FLEUR DE LYS — Millie Walsh had 13 years with her daughter Sammie, and she’s now also spent 13 years without her.
The Fleur-de-Lys teacher, municipal representative, community leader and volunteer is continuing the fight to keep her daughter’s killer from becoming a free man.
Michael John Victor Lewis’ freedom has been a sore point for Walsh as his release progresses over the past year or more. She and her husband George attended every parole hearing, pleading Lewis be kept behind bars.
Originally, after serving the first seven years, Lewis didn’t seek parole.
He also didn’t admit his role in the murder of the 13-year-old girl on Feb. 6, 2000 and his poor behaviour in prison was highlighted by the board in their early decisions.
In recent years, he has admitted to strangling Samantha Bertha Walsh, and also acknowledged the sexual aspects of the murder. He has undergone counselling, and has been educated in jail in hopes of preparing himself for a life outside prison walls.
Serving a life sentence for second degree murder, Lewis — now in his late 20s — was first released on day parole for six months in December 2011. That was extended for another six months in June of last year. It was again extended, this time for three months, just last month. His release also included a work term.
Knowing Lewis has been living a life outside jail has been particularly difficult for Walsh. She attributed much of her strength over the years to knowing he has remained imprisoned for his crime. A hearing to determine whether he gets full parole is to be held Jan. 23, and it could make things worse for her.
“In reflection on all that I have endured with respect to writing statements and having to revisit my tragedy, I question if all my time and pleading will be in vain?” Walsh said in a victim impact statement she wrote for the upcoming hearing.
“I regretfully feel that the justice system is disconnected with victims such as me.”
It has been a particularly difficult year for Walsh. Her husband George died Jan. 17. She describes George as her husband, friend, and her final bond and physical connection with Sammie. She said his death has made her fight to keep Lewis in jail more difficult, but she is not considering giving up.
“Parole board members and others may question as to why I return and give my statement,” she said. “It’s simple. It’s all I have left.”
In recent years, the Walsh family has been preparing themselves for the likelihood Lewis would one day be released. They recognized the progression that was unfolding, despite their plights and prayers.
“With using the system to his advantage after a short time of incarceration for a heinous crime, Michael Lewis begins his future … to metamorphose into something new,” she wrote. “I will always be a homicide survivor and never experience closure.”
Walsh fears time has softened the minds of many, including those who decide on such applications. She said her nightmares about that night 13 years ago, the 17 days of searching that followed, and the 13 years since of wondering who Sammie would have become, have not softened.
She remains adamant Lewis should not be released and says it is still too soon. She doesn’t have to think when considering what the impact of Lewis being granted full parole would be.
“It would devastate me,” she said.
She believes Lewis will regress and fears what the consequence could be for others — another mother, another family, another community.