I used to start workshops by telling reporters the most important thing they could get from an interview was the “Walmart sack.” I carried a blue plastic Walmart sack loaded with my workshop handouts and dropped the sack with a thump onto a table, hoping to intrigue the reporters and grab their attention.
Finding a character’s Walmart sack should be the point of an interview, I said. You needed to learn what the character’s Walmart sack was and you needed to get the character to entrust the sack to you.
The Walmart sack was a metaphor in my workshops, but it was a real sack when I interviewed Vanessa Forsberg in 1995. I had a riveting, powerful interview with Vanessa, but the Walmart sack held papers that could tell part of her story even better than she could.
My profile of Vanessa’s husband, Jim Forsberg, was one of the best stories of my reporting career, so I knew I’d address it soon in my series on updated lessons from old stories. The key updated lesson here is that when actual paper documents play an important part in a story now, you can do better than quoting them. You can embed the scanned documents in the digital story, using Scribd or DocumentCloud.
More on that after I tell you about the Walmart sack and the documents that it held:
Before I got to explaining in my workshops about the Walmart sack, I talked about some of the factors that made interviews successful:
Setting. I talked about the value of conducting an interview on the character’s home turf: home, office, school, church, somewhere she will be comfortable. I did this interview in Vanessa’s apartment in Arizona.
Rapport. I built rapport with Vanessa over months before we actually met. She was terrified of Jim, who had been acquitted on a charge of murdering their daughter, Barbara Corey Forsberg, in 1987. After Jim killed Ellen Gray (you’ll read about her later, if you hang in there with me), a niece of Vanessa’s called me (I had covered the killing) to tell me about Forsberg’s background. I could quickly tell that Vanessa had an important story to tell and courted her for 11 months through her niece. I’d call the niece to see how Vanessa was doing. When I’d write a good story about a sensitive topic, I’d send a clip to the niece, asking her to tell Vanessa I would handle her story sensitively. By the time we met, we felt like we knew each other.
Listening. I listened to Vanessa for more than three hours, hearing the terrifying and the routine about her life with Jim. When she was struggling, I didn’t rush her. When she needed to take a long route to a point, I traveled patiently with her. When she got emotional and needed to compose herself, I paused for a drink of water or to catch up on my notes.
Questions. I asked excellent questions, open-ended questions that invited her to tell long stories and specific questions that pushed her for critical details.
As a result, I got great stuff in the interview. She told me that when Jim was acquitted of killing Barbara, she knew that he’d kill again. Good stuff, especially since he had killed again.
But as good as the interview was, the Walmart sack had the best stuff from my interview. The sack – a huge, blue sack, like the kind they put a large toy in – lay on the floor next to Vanessa’s chair as we spoke, and sometimes when I asked one of those specific questions, Vanessa would dig through the sack in search of the answer. I quickly came to see that it was her file cabinet of her life with Jim Forsberg.
Sometimes even when I asked one of my open-ended question, Vanessa glanced down at the sack as though the answers might be in there. I knew I needed to leave Vanessa’s apartment with the Walmart sack.
By the end of the interview, I had built enough rapport with Vanessa that when I asked her if I could take the sack, she said yes. I assured her I wouldn’t use anything in the sack without her specific permission, but I wanted to see it all. She agreed.
I spent about three hours and $30 at Kinko’s that night copying nearly everything in the sack.
The sack held tax returns, property records, divorce records. It held lots of details I could sprinkle through the story. But it also gave me my lead. While Vanessa could tell me that she knew Jim would kill again, that wasn’t nearly as powerful as the journal, written years before he did kill again, when she wrote a letter to her slain daughter, saying she knew he’d kill again.
As she had dealt with her grief over her daughter’s murder, Vanessa had kept a journal. Much of it was personal stuff that I would never use (and that wouldn’t have made sense in a news story). But when I found the letters she had written to Barbara, I knew I had found gold.
You’ll see some key passages from a letter below in the lead. That outstanding interview, one of the best of my career, didn’t even produce my lead. I had to find that in the Walmart sack.
After that story, I would look for the Walmart sack in every interview. What are the things people have that can tell their stories better than they can? The next year, when I was doing my stories about the Farragut Admiralettes girls basketball team, my quest for the characters’ Walmart sack led me to the video that helped me debunk a legend about the team when everyone’s memories were inaccurate. And to Terri Brannen’s basketball, a little flat in her basement. And to scrapbooks and photo albums that added details or refreshed memories, prompting more stories.
