Dateline reports on the unlikely friendship between a woman who was shot and critically injured, and the stranger who attempted to kill her.
Airdate: 
Sunday, June 5, 2011 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS One

Dateline has a touching story of friendship between a woman who was shot and critically injured, and the stranger who attempted to kill her.

Jackie Millar took years to recover after she was shot in the head. She remains almost blind and permanently brain damaged, unable to even remember bringing up her own sons. 

But she knows her own mind as far as her attacker, Craig Sussek, is concerned; she's forgiven him and regularly visits him in prison in Wisconsin in the United States, where they talk about their lives and his remorse at what happened that night in 1995.

Some say she's mad; others that the Restorative Justice Project is the only way that both of them can get on with their lives.

See more about this story in Dateline's 30th anniversary special.

Resources

Transcript

First to the United States, and a moving story of forgiveness, imagine confronting the person who tried to kill you. That's what happens with a bold justice program in the state of Wisconsin. It brings victims and offenders together for an emotional healing that the legal system doesn't always deliver and as Dateline's Aaron Lewis discovered, in one unique case it's led to remarkable results.

REPORTER: Aaron Lewis

JACKIE MILLAR, SHOOTING VICTIM: I was a mother, a very good mother, I worked full time and loved it. I was an amateur photographer - I had it all.

Jackie Millar has lived two lives separated by a single event on November 4th 1995, the night two boys came to steal her car, shot her in the head, and left her for dead.

JACKIE MILLAR: I was the age of a two year old after the incident.

REPORTER: In terms of your ability to do things?

JACKIE MILLAR: Yes. I had to learn how to sit, how to stand, how to walk, how to talk, how to even swallow.

Paralysed on her right side and now almost blind, Jackie's slowly but surely regained enough skills to live independently.

JACKIE MILLAR: What I see is green, that's grass. I see white up there.

But it's her ability to remember that was most crippled by the gunshot.

JACKIE MILLAR: I can't even remember my sons growing up. I feel lucky, I remember I have three grandchildren. Their lives, I don't remember.

REPORTER: So you don't remember the incident itself?

JACKIE MILLAR: I don't remember it at all.

CRAIG SUSSEK, JACKIE'S ATTACKER: What I did was - it wasn't a good thing, it wasn't a smart thing - it was extremely heinous, but it was a spur of the moment thing.

Craig Sussek is the man who shot Jackie. He and his friend Josh Briggs were teenagers at the time.

CRAIG SUSSEK: Both of our lives we thought were kind of spiralling out of control, we didn't think that anyone cared and we didn't care so we were going to do whatever, so that day we wound up stealing some guns from my Mum's boyfriend at the time.

JOSH BRIGGS, JACKIE'S ATTACKER: The day of the crime, Craig came over to my house early in the morning at about seven or eight, and Craig came over and said "do you want to do it today?" And I was like "sure!" That's how it got started.

The boys had a plan to rob a bank in a neighbouring town, but first they needed a getaway vehicle. Jackie surprised them as they were stealing her car.

CRAIG SUSSEK: And I was carrying a 44 magnum revolver, and my co-defendant had a 22 revolver, and he said who's going to do it - and there was no question of do what you know what I mean, and so I said I would. There was also a pillow over her head and I pulled the trigger.

JOSH BRIGGS: When I think back, I can see myself standing there but I don't really remember feeling anything, I seen him shoot her, and she twitched real hard and then didn't move. And he kind of just looked at me and I looked at him and the next thing I remember was driving the car backwards and Craig jumping the passenger seat.

The two boys were quickly convicted. Craig is now serving an 85 year sentence, and Josh 65 years. Today, Jackie is going to visit Craig in prison. She's does this every year, facilitated by Pete De Wind, a professor at the University of Wisconsin who runs the restorative justice project - a program designed to allow victims of violent crime and their offenders to meet face-to-face.

CRAIG SUSSEK: I was scared to death.

REPORTER: You were scared to death the first time you met Jackie?

CRAIG SUSSEK: Right. This isn't something that's heard of, I expected her to claw my eyes out, screaming, kicking, that was what I was expecting and I was literally scared.

I told you lay down, and then I said; 'Don't worry - we're not going to do nothing to you.'

JACKIE MILLAR: He had cried because he thought I would be normal. He had apologized to me. I accepted his apology.

'You are a good kid, you are;.. you're a good kid.'

There was one thing additional I wanted from him. Can you guess it?

REPORTER: No, but tell me.

JACKIE MILLAR: A hug.

REPORTER: You wanted a hug?

JACKIE MILLAR: I wanted a hug and he agreed and we hugged long and hard.

REPORTER: Jackie, that must be the point where people think you're a bit crazy.

CRAIG SUSSEK: There she is, how ya doing?

JACKIE MILLAR: Good.

CRAIG SUSSEK: I see you've got your summer hat already.

JACKIE MILLAR: I got my summer hat.

CRAIG SUSSEK: How you doing?

JACKIE MILLAR: Good. How are you?

CRAIG SUSSEK: I can't complain.

JACKIE MILLAR: I am starting to walk outside and I enjoy that. You will do your exercises?

