On April 11, 1989, Terry Joe Windham, on probation for burglary and vandalism, decided to commit a murder to see what it felt like.
Windham’s victim was 16-year-old Jeremy Peter Flachbart, a learning disabled student with the emotional and physical stature of a 12- or 13-year-old. He ambushed Jeremy on his way home from school, striking him in the back of the head with a fence post.
When Jeremy collapsed from the blow, Windham hit him 10 more times. After the 10th blow, Jeremy groaned. Windham hit him five more times to finish him off.
Windham hid Jeremy’s battered body in a drainage ditch by railroad tracks. Then he boasted of his accomplishment in a local game room – even taking his brother and friends to see the body.
While the police investigated the brutal murder, Windham observed and continued to brag about his role. He even threatened to kill others if they talked.
Ultimately, he was arrested at the scene and later confessed to everything I have just written.
But the story of this contemptible fiend does not end there. Nor does it end with his conviction on second-degree murder charges or his 20-year sentence.
While awaiting trial, Windham continued to threaten witnesses from his jailhouse phone. While in prison, he has faced several drug charges and other infractions that suggest he is not a model prisoner.
Yet, because Windham has served about a third of his sentence and has already had four parole hearings, there is a strong likelihood that he will be released later this year by Tennessee criminal justice authorities.
Tennessee grants parole to more than 50 percent of inmates appearing before the parole board. If you remove sex offenders from the equation, the rate jumps to 60 percent.
Maybe you say, “Well, Farah, that’s too bad, but how does it affect my life? There’s so much injustice in the world, what can I do about this one?”
For starters, if you live in North Carolina, you might give this some thought. Windham has expressed interest in moving to the Cleveland, N.C., area to work with his sister’s bush hogging business. At least that was his plan in a previous parole hearing.
And, as far as what you can do to help the parents of Jeremy Peter Flachbart, who have fought so hard for the last 11 years to see their son’s death punished, there are no restrictions on who can offer opinions to the Tennessee parole board.
You do not have to live in Tennessee. You do not have to be a registered voter. You do not even have to live in the United States to express your outrage about the imminent freeing of this unrepentant monster.
And don’t worry. Your letters, unlike this column, will never be read by the inmate.
Windham is scheduled for a fifth parole hearing this July. His parents believe an outpouring of concern by the public about this case can make all the difference in the world with regard to Windham’s future. I agree.
Will it change the world? Maybe not. But it will sure change Terry Joe Windham’s world. It may also change the world for his next victim. And it will certainly change and improve the world for his last victim’s survivors, who remember their son fondly as “one of God’s gentle innocents who enriched the lives of those he touched.”
And maybe this is the way we have to make our elected officials accountable for the criminal injustice system they have built – one prisoner at a time, one case at a time. Who knows? The case of Jeremy Peter Flachbart might be the flashpoint needed to awaken Americans to the fact that the inmates are running the asylum.
Send your letters of objection to:
Mr. Charles Traughber, chairman,
Tennessee Board of Paroles, 404 James Robertson Pkwy. Ste 1300,
Nashville, TN. 37243-0850.
Your letters should reference prisoner Terry Joe Windham, I.D. #0204460.
If you’d like more information about this case and the struggle being waged by Jeremy’s parents, see their website.