I think I always knew that pictures and keepsakes could jog memories and loosen lips. But Vanessa’s Walmart sack expanded my understanding of the importance of using the interview to get beyond the interview to the things people have and how the things can sometimes tell the story better.
I’ll update my Walmart sack advice to say that sometimes the things that people have are digital things: emails, text messages, social media messages (public, shared only with friends and direct to another person), computer files. As with the Walmart sack, you need to develop a level of trust before someone is going to let you browse through such things.
Several years ago, I was coaching Kristen Hare, a reporter at the St. Joseph News-Press, who was working on a story about a story about a couple enduring the husband’s military deployment during a difficult pregnancy. Her original draft mentioned that they stayed in touch daily by email. I told her to get the emails, and the email messages became the story’s narrative thread. (Kristen, now working at Poynter, gave me permission to use the anecdote in this blog post; my coaching discussions are confidential unless a participant agrees to let me use something as an example in a blog post or workshop.)
As I did with Vanessa, you can make a deal with the source to have approval over what you’ll use. I think it’s better to make that sort of deal and get access to everything and have to negotiate over the things you want to use than to ask the source to give you the things she thinks would be helpful to you. A couple’s emails might have some messages of sexual teasing or longing that they wouldn’t want published (and possibly that you wouldn’t publish), but if you get access to all the emails, you gain understanding that helps you in telling the story and you’ll probably find some messages they won’t mind you using.
Beyond that, I don’t think digital tools would have made a huge difference in this story. I’m sure video would have been helpful, though I don’t think Vanessa would have talked on camera (as I recall, she didn’t even want her picture taken).
Some of my other sources would have talked on camera. Video might have helped people see how insincere Jim’s defense attorney sounded and looked when he was saying he was sure, even after Ellen Gray’s murder, that Jim was innocent of Barbara’s death. Defense attorneys genuinely believe, as they should, that everyone is entitled to a defense. But they are not stupid people. They know when they help a guilty man get off, and they know it’s an injustice, but they also know that their skill and experience are essential for our system to do justice to innocent people who are falsely accused. As a detached reporter, I couldn’t say in my story how insincere the attorney sounded (and my editors wouldn’t have let me if I tried). But good video probably would have caught that.
It’s hard to imagine social media being a big part of this story if it happened today, beyond perhaps some tweets and social media photos at the time Forsberg publicly killed Ellen Gray. I doubt that the people Forsberg terrorized would have posted much about it on social media, and certainly his kids and wife wouldn’t have played out their lives of abuse on Twitter or Facebook.
Here’s my story that ran Jan. 22, 1995, under the headline “1 Man, 1 Town, 4 Deaths: Conviction Ends Reign of Terror.” My further notes about the story are in bold. I have added links. We used a Coleridge dateline because I did much of the reporting for the story in and around Coleridge and because Vanessa wouldn’t let me say exactly where she lived.
Coleridge, Neb. ― Vanessa Forsberg knew it would happen again.
Someone else would die, she swore more than six years ago, after her husband was acquitted of murdering their daughter at his farm home near Coleridge.
“No matter what anyone thinks, your father was capable of murder,” Ms. Forsberg wrote of James Forsberg in her journal, figuratively addressing her slain daughter, Barbara Forsberg Corey. The date on the page was Sept. 15, 1988, more than a year after her daughter’s skull was smashed by the barrel of Forsberg’s shotgun.
“Even if the people of that community did not want to listen to the truth or didn’t care, I feel it will come to haunt them,” Ms. Forsberg wrote.
“I felt and to this day feel he’ll do it again. I feel for anyone in his path when he once again looses his anger.” More than five years later, Ellen Gray walked into Forsberg’s path in downtown Coleridge.
Note how much stronger this is coming from the journal I found in the Walmart sack, rather than if I had based it on quotes from the interview.
With a quick twist of the steering wheel on his pickup truck and a thrust to the accelerator, Forsberg ended the 74-year-old widow’s life – and brought a violent, public end to his personal reign of terror.
In addition to Mrs. Gray and Mrs. Corey, a third person died in Forsberg’s presence, in an apparent accident on the highway outside Coleridge. And Ellen “Missy” Munter, Mrs. Gray’s daughter, attributes the 1991 fatal heart attack of her father, banker James L. Gray Sr., at least in part to Forsberg’s years of harassment.
Just as Ms. Forsberg had predicted, her ex-husband haunted the northeast Nebraska town of 596 people in the years after a local jury acquitted him of the 1987 murder of his daughter. Family members and prosecutors say Forsberg especially tormented two families – his own in a private ordeal of physical and mental abuse and the Grays in a defiant, public campaign of fear.
