James faithfully serve together in prison ministry.
"These days I can eat dinner with James and know that the man sitting across the table from me is one of my brothers," Bert says. "[He] is someone that I love and someone that loves me. We are no longer prisoners of the unforgiveness that we felt."
James agrees, "I asked God to forgive me for the horrible act and the pain and the lost that I caused. It’s like a father’s love when you know you’ve done wrong but your father forgives you. There’s such a burden lifted off of you. You just thank him."
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