You never do get over it because the littlest thing will take you right back to that terrible day.
Joseph Daniel (Danny) Sledge was murdered by two teen brothers on a Friday evening the 12th of March in 1999. It was the next morning before he was found dead and we wondered for months how long he lay there, alone, suffering and dying. Law enforcement spent that weekend looking for the killer(s). We spent the weekend trying to hold each other up, sharing memories, notifying people, and wondering if we were safe. One family member refused to leave her home as it was the only place she felt safe.
That Monday we got the call that they caught them and we headed for the first of many trips to the courthouse. We were told the father of the two teens turned them in because he was afraid he was going to be next. The two were Nathan Boyd age 17 (214724) and Eric Boyd age 19 (216553). Nathan was well known to law enforcement. We would find out he was supposed to be in jail but someone’s mistake did not keep him there. The two murderers had spent the stolen money on drugs, partied at a club then stayed high in their apartment that weekend.
Danny knew Nathan from work. Danny ran a restaurant called “The Galley” on the banks of Shoals Creek in Florence, Alabama. Nathan had been thrown out of his house like his brother Eric when the parents got tired of dealing with them. We learned during the trials they had been abused by their parents as children and now were big enough to fight back. So frightened of retribution that the parents put them out to fend for themselves. Danny had given Nathan a job more than once but he only worked long enough for drug money and would not show for work. In July of 1998 we had a cousin murdered doing his job as a police officer. Danny gave Nathan another chance to work at The Galley so Danny could leave town with the rest of us for the funeral. It made the national news and Nathan and Eric assumed that we were a rich family given the funeral our cousin had.
Halloween was the first time they stalked him, they had a gun that time, watched the restaurant, waiting for Danny to be alone. Something happened and they left. There would be other times as well, bringing in different people with them who told their stories during the trials. Why none of them went to the police, we’ll never know.
The Galley’s busy season was during the warmer months and was pretty boring in the winter. That evening it was rainy and Danny let the one worker leave early and he was left alone. The brothers were there and went to the door as Danny was locking it and pushed their way in. Different family members have had their own businesses and the attitude had always been life over money. So we knew the fight that followed wasn’t over money, Danny would have given it to them. Both Nathan and Eric were much bigger in size than Danny but he fought back through each of the 27 stab wounds and then a knife broke off in his back.
They estimated this all started about 8 PM. The next morning the first worker to come in was Bonnie, she knew something was not right, the door was not locked, their appeared to be a struggle that ended up in the kitchen and she found our father, son, brother, cousin, nephew, friend sitting up against the wall in a pool of blood, his eyes were open.
A sister, Mary Anne, lived just down the road and was leaving her home when she looked in the direction of The Galley and saw all the police cars in the parking lot. She was the first of the family to learn that Danny was dead. The word had to spread fast because in such a small town someone might hear it from the press or a stranger. Family members were awakened from their last night of sleep for some time to the terrible news that Danny was gone. Questions were answered with “I don’t know”, not wanting to be the one to tell the terrible details of Danny’s last moments alive.
St. Patrick’s Day had always been great fun for our Irish family but from now on it would be the day we buried Danny. He was not eulogized by anyone that knew him for we were all in shock and crying non stop. The words were left to strangers to most of us. “Butterfly Kisses” a favorite of Danny’s was played at the service as it was at his oldest daughter’s wedding and would be again in few months ahead at his youngest daughter’s wedding. “Danny Boy” never brought so many tears to a room. The one thing we knew for sure was that he was always at family gatherings and that made his absence even greater, he would have loved it.
There is a lot more to tell but what matters is that his death was described as heinous, like a passion killing. The two teen age brothers ravaged Danny and the horror of the crime scene confused the law enforcement officers. The detectives asked questions about his personal life that were painful to hear. We answered no, on and on but they continued to ask. They needed our help but we were at a loss as why anyone would want him dead and do so so brutally. He had made a bank deposit that morning which was his usual, if it was robbery it could not have been for very much money. And we always said, hand over the money, it all did not make sense. But then we were trying to make sense out of something that was senseless.
When we first saw the teen brothers in court we were surprised at their height and build, Danny did not stand a chance against them. He liked to say he was 5 10 but that was pushing it. At his heaviest he was probably 160 pounds but he had lost weight those last few months. The difference in size did not stop Danny from fighting, he left many a wound on those two, but he had to have known they were there to kill him to fight back as hard as he did.
Both were charged with capital murder, there was a trial for each of them, a change in venue for the second to be sure he got a fair trial. Nathan, the younger and biggest of the two, the one with the criminal record was sentenced to life without parole. It was probably all those stories of the father’s drinking and abuse of prescription drugs that led to frequent beatings, one of which broke Nathan’s arm that kept him from the death penalty. Eric, the older of the two got life but could possibly be paroled.
We tried to take comfort that maybe we would not be on the national news fighting for the death penalty for Nathan as it was cruel and unusual punishment for someone who was 17 at the time he did the crime. Maybe it was God’s way of protecting us from that battle. Maybe so but now it’s legislatures trying to save a buck or two in the budget that we struggle with. There was one session that a bill was introduced to release terminal prisoner’s home to their families. And now it’s the efforts at the national level to consider the convicted criminal a child. There was nothing child like in that crime scene or what had been delivered as so hard a blow as to break the handle off of a knife. No child ended Danny’s life at age 43 years old. No child fought with him to enter 27 stab wounds. These murderers were not children in any shape or form; they were calculating, cold blooded murderers.