Prosecutors and witnesses say he stalked those he picked as his enemies, especially the Gray family. He veered his pickup truck or tractor menacingly as family members approached on country roads. He boasted of urinating on Gray’s grave.
Mrs. Gray, her daughter said, eventually became a “prisoner in her own home,” afraid to venture out because of Forsberg’s menacing presence.
On Jan. 20, 1994, Mrs. Gray got a ride downtown from an employee at her late husband’s bank, the Coleridge National Bank, even though she would be going just a few blocks from her home in town. She was walking across Broadway toward the bank when Forsberg hit her with his truck, smashing her into her son-in-law’s insurance office building.
This time, Forsberg would not walk away free. Originally charged with first-degree murder, he pleaded no contest in November to a reduced charge of second-degree murder and was found guilty.
Dozens of people from the Coleridge area wrote letters asking for the maximum life sentence. Coleridge residents crowded the Cedar County courtroom in Hartington Tuesday for his sentencing.
Assistant Attorney General David Arterburn told District Judge Maurice S. Redmond at the sentencing: “This community deserves a chance and their lives should not be gambled with.” Forsberg’s attorney, Mike Stevens, argued that his client wasn’t hateful, just mentally ill.
Redmond, noting the fear that people from Coleridge had expressed in their letters, sentenced Forsberg to 50 years to life in prison. He will not be eligible for parole until he is 84 years old.
Forsberg is 79, according to Nebraska prison records, eligible for parole in 2019.
“Hopefully,” Redmond said, “both the community and you will have the opportunity for healing in that time.” Forsberg declined through his attorney to be interviewed for this story.
James Walfred Forsberg was born March 29, 1934, about a dozen miles from Coleridge in Laurel, Neb. He grew up near Arthur, Iowa. “Jim always had told me that his father abused him,” Ms. Forsberg said.
The Forsbergs were married Feb. 28, 1959, when both were attending Iowa State University. After his graduation in 1960, they moved with their infant son, Mark, to Omaha. The Forsbergs lived in Omaha for 16 years, growing to a family of seven. Barbara was born in 1962, then Steven in 1966, David in 1969 and Kevin in 1974.
The family moved every five years or so, living for a while on Davis Circle, in the Benson area, then moving west to 100th Street, just north of Blondo Street. He worked for the Omaha Bank for Cooperatives for more than 10 years and then for Land O’ Lakes in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Both jobs kept him traveling during the week.
Ms. Forsberg, now divorced from Forsberg, said this month at her Arizona apartment that Forsberg was mentally abusive in those years, but generally not violent.
This is how afraid Vanessa was of Jim Forsberg: She wouldn’t even let me say which Arizona community she lived in. I couldn’t persuade her to be more specific about location than the state. And Forsberg had already pleaded guilty of second-degree murder.
“I never fought him, because he scared me,” she recalled. “To that point he had not hit me, but there was something about him. . . .” Outwardly, the Forsbergs were a happy family. “We thought they were like ‘The Brady Bunch’ or ‘Leave it to Beaver,'” recalled Navy Lt. Cmdr. Cathy Wdowiak of Tucson, Ariz., a daughter of Ms. Forsberg’s sister.
Cathy Wdowiak was my intermediary in setting up the interview with Vanessa. I stayed in touch with her for months after Ellen Gray’s murder, sending her copies of several of my news and feature stories, trying to persuade Vanessa, through Cathy, to trust me with her story.
Lt. Cmdr. Wdowiak’s sister, Leslie, got a look behind the facade. Miss Wdowiak, who was about Barbara’s age, came to spend the summer with the Forsbergs the year she graduated from eighth grade. Forsberg once invited some friends to the house and told the girls to make sandwiches.
After Forsberg left the room briefly, the friends declined the food, saying they had just eaten, so the girls went to the basement. Soon Forsberg came downstairs, screaming. “He took his belt off and started hitting us,” Miss Wdowiak said. “He just kept hitting us with the belt … on the back, the legs, the arms,” hard enough to leave red marks.
What Forsberg really wanted was to farm, Ms. Forsberg said. “We used to drive out and pick out farms around Omaha.” Forsberg told her that when he died, “he was going to sit in heaven and watch Allis-Chalmers tractors go by all day.” He bought 240 acres outside Coleridge and the family moved to Cedar County in 1976. Forsberg initially kept working for Land O’ Lakes. By buying and renting more land, he eventually expanded his operation to about 1,000 acres, enough that he could farm full-time.
