3-Week Series: Double Blessing


Summary: Two stories about two different guys, who needed forgiveness.

Ben Wilson was rated the nation’s best in class in 1984. And just days before he was to begin his senior season, he got into a beef with two 16-year-old gang members, Billy Moore and Omar Dixon.

Moore pulled a .22-caliber pistol out of his waistband and shot 17-year-old Wilson twice. The high school basketball star died in the hospital.

Wilson’s murder made national news. And nearly three decades later, the circumstances of his premature death has made for a most moving documentary.

What is most interesting is, not his funeral, which drew more than 10,000 mourners. Not the grace with which the young man’s mother, a devout Christian, behaved herself after her son was violently taken from her.

But the redemptive story of Billy Moore, young Ben Wilson’s killer.

Moore was sentenced to 40 years in prison for Wilson’s murder. He spent 19 years behind bars before being granted parole in 2004.

Agreeing to appear in the documentary, Moore remembered praying that Wilson would survive the shooting that would claim his life. Perhaps, he said, praying as hard as the victim’s mother.

At his sentencing, Moore said, he spoke to Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, Ben’s grieving parents. “I gave them my deepest apology,” Moore said. “I didn’t want to be the one who stole (their son’s) dream.”

Today, Moore is a youth counselor. In 2009, he actually was recognized as a successful example of rehabilitation in a White House ceremony.

Twenty years ago, I would have argued that Moore should have been tried as an adult in Ben Wilson’s death and, if convicted, sentenced to life in prison, if not sentenced to death. I also would have strenuously objected to his parole, after serving little less than half sentence he actually received.

But my thinking has evolved over the past two decades.

I now believe there is no one beyond God’s redemption. Indeed, His Word promises: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

Billy Moore, the reformed killer, is living proof.


William “Billy” Neal Moore stands in the gymnasium of the medium-security Floyd County Prison in Rome and meets the eyes of convicted thieves and drug dealers as they come into the room.

He stands before the prisoners and cites a passage from the Bible.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Then he pauses and meets their gaze, looking from one to the other, directly in their eyes.

“Do you know what forgiveness is?” he asks them. Most of the men nod in response. But then Moore hits them with a question that makes many of them shift uncomfortably in their seats: What if someone murdered one of your family members? Could you forgive them then?

It was 1974, and Moore was a 22-year-old Army specialist stationed at nearby Fort Gordon Georgia . He and his wife, who lived in Ohio, were having marital trouble, so he had brought his 2-year-old son, Billy, to live with him. But he had a problem paying his bills. He had authorized the Army to send his paychecks to his wife, and now he had fallen behind on his rent.

He needed money, and he needed it fast.

He heard about a man who carried a lot of cash, so late one warm night in April, while he was high on marijuana and Jack Daniels, Moore broke into the home of 77-year-old Fredger Stapleton. Moore was met with a shotgun blast and he fired back with his .38-caliber revolver, killing Stapleton. Moore rummaged around the house and found two wallets in a pair of pants under a pillow and stuck them in a pocket. Then he grabbed both guns and took off.

When Moore got home, he emptied out the wallets and discovered more than $5,000. But instead of elation, he was overcome with fear and shame.

He knew the cops would be coming for him, so he called his sister and asked her to come and get young Billy. Then he waited.

Those first few hours in jail were desperate ones for Moore.

“My heart was killing me,” he said. “There was no way I could fix this. When you take someone’s life, you can’t give it back. Not only had I killed a man, but I hurt his family. I destroyed my son’s life and hurt my family.”

On July 17, 1974, Moore was sentenced to death. Execution was set for Sept. 13, 1974.

A cousin in Ohio told Moore he needed to get right with the Lord, but Moore wasn’t hearing it — he was preparing to die. But a week before Moore’s date with the electric chair, Pastor Nealon Guthrie of Rome paid the prisoner a visit at the request of a pastor in Ohio. When the minister arrived, Moore and some other inmates were playing cards through the bars for nickels, dimes and pennies.

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