This article is about a unique mother named Charity Lee and how she began “The Ella foundation”. It’s a story unlike any story you’ll ever hear in your lifetime, at least that’s the sincere wish of the writer of this piece.
Charity’s tale is a story about a mother’s unconditional love for both her children and a story of how a horrific personal tragedy transformed a mother of two into a human rights activist and an advocate for prisoner rights.
Ms. Lee’s story is indeed a tale of courage and strength that is worthy to be told with awe and respect.
Thank you Charity for sharing so much about you, your daughter, your son and your personal endeavor to heal thousands of wounded hearts around the world. Your dedication to bring meaningful reform to prisoner rights and to end the death penalty is inspiring and deserves the utmost respect.
Interviewer: It’s a real pleasure talking to you Charity. Your personal courage and your commitment to being an advocate for prisoner rights and ending the penal systems’ death penalty is an inspiration to a growing number of people around the world.
Please, tell me something about you that you would like to share with the world, particularly something that best describes who you are and how you’re evolving.
I’d love to hear about your foundation and of course your daughter Ella and your son, and the events that led to that tragic day.
Charity: My life has been full of a lot of challenges. When I was 6 years old, my father became a victim of a murder-by-hire, allegedly arranged by his wife who also happens to be my mother. Although my mother was eventually arrested as a co-conspirator in my father’s murder and tried in court, she was later acquitted of all charges.
My mother and I had a very tumultuous relationship that took its toll on me at an early age. I began experimenting with drugs. In spite of my experimenting with drugs I still maintained an “A” average in school. I was a good student.
However because of the building stress between my mother and me, I decided to move out of mother’s house at the tender age of 16.
I’ve battled my fair share of personal demons, leaving me to feel that because of what I’ve gone through in life, I’m now a stronger person. You know the old saying, ‘that which does not kill you can only makes you stronger.
Also, being a former successful business owner and living my life as an advocate for nonviolence and prisoner rights has been rewarding but without a doubt, the best part of my life was being a mom to my kids. They kept me grounded.
Your biography is so interesting, yet tragic. You grew up in a home that materialistically had everything. Having money, nice clothes and attending private schools were never an issue for you.
What seems to have been missing in your formative years is what some would call a cohesive family-love and understanding. At least that’s my opinion. It’s as though tragedy has followed you for a long time in your life.
I’m happy to see that you’re still motivated and undeterred from your life’s mission. So…let’s begin the Question and Answer segment. Are you ready?
Charity: Yes I am.
Ok, let’s begin. On February 4, 2007 your world was completely turned upside down / inside out by an unimaginable and horrific event. Your son, whose name is Paris, sexually molested and then callously murdered your daughter / his little sister, her name is Ella.
Q: How old was your daughter (Ella) and son (Paris) when he killed her?
A: Ella was 4 years old and Paris was 13.
Q: At that time, what did you do for a living? Did you have a career?
A: At the time I was working on a Master’s of Gifted Education and waiting tables at “Buffalo Wild Wings”
Q: Does talking about your daughter’s death and your son’s crime still make you cringe inside?
A: Sometimes….there are days that I don’t like to talk about it. But I find it important to find a way of just letting go and telling people about my story. People needed to hear the story about my family. My foundation has introduced me to many people who have shared similar experiences involving violent crimes, and people who have been incarcerated and stigmatized because of their crime(s).
Q: What little things did your daughter do to make you laugh?
A: Her smile and her child-like happiness made me laugh.
Q: What kind of young man was your son?
A: He was and still is brilliant. He’s also great manipulator of people.
Q: What was your son’s diagnosis?” Is he schizophrenic?
A: No, he’s not schizophrenic. Although not formally diagnosed as such, due to his age, it is the belief of many psychologists, case workers, and even I, that my son is a psychopath, incapable of feeling any remorse for his crime or empathy for his victims.
Q: Did Paris ever display any signs of mental instability?
Q: Was his father in his life?
A: No, his father has his own mental issues that are prevalent in his family…genetics.
Q: Do you believe that your drug use contributed to your son’s mental problems?