Forsberg’s land transactions were among the papers in the Walmart sack.
Ms. Forsberg said her husband increasingly became physically abusive to his family. When he called from Fort Dodge to say he was quitting Land O’ Lakes, Barbara, by then nearing the end of high school, said: ” ‘Mom, our life will be hell.’ And it was,” Ms. Forsberg said.
“We learned to run and hide,” she said. Sometimes they would flee to the attic, sometimes to a cabin David had built outside.
One time Forsberg became angry because Barbara, who was attending Wayne State College at the time, changed her major. In his rage, his ex-wife recalled, he “knocked me out and I had a huge bump on my head.” In a letter to his sister, dated the day after Barbara’s wedding, Forsberg wrote: “It is certainly mean and untrue if there is either a charge or an implication that I have abused Van or the children ever.”
Forsberg’s mysterious, murderous rage toward the Gray family became evident about 10 years ago, Mrs. Munter said.
The Munters, who moved in the early 1980s to a farmhouse just south of the Forsbergs, had been neighborly, she said. The wives were in the Nightingales, an Extension social club. The couples were in a card club, and the Munters invited Forsberg and the children over for ice cream once when his wife was away.
The first sign of Forsberg’s animosity, Mrs. Munter said, came when Gray took one of his grandsons to watch the local firefighters burn an empty building. Forsberg was there, too, and Gray inquired about the health of his wife, who had undergone surgery.
“He called my Dad some very terrible names,” Mrs. Munter said. “It just shocked us.” Forsberg soon began menacing the whole Gray family. He tried repeatedly to run the Munters and Grays off the country roads with a tractor or truck, Mrs. Munter and her husband, Terry, said. Forsberg would veer as they approached from an opposite direction, or pass them from behind and pull in sharply in front of them, the Munters said.
Jim and Ellen Gray loved taking Sunday drives to property they owned in the country. One Sunday, Mrs. Munter said, Forsberg began tailgating, swerving and beeping his horn. Gray was unable to shake Forsberg until he turned as they approached town, Mrs. Munter said.
“Mom screamed all the way to town,” Mrs. Munter said. “She would never go out there again.” The most sinister events occurred on country roads and were not witnessed by others, Mrs. Munter said. Some in town, who liked the sometimes-friendly Forsberg, wondered whether the Grays were exaggerating, Mrs. Munter said.
Speculation about Forsberg’s motive frequently turned to the farmer-banker relationship: Had Gray, whose father founded the bank in 1902, foreclosed on Forsberg? No. Had Gray denied him credit? Not that anyone knows.
Forsberg had a checking account at the bank, but borrowed mostly from the Production Credit Association, where he was a local board member, Mrs. Munter and Ms. Forsberg said.
“I honestly don’t think Jim knows” why he hated the Grays, Ms. Forsberg said. “He just hated anybody that had more power, more clout, more money than he did.” David Domina, who was Forsberg’s defense attorney in the 1988 trial, said in a recent interview that Forsberg “may have had historically some animosity toward people who enjoy the benefit of an inheritance.”
The first death associated with Forsberg was LeRoy Dooley, a Hartington man who ran into the back of a wagon Forsberg was hauling at twilight on Oct. 9, 1986.
Forsberg was not ticketed for the collision.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that was an accident,” said Mark Behm of Wausa, who was on the scene that night. Behm was Cedar County attorney at the time and during both murder cases.
Ms. Forsberg said she has no doubt Forsberg deliberately pulled in front of Dooley’s car. She said her husband wasn’t upset about Dooley’s death.
Barbara Forsberg had left Wayne State and joined the Army, becoming a broadcaster for Armed Forces Radio. She was the late-night disc jockey for a station in Seoul during the summer of 1986, a friendly voice in the night for a lonely soldier from Texas, Bill Corey Jr. Corey, stationed about 12 miles from the Demilitarized Zone, would call in requests and they would talk “all night long,” he recalled from his home in Victoria, Texas. Eventually, they met in Seoul, fell in love and became engaged.
Miss Forsberg didn’t tell her fiance much about her father’s violent ways. “Sometimes she’d say she loved him and hated him at the same time,” Corey said.
He was transferred to Fort Lewis, Wash., in January 1987. She would be getting out of the service in the spring and planned to return to school and study broadcasting after they married that summer.
Troubles were continuing to mount both within the Forsberg family and between Forsberg and the Grays. Gray stopped Ms. Forsberg downtown one day “and told me to straighten Jim out,” she said. Gray told her Forsberg had just been in a cafe, shouting and throwing chairs.
