Two years ago today I was found not guilty of murder. After a childhood of severe abuse at the hands of our father, my brother snapped and killed our parents. He then, for reasons I’ll never understand, accused me of helping him. Many dates, in this saga, have special meaning for me but today is one of the better ones.
March is a month of ups and downs, between that anniversary and my mother’s birthday next week. On March 12th, 2010 my murder trial ended with a not guilty verdict, after being arrested almost three years prior in 2007. It was the hardest three years of my life waiting for the trial to be over. I wore an ankle bracelet the entire time except for the 45 days that I was incarcerated after my arrest, so there was no freedom to come and go as I pleased without special permission.
I was fortunate to have had an incredible legal support team. While I was in jail, they were all very helpful and supportive to my partner, Susan. This experience taught me to respect the work done by those in the legal system. They work around the clock when a trial is going and they restored my faith in a system that had failed me for most of my life.
When the trial was underway, the courtroom benches were filled with acquaintances, neighbors and friends. I now, two years later, wonder if a few of them were there to actually support me or to just watch the show. I will never know for sure, but I will tell you that those two weeks were an emotional roller coaster for me: some family members chose to testify against me, Susan was made to stay out of the courtroom in the hallway, and I had to view gruesome forensic photos. In addition, the prosecutor made sure that the stained and damaged jacket my mom was wearing when her body was found was placed on my side of the courtroom, directly in my view, every day for two weeks.
The day of the verdict, two years ago today, was a pressure cooker for my attorney and me. I spent almost eight hours testifying, and then came hours of closing arguments. We had no idea how long it would take for the jury to come back, but it was only a few hours later when the verdict came back at 10:45 P.M. What a celebration we had when my ankle bracelet was removed and I was finally able to come and go and live life!
Exactly one week after the trial—when we would have normally celebrated my mom’s birthday—I, instead, mourned her loss and honored her life. Susan and I took a drive down to Clearwater Beach and ended up in a place that the three of us had visited on a vacation many years ago. We even managed to eat at the exact same restaurant. My co-author, Lisa Bonnice, would call that synchronicity; I call it a sense of peace that was supposed to happen for me to help with the closure of losing my mom and my trial ending.
As the years have gone by since the trial, I have been conflicted with celebrating my not guilty verdict and respecting the memory of how my mom died. I feel different emotions when both days arrive, and don’t know what the correct way to feel is, which emotion I should honor, and how to make a peace with my day-to-day fluctuations. I know that I am free because I am truly supposed to be; and I know that I truly love my mom and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. I hope to someday be able to celebrate the win of the trial and the life my mom had and be okay with my choice to move on with my life.
Stacey M. Kananen
Advocate, Author, Abuse survivor
Co-founder of Amnesty From Abuse
Stacey Kananen’s father violently and sexually abused his entire family. He vanished in 1988 and 15 years later his wife went missing. Stacey’s brother had killed both parents. Stacey cooperated as a witness until he told police that she helped him with the crimes. She was arrested and her trial, which aired on CNN’s In Session, ended with a not guilty verdict after her attorney proved that she had been railroaded.
Now that her personal life is no longer private, Stacey is using her story to make waves. She and co-author Lisa Bonnice have signed a publishing deal with Berkley Books. They created the Amnesty From Abuse program to address the dynamic that stops families from asking for help: fear, shame and hopelessness. She states, “If a program like this existed during my childhood, both parents would be alive, my brother would not be in jail and my family would have been spared years of anguish and terror.”
Sink or Swim–the Stacey M. Kananen story (Berkley Books, 2013)
BBC Documentary: America’s Child Death Shame