A: No…when Paris was born I had been clean for over a year.
Q: What your son did was so horrific… almost evil. Do you believe in demon possession?
A: No. I believe when we don’t believe or understand something, we make up superstitions. I am not open to the suggestion that my son was possessed by some evil spirit.
Q: In your mind, could your daughter’s death have been avoided?
A: (Long pause)…..No.
Q: How old is Paris now and where is he being detained?
A: Paris is 18 years old and he’s locked up in juvenile detention in the state of Texas. In August or September this year he will have a transfer hearing. The board can either (A) release him, believing he is cured and rehabilitated or (B) send him to state prison in Texas.
Q: What does your heart tell you will happen after the board convenes?
A: The system will send him to prison….Personally I think he should go to a mental institution. If released he will hurt someone. He’s a predator. It’s like a switch that flips in his head. Like a drug addict he’s tormented until he receives “his fix”. Taking a human life is his “fix” / his fantasy. It’s a sick fantasy that only sustains him temporarily.
Q: Do you still love you son and are you concerned for him?
A: As a mother I will always love my son and yes, I am concerned about his future well-being in prison. I know how violent the prison system is.
Q: On February 4, 2007 was Paris alone with Ella?
A: No, not at all. He persuaded the babysitter to leave early and charmed her into believing that he would finish watching Ella.
Q: How do you know Paris sexually molested his sister before killing her?
A: He told me and the police that he fondled himself while he lay in bed next to her while she was sleeping. She was asleep at the time. During his confession he admitted to beating Ella so she would wake up and know who was hurting her. He choked her but decided that it was taking too long for her to die, so he stabbed her 17 times, which was really his intention from the beginning as he admitted to taking the knife into the bedroom with him when he laid down with her.
Q: Did your son’s attorney ever talk to you privately about your son after the trial?
A: No. As his attorney, he was not legally or ethically allowed to discuss anything concerning my son’s case with me, even though I am his mother, unless my son gave him permission to do so. After my son was sentenced the psychologist hired by the defense to evaluate my son’s competency called to tell me he felt morally obligated to inform my that although my son was only 13, therefore technically unable to be diagnosed as one, that my son was a psychopath. He also told me that the Texas Youth Commission, now Texas Juvenile Justice Department, was sorely unprepared to deal with a boy like him.
Q: Did you accept the psychologist’s conclusion that Paris was a very disturbed young man?
A: I didn’t want to believe what he was telling me. After a year or so and after seeing and hearing my child do and say things so callous and mean spirited, I began to believe him so I hired my own doctors and they too confirmed that Paris is a psychopath. I know this sounds crazy but I was still skeptical so I had the test results reevaluated by an international respected psychiatrist who has evaluated many of the well-known psychopaths and he re-confirmed that Paris is a psychopath.
There are distinctions among psychopaths…there is the organized killer and the disorganized killer….When Paris murdered his sister he showed a little bit of both. He’s very cunning….He will have to apply all of his cunning instincts in order to survive in prison.
Q: Did you have any pets and if yes, did Paris ever mistreat them?
A: Yes we had pets. I asked him once why he killed his sister and not one of the family’s four cats, he replied, “momma I love our cats”…Evidently Ella’s life was dispensable in his mind.
Q: Did Paris ever appear to be jealous of Ella?
A: He showed no signs of jealousy. He was an amazing big brother. He helped me take great care of his sister.
Q: Did he ever lash out at you in violence?
A: In 2005 I had a drug relapse…I was running a concert promotion business and it began taking its toll on me. I slipped and began using drugs again. Paris became upset (at the time he was12 years-old) at me because of my inner struggles and at my attempts to discipline him. He was being mean to his sister and younger aunt one day and because of his behavior I made him set on a couch for a breather.
Inexplicably, he ran into the kitchen and grabbed a knife. He then ran out the house with the knife onto my mother’s 25,000 acre property. I was able to catch up with him and convince him to give me the knife.
Q: Did you and Paris have a close relationship? And do you think that your relapse with drugs caused him to snap and murder his sister?