CRAIG SUSSEK: Yep, started going outside walking like you do again.

For over an hour, Jackie and the man who nearly killed her, talk with ease and familiarity.

JACKIE MILLAR: These things mean a lot.

Then Jackie asks the same question that her patchy memory forces her to ask every year.

JACKIE MILLAR: I wish you would tell me again, what happened on November 4, 1995? I know you must hate this.

CRAIG SUSSEK: I'm just trying to figure out where to start. For what reason I have no idea, but we started walking out to whatever county road that Mr Van Ert's house is at. We went inside the house. Josh was looking for the keys and I was just walking around the house just looking in the rooms. Opened up a couple of doors, there was nothing there and I opened up the last room, there was somebody sleeping on the bed which was you. We closed the door and we left you sleeping there.

I told Josh, we got to get out of here. He had found the keys by that time and we were about to leave in the car when you came out and asked if you could help us with anything. We both raised the pistols up and said 'no, we've already got what we need.' One of us told you to go back in the house and I told you to lay down in the living room and then I did what I did. I'm sorry again. I don't know why I did it. You definitely didn't deserve it. I'm sorry it had to happen Jackie - I'm sorry it did happen, not it had to - it did happen.

REPORTER: That must be very difficult.

CRAIG SUSSEK: It really is. It's very difficult, but I guess that it's maybe a part of my punishment.

REPORTER: What does the word "forgiving" mean for you?

CRAIG SUSSEK: It means a lot. If Jackie wouldn't have forgiven me for what I did, what I did would have eaten me up, you know what I mean? So when she forgave me, it allowed me to start working on myself, not to forget what I did, but forgive myself for what I did. I know she's not holding any grudges. I know she's not thinking I'm a piece of crap, I'm the scum of the earth like most other people think, she knows that genuinely that I am a person that has the capability of making choices and changing, and she's fully confident that I'll make the right choices and right changes, so it gets pretty deep when I think about how her forgiveness affects me.

PETE DE WIND, RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PROJECT: He has basically reported that he has found a love and a concern from Jackie that he had never experienced earlier in his life, and that has helped him in many ways become that considerate thoughtful and concerned person that he is.

Pete De Wind says that even after ten years of bringing victims and offenders together - he continues to be surprised by the results. But Craig and Jackie's relationship remains the most surprising of all.

PETE DE WIND: It's not uncommon for there to be some level of forgiveness, it's not uncommon for there to be a respectful dialogue or communication. But it is quite uncommon for someone like Jackie to befriend one or more people who offended against them.

The next day, Pete De Wind and Jackie make another trip, this time to the prison housing Joshua Briggs, the second man who attempted to kill her. Unlike Craig Sussek, Josh has only been meeting with Jackie for a few years. Even though Josh has always been more reserved than Craig in their meetings - Jackie gives him the same hug, the same affection that I had seen a few days earlier.

JACKIE MILLAR: People don't understand that I only have two speeds - slow and slower.

REPORTER: When he and I sit to talk, Josh tells that their first meeting affected him so much that it took him years to come to grips with what that meant for him.

JOSH BRIGGS: To start dealing with instead of pushing it all down and staying angry and stupid. It was big. You know to look at someone and all that we did to her and all that she really honestly forgave us for what we did, and really honestly wanted the best for us, to do the best for ourselves that we could. It was such an alien thing for me to think at the time. I just, it was really hard emotionally, and it made me cry. It made me depressed.

REPORTER: Do you think Jackie some people think your forgiveness is a product of your head injury?

JACKIE MILLAR: Yes - they think I've flipped my lid. They will say it's the head injury that is doing the forgiving. But I don't think so.

Josh Briggs will be eligible for parole in just a few months, a fact he's discussed at length with Jackie.

JOSH BRIGGS: A part of me I guess feels guilty for wanting to get out but you know, I've talked about it with Jackie many times over the years, and she's ok with it.

REPORTER: And it's important to you that it's ok with Jackie that you are doing you're best to get out of here?

JOSH BRIGGS: It is because you know - it comes down to the guilt.

PETE DE WIND: It teaches that humanity is important at whatever level and that the opportunity to sit down with or in some cases communicate directly with the person that has wronged against you is often the best way for participants to move on from a terrible event.

CRAIG SUSSEK: Restorative Justice has given me "me", through all the stuff that happened - I was obviously a kid that was lost. Through meeting Jackie and through what restorative justice has to offer, I have had years to be able to do serious thinking, soul searching, and look at things from a different perspective.

JACKIE MILLAR: This is a picture of Craig, he was about 17/18 years old. Some people would never forgive them. Some people like me would forgive them. I know, I KNOW, there are people that think I am nuts. They can think I'm nuts - but I know I can go to bed at night completely at ease.

YALDA HAKIM: The power of forgiveness. That story film and reported by Aaron Lewis. And our website has more from Aaron including another story of a woman who met her sister's killer with surprising consequences. Plus, there's information about singular restorative justice schemes elsewhere.

Reporter/Camera/Editor

AARON LEWIS

Producer

AARON THOMAS


Original Music composed by
VICKI HANSEN

5th June 2011