In the Forsberg home, abuse and fear escalated. Forsberg grew increasingly paranoid, his ex-wife said. He stayed up all night, talking to himself, and once told Ms. Forsberg, “I’m not thinking right.” She suggested a physical, wondering to herself whether something like a brain tumor might be causing his increasingly bizarre behavior. “He plowed me one and I landed on the floor, and I got up on the davenport and I said to myself, ‘That’s it. After David’s out of high school, I think I can raise one by myself,’ ” she said. David was finishing his junior year.
About the same time, in the spring of 1987, the Navy sent Cathy Wdowiak to Japan. Barbara hopped a flight from Korea to visit her cousin, Lt. Cmdr. Wdowiak recalled in an interview this month at her home in Tucson.
As they talked and drank, Lt. Cmdr. Wdowiak said, “she just started talking about how Dad is really abusive to Mom.” The cousin urged Barbara to tell her mother to leave, to come stay with Ms. Forsberg’s sister, Karen Wdowiak, in Tucson.
What finally persuaded Ms. Forsberg to leave?
“You’re gonna laugh,” she said, blushing. “Oprah Winfrey.” Ms. Forsberg vividly recalled an “Oprah” show on domestic abuse in which Ms. Winfrey said, “If your husband has hit you once, leave, because he will never, ever change.” She decided she couldn’t wait another year for David to graduate. It was Memorial Day weekend, and she began planning her escape. They sneaked out of the house Tuesday morning while Forsberg slept, taking only the clothes they wore and one gym bag full of belongings.
When they had gotten away, Ms. Forsberg said, 12-year-old Kevin told her, “Mom, if we had stayed one more night, I think he’d have killed us.”
Barbara married Bill Corey July 11, 1987, in a Tucson park, wearing a kimono she had bought in Japan. David gave the bride away.
After the wedding, Barbara insisted on going to Coleridge to pick up the belongings she had sent home from her overseas stops.
And, said her husband, “She felt like she had to go back to face her dad.” Ms. Forsberg frantically begged her daughter not to go. Corey recalled: “Vanessa went as far as saying, ‘Do you want a dead wife? ‘ ” Ms. Forsberg said her daughter would not be swayed, jokingly citing an experience in Germany as evidence of her invincibility: “Mom, if I can drive a truck on the autobahn one way and come back the other way with a shift, I can get out of Coleridge alive.”
Forsberg didn’t seem so sinister when his new son-in-law met him. “He was just a normal, everyday farmer type of guy,” Corey recalled.
While Corey and Forsberg were in Coleridge having dinner, Mrs. Corey called her mother. “He had hate in his eyes and a smile on his face,” she said of her father.
Corey and Forsberg gave different accounts of what happened the following morning. Corey said he heard a noise while he was in the bathroom and ran upstairs to find Forsberg standing over his bleeding daughter, holding his shotgun.
Corey said he began pounding Forsberg. “I just kept hitting and hitting and kicking and hitting until he stopped moving and I knew he wouldn’t hurt her no more,” Corey said. All the while he was beating Forsberg, Corey said, he kept screaming, “How could you do that to your daughter?” Forsberg testified that he took a shotgun into the room because he was worried about his son-in-law’s behavior from the night before. Seeing only Mrs. Corey, he set the gun down on a bed, then was attacked, Forsberg said. He said he didn’t see the attacker but saw his daughter fall in the fray.
Corey had to tell the grim news to his parents and his new mother-in-law.
“It was so terrible to hear Vanessa scream when I had to tell her,” he said.
Forsberg hired Domina, who had grown up in Coleridge, a classmate of the Munters, and had unsuccessfully sought the 1986 Democratic nomination for governor.
Domina said in a recent interview that the defense proved Mrs. Corey could not have been killed as her husband said she was. The pattern of the spattered blood in the bedroom, and the fact that Forsberg had no bloodstains on his shoes, contradicted Corey’s story, Domina said.
Domina told the jury that Corey struck the fatal blow when his wife tried to intervene as he was beating Forsberg.
Corey, who admitted in his testimony that he had undergone mandatory alcohol counseling in the Army, was not a credible witness, Domina said.
He said he could see expressions of doubt on jurors’ faces as Corey testified.
“We didn’t have enough evidence and they had a very good defense,” said Behm, who said he was and remains convinced that Forsberg murdered his daughter. The judge would not allow testimony about Forsberg’s abuse of his family or harassment of the Grays. “It all came down to Bill Corey,” Behm said.
