Bert Montgomery: A student's murder, a teacher's reflection

November 2, 2009 9:49:00 AM

Bert Montgomery -


Reid''s note grabbed my immediate attention: "Jury selection begins today in the capital murder trial of Bobby Batiste. Batiste stands accused of murdering Andreas Galanis. Both young men were students at Mississippi State. Andreas Galanis was a friend of mine." 


Reid (not his real name - he asked to remain anonymous) teaches at MSU. He describes his politics as "progressive/liberal/thoughtful" and will freely tell you his opinions if you should ask. 


I know Reid well. I know him well enough to assume he''s probably opposed to the death penalty. 


When I saw his note I hurt first and foremost for my grieving friend and the family of the victim, but I also couldn''t help but wonder if this experience might challenge and change how he thinks about capital punishment. 


Reid never had Andreas as a student in class, but he got to know Andreas by striking up conversations with him on campus. Andreas, he said, was older than most students, very friendly, and had a great sense of humor. Frequently throughout the week, Reid and Andreas would cross each others'' path on campus, chat a little and joke around. Over time, Reid even learned about Andreas'' family and friends. 


But then Andreas was murdered by his own housemate. 


Reid recalls, "The day he was bludgeoned to death by Bobby Batiste was the day we had snow/frozen rain/sleet on the Friday before Spring Break. It was also the day President Fogelsong ''declared victory'' and resigned as MSU''s president. Fogelsong''s resignation was the big news of the day. ... I did not hear about the murder until Monday of Spring Break. A colleague told me a student had been murdered. (At first), I did not realize it was my friend Andreas." 


I did not know of Reid''s connection until his note on the day of jury selection. Throughout this past week, Reid has closely followed the trial of Batiste. "I have attended much of the trial and have been there for most of the testimony. I needed to be there because I want to understand what happened."  


Reid met Andreas'' family and friends and sat with them in court. 


Reid was not at the courthouse when the verdict of "guilty of capital murder" was read. On Saturday, though, he was present most of the day to hear the testimonies and cross examinations of the nine defense witnesses and three prosecution witnesses. 


"I had to leave just before the jury received their instructions," he said. I heard about the death penalty decision from Matt, Andreas'' boyhood friend who was here for the trial. He called my cell phone with the news." 


I broached the subject of the death penalty, and how having a personal connection with one who was murdered may change things. 


Reid said he used to think he was squarely opposed to it - but "now I think I had not really thought much about it. I am presently wrestling with many conflicting emotions and rational thoughts. ... used to think I opposed it - now, not so sure." 


Life has an unpleasant way of complicating things after we think we have figured stuff out. Personal experience changes everything.  


Personally, I''ve been morally opposed to the death penalty since a teenager. I never could reconcile it with my religious beliefs. However, I must admit I''ve never known anyone who was murdered, and I''ve often wondered such an experience would challenge or even change my opinion. 


My friend, Reid, is a man of deep spiritual and moral convictions, and he is active in his church congregation. But with this personal encounter, the pain he feels and the pain he feels for the family of his murdered friend now weigh in very heavily on an issue he''s only dealt with in abstract terms; now the abstract has become very real. 


Regardless of where he ends up on the issue of capital punishment, I pray that Reid''s memories of his young friend remain fresh and alive for a long, long time. 


Bert Montgomery is an author, MSU religion/sociology instructor, and pastor and lives in Starkville. His e-mail address is [email protected]