Writing to a convicted killer, Danielle never expected to fall in love.
Here, Danielle Laskie-Wright, 49, tells the story in her own words.
￼As the documentary finished, I was overcome with sadness.
It had been about prisoners in an American jail. Many of them had said how lonely they felt with absolutely no-one to speak to in the outside world. The show had mentioned pen pal sites where people could contact inmates, and now I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
I knew these men were convicted of some terrible things, but I felt they deserved interaction just like anyone else.
If I could find even one person and tell them they’ve not been forgotten, that would be fantastic, I thought.
At my mum Glenece’s place a few days later, I told her my idea. ‘You’ve always loved trying new things. Go for it,’ she said. So I signed up to one of the sites and started scanning through the profiles until I came across Tim.
From his bio, I got the impression he just wanted someone to talk to. He said he was an ex-marine veteran and liked books and music.
I’m an Aussie woman looking to be a friend to someone, I wrote.
Posting off my letter, I doubted I’d ever hear from him. But five weeks later I received a six-page reply!
Tim spoke about his family and upbringing, as well as discussing current affairs and asking my opinions on the news. This guy is so intelligent and well-read, I thought.
Right from the start, Tim explained that he didn’t want to discuss why he was in prison, so I didn’t know what he’d been convicted of. But that didn’t matter to me and the letters began flying back and forth.
Six months on, he opened up about his case. He told me that in 2008, at the age of 22, he’d been convicted of murdering Justin Baumgardner, 19, and sentenced to 63 years behind bars, with no chance of parole. I didn’t do it, he wrote.
He hadn’t told me earlier because he didn’t want me to think he was only writing to me get help with his case
Doing some research, I looked up news articles about his trial. I believe you, I wrote back. I’m going to fight for you.
Working in healthcare, I juggled my job with fundraising for a legal team who could help free Tim. I even set up a website for him, innocence4Tim.com.
After a year, we began messaging every day. Then we arranged to speak on the phone. ‘Hi, it’s Tim,’ he said in a strong southern drawl.
Chatting away, it was like we’d been mates for years. And after that, I called Tim every day.
Whenever Mum was over, she’d speak to him too. ‘He’s lovely,’ she said.
My friends were a bit more apprehensive. I knew there was nothing to worry about though. Besides, Tim was just a friend.
But then, 18 months after we’d first started writing, something shifted. ‘Bye, love you,’ I blurted at the end of one conversation. After I’d hung up, my heart was pounding. What have I just said? I thought. There was no denying I felt that way though. I was in love with a man locked up for murder. At 28, he was also 18 years my junior.
When Tim and I spoke the next day, he said he felt the same way. ‘I was afraid to tell you,’ he admitted.
More determined than ever to get him out of jail, I continued to campaign for his release. I even found an advocate for wrongful convictions who was willing to look over the evidence.
A year later, I decided to fly to Virginia to finally meet him.‘Why don’t we get married while you’re here?’ he said. ‘I’d love to!’ I beamed.
Mum was over the moon for me. ‘I just wish I could be there too,’ she said.
When I landed in October 2016, Tim’s sister Ashley picked me up from the airport and took me to his grandparents’ home, where I was staying.
The next day, it was finally time to meet my future husband. Sick with nerves, I hoped he’d like me in real life. But all my fears melted away as Tim strolled over with a huge smile on his face. At 189cm tall, he towered over me as he pulled me in for a kiss. ‘It’s amazing to finally meet you,’ he gushed.
Gazing into his blue eyes, I clutched his hands and we spent six hours talking.
Two days later, we got married in the prison, his grandparents as our witnesses. I wore a simple pink suit, while Tim was in his prison-issued jeans and button down shirt. The ceremony was over in a flash and rather than tucking into a fancy dinner after, I ate some pretzels from the vending machine.
Not allowed to be alone together, we couldn’t consummate our marriage either. It was hardly the type of wedding I’d ever imagined having. But I knew it was all worth it for Tim.
After five visits, it was time to say goodbye. ‘We’re going to get you out of here,’ I sobbed.
Since then, I’ve only been able to fly back once, but we speak every day. There are times when I feel upset that we can’t go on dates or even just have a cuddle together. But I have to stay strong for Tim. I know that one day I’ll finally get to lead a normal life with my husband.
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