Jurors did indeed doubt Corey’s story, foreman John Long said after the trial. They were not convinced of Forsberg’s innocence, but they had a reasonable doubt about his guilt, the juror told reporters.
When the verdict came in, Corey said: “I screamed, I guess, and started crying. How could they? . . . I wished I would have killed him.” Assistant Attorney General David Arterburn, who studied the Corey case while assisting Behm in prosecuting the Gray case, answered a letter last fall in which Ms. Forsberg criticized the investigation and prosecution of her daughter’s death.
Arterburn told her that he agreed that the system “failed to bring about a just result” in Forsberg’s 1988 murder trial.
The murder of Mrs. Gray did not shake Domina’s belief that the first case ended justly. “I don’t have any regret about the outcome of the first trial,” Domina said.
Behm said he never considered charging Corey with killing his wife. Behm, like Ms. Forsberg, feared someone else would die after the acquittal. “I said as much at the time,” Behm said. “He (Forsberg) has no conscience.”
The acquittal intensified Forsberg’s torment of the Grays and others he regarded as the “Coleridge Mafia,” prosecutors and witnesses said. They said he blamed Gray for the charge he faced in his daughter’s death.
The Munters would not leave their teen-age children home without an adult. They sold their farm and moved to an acreage south of town, “specifically to get away from him,” Mrs. Munter said.
Gray suffered a fatal heart attack on May 8, 1991. “I think the harassment had a great deal to do with Dad’s heart attack,” Mrs. Munter said.
Gray’s death did not slow Forsberg’s harassment. Prosecutors and witnesses said he stalked Mrs. Gray, standing in front of her house, sitting outside in his pickup, shadowing her around town, blocking her path on the sidewalk. He told people the town would be better off if all the Grays were killed.
The family filed repeated complaints with the Coleridge police, the sheriff, the Nebraska State Patrol and the FBI. The authorities repeatedly answered that they couldn’t prosecute without witnesses.
Sheriff Elliot Arens said witnesses to some of the incidents came forward after Mrs. Gray’s death.
“I would have loved to have a chance to prosecute Forsberg for a crime,” Behm said. Many incidents, though, were not reported until long after they happened. In other cases, Forsberg stopped just short of breaking the law, he said.
Though the Grays felt most of Forsberg’s wrath, others were intimidated by actions directed at them, or by what they saw and heard of him.
Arterburn, who talked to 200 people in Coleridge in his investigation of Mrs. Gray’s death, said at the sentencing hearing that Forsberg eventually alienated even once-close friends, until only psychiatrists would speak on his behalf.
Mrs. Gray, a tiny, 5-foot tall woman, walked into the cross hairs of Forsberg’s pickup Jan. 20, 1994, at 10:30 a.m. She had gone downtown to a beauty parlor, then walked across Main Street to buy some groceries. She was excited about receiving the first letter written by her only great-grandchild and carried the letter with her.
Mrs. Gray was crossing Broadway from the south, at the intersection of Main.
Forsberg was driving east on Broadway. Whether through planning or coincidence, he was in position to carry out the mayhem Ms. Forsberg and Behm had predicted and the Grays had feared.
“Jim Forsberg seized his golden opportunity,” Arterburn told Judge Redmond last week.
Arterburn said witnesses saw and heard Forsberg rev his engine, steer to the left and accelerate. The pickup crushed her against the old bank building that houses Munter’s insurance agency, 40 to 50 feet from the initial point of impact, and she died instantly. Forsberg sustained a minor head injury and broken ribs.
This time the people of Coleridge wanted to make sure the evidence was solid. People spontaneously blocked off the streets in all four directions, Mrs. Munter said, to be sure that nothing disturbed the truck’s wet tire tracks. “They wouldn’t even let the ambulance cross over.” Four witnesses came forward. Others told their own tales of what Forsberg had done and said through the years.
Forsberg decided not to gamble a second time on the jury. Facing a possible death sentence on the first-degree murder charge, he pleaded no contest to the reduced charge.
Arterburn and Behm, worried about a likely insanity defense, also did not want to risk a trial. They offered the plea bargain to second-degree murder. The sentence could put Forsberg away for the rest of his life.
Even as an old man, Arterburn told the judge, Forsberg should never be turned loose. “If he can drive, he can kill,” the prosecutor said. “He’s left a legacy of human destruction.”
Earlier updated lessons
Here are earlier posts in this series on updated lessons from old stories: