Grand Canyon Notes

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The Novel


Irene and Nate Stanley are living a quiet and contented life with their two children, Bliss and Shep, on their family farm in southern Illinois when Nate suddenly announces he’s been offered a job as a deputy sheriff in Oregon. Irene fights her husband. She doesn’t want to uproot her family and has deep misgivings about the move. Nevertheless, the family leaves, and they’re just settling into their life in Oregon’s high desert when the unthinkable happens. Fifteen-year-old Shep is shot and killed during an apparent robbery in their home. The murderer, a young mechanic with a history of assault, robbery, and drug-related offenses, is caught and sentenced to death.

Shep’s murder sends the Stanley family into a tailspin, with each member attempting to cope with the tragedy in his or her own way. Irene’s approach is to live, week after week, waiting for Daniel Robbin’s execution and the justice she feels she and her family deserve. Those weeks turn into months and then years. Ultimately, faced with a growing sense that Robbin’s death won’t stop her pain, Irene takes the extraordinary and clandestine step of reaching out to her son’s killer. The two forge an unlikely connection that remains a secret from her family and friends.

Then Irene receives the notice that she had craved for so long – Daniel Robbin has stopped his appeals and will be executed within a month. This announcement shakes the very core of the Stanley family. Irene, it turns out, isn’t the only one with a shocking secret. As the execution date nears, the Stanleys must face difficult truths and find a way to come to terms with the past.

Dramatic, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting, THE CRYING TREE is an unforgettable book about the unbreakable bonds of family and the transformative power of forgiveness.


Chapter 1 – October 1, 2004

The death warrant arrived that morning, packaged in a large white envelope marked confidential and addressed to Tab Mason, Superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary. Mason had been warned the order might be coming. A couple weeks earlier, the Crook County D.A. had let the word slip that after nineteen years on death row, condemned murderer Daniel Joseph Robbin had stopped his appeals.

Mason dropped the envelope on his desk along with a file about as thick as his fist, then drew his hand over the top of his cleanly shaved skull. He’d been in corrections for twenty years – Illinois, Louisiana, Florida – and on execution detail a half dozen times, but he’d never been in charge of the actual procedure. Those other times he’d simply walked the guy into the room, strapped him down, opened the blinds on the witness booth, then stood back and waited. He’d worked with one guy in Florida who’d done the job fifty times. “It becomes routine,” the officer told Mason, who was busy puking into a trashcan after witnessing his first execution.

Now, Mason slid into his chair, flicked on his desk lamp, and opened Robbin’s file. There was the man’s picture. A front shot, then the side. He was nineteen years old when he was booked, had long scraggly hair, and eyes squinted to a hostile slit. Mason turned the page and began to read. On the afternoon of May 6th, 1985 Daniel Joseph Robbin beat and shot fifteen-year-old Steven Joseph Stanley (aka “Shep”) while in the process of a robbery at the Stanley’s home at 111 Indian Ridge Lane in Blaine, Oregon. Steven Stanley was the only one home at the time and was found unconscious by his father, Deputy Sheriff Nathanial Patrick Stanley. The young boy died before medical assistance could arrive. The remaining family members include wife and mother Irene Lucinda Stanley and thirteen-year-old sibling Barbara Lee (aka “Bliss”). The Stanley’s, who were originally from Illinois, had only been living in Oregon for a year and a half when the incident occurred.

The superintendent leafed through more pages, court documents, letters, photos, then he leaned back in his chair and looked out his window. A squat rectangular building sat on its own down toward the north end of the prison’s 25 acre grounds. The last time someone was executed out there was seven-plus years ago. Mason had been working his way up through the ranks at the Florida State Prison out of Raiford, aspiring for a job like he had now – the head of a large correctional institution, good salary, power. He blew out a long disgusted breath. Why now? The Oregon Penitentiary was way overcrowded, inmates doubled up in their cells, half of them out of their minds, fights breaking out left and right, gangs getting tougher to handle, race issues, drugs, all while funding for counseling and rehab continued to get slashed. Why now, and why this?

Mason re-read the warrant. The execution was scheduled for October 29th, 12:01 A.M.

“Less than a goddamn month.”

He shook his head, then, as if to rouse himself, clapped his mismatched hands, one as dark as the rest of his black skin, one strangely, almost grotesquely white. There was no complaining in this job, he told himself. No moaning about what needed to be done. No stammering or stuttering or doing anything that may show the slightest bit of resistance or hesitancy. No. Everything in his career had been leading him to this kind of challenge: his demeanor, his words, his actions would all set a tone. And he knew exactly what that tone had to be.