A: We had a close relationship. I don’t think my relapse caused Paris to kill his sister but I think that his anger at me for going through a relapse may have triggered him.
Q: It appears that The Ella Foundation, which is named in honor of your little angel, has given you a new purpose in life. What convinced you to begin The Ella Foundation ?
A: After my son murdered his sister, I learned first hand how inhumane the criminal justice system is to offenders. Although I believe my son needs to be kept away from the general public, he should NOT be mistreated. I wanted to let the jailers know that no one was going to hurt my baby, no matter what crime he committed. I’ve always been a caretaker….I am empathetic. There are people in jail and prison who do not have the time, resources, or know how to fight the inhumane system so I started ELLA to help them out.
A: Why do you believe that your son is in danger should he be sent to prison after completing his sentence in juvenile detention?
Q: It’s a known fact in prison that some prison guards / corrections officers and inmates rape and sexually abuse other inmates. The latest numbers released by the Justice Department claim 10% of inmates have suffered sexual abuse while incarcerated. If that is what the Justice Department reports, I am sure the numbers are much higher than that.
There are rapes that go on in prisons every day. And because of the crime my son committed, his life is already in danger the day he steps behind prison walls. Depending upon the crime committed by the offender, prisons have their own “justice system”.
Q: Does The Ella Foundation only work on behalf of securing better treatment for male prisoners?
A: The Ella foundation works on behalf of both male and female prisoners. The Ella foundation was created last year (2011) after 5 years of me working hard as a criminal justice reform activist….people in prisons have rights too….so I started my own foundation.
I try to show people the unique position that I’m in…being the mother of a murdered child and the mother of a murderer…..I tell people that I can relate to their pain….and that wanting revenge is understandable, however, in the long run, holding onto that anger and hatred will end up hurting you and the ones you love, in addition to the hurt that has already caused your pain. All people, whether they are criminals or not, deserve to be treated humanely and as though their life, if not their actions, are sacred.
Q: Do you believe in capital punishment?
A: Executing people is just murder. State sponsored murder.
Q: If another person other than your son had murdered your daughter would you still be against the death penalty.
A: I can’t answer that question because that is not how it happened however I would want to know about the killer’s past. I have a hard time believing I could get on a stand and demand the death of another human being, but who knows what I would have done if that had been the case.
Q: Has there ever been a time since your son’s incarceration in juvenile detention that you didn’t even want to see him?
A: Yes but not directly after the murder….there has been moments that he has acted overly sadistic and I felt that I needed a break from him. So I’ve taken breaks away from him. The longest break had been two or three months…We’ve spoken once since he turned 18. He has decided that I make his life too difficult.
Q: Since beginning the Ella Foundation, what are the 3 most important endeavors you’ve been able to accomplish?
A: The foundation has enabled me to reach out and tell thousands of people about Ella, my son, and what they BOTH have taught, and continue to teach me, about unconditional love.
The foundation enables me to talk about how beautiful and special a little girl Ella really was…..the foundation has also enabled me to help people tone down their anger and to find some peace among people who have experienced their pain. I guess the last thing that I’m really happy about is the creation of a volunteer based crisis intervention/homicide victim advocate team for the San Antonio police department.
Q: Do you see yourself ever having another child?
A: Maybe. There’s a lot to consider in deciding to have another child when you have to live the life I’ve been given. Time will tell.
Q: In closing, if you were able to make one wish come true, what would that wish be?
A: If I had one wish it would be to have Paris and Ella in my arms happy, sane, and whole, for all of this to have been nothing but a horrible, horrible nightmare my kid’s laughter would make forgettable.
As always the New Orleans Examiner is interested in what you think. Could you as a parent find the will to unconditionally love a child that you birthed into this world even though the child had callously murdered their sibling, your baby? Inquiring minds want to know.
A link that gives more detail about The Ella Foundation is attached. Please take the time to go to Charity’s webpage and see the great work that she’s doing to heal wounded hearts.
Until next time Louisianans, Good day, God bless and Good fishing.