By J.R. Williams -- Daily Staff Writer
WINCHESTER -- At the moment Edward N. Bell was scheduled to die, Cora Rhodes, 20, called the time.
She and a dozen other Shenandoah University students, their faces lit by candlelight, bowed their heads in a moment of silence.
They gathered at the university's Goodson Chapel on Thursday for an intimate vigil to mourn Bell, who was executed for killing Winchester police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook in 1999.
Leaders of the school's Amnesty International chapter led the group in reflection, song and discussion about why Bell had to die.
"We continue to grieve for all victims of violence," they chanted in unison from a provided prayer. "Let us have peace."
Many students, speaking in turn, expressed sadness over Timbrook's death. All spoke about their convictions against the death penalty.
"His family will live with this for the rest of their lives," said Dustin Brandt, 24, his candle still lit. "We can't put a label of justice on this."
Nikki Wyne, 20, a junior at SU, said as a Christian she was opposed to Bell's death.
"We all sin and all our sins are equal. It was a really horrible crime, but I don't think we're learning anything by taking the easy way out," she said.
Liz Crawford, 23, an SU senior and president of the Amnesty chapter, led the vigil. Her group has been vocal about its opposition to the death penalty on campus. But Bell's case is more than a moral issue, she said.
"It's sad when you add another family to this list of victims," she said.
From investigation to prosecution, Crawford said, Bell didn't get a fair shake.
"I think his case shows a lot of the problems with the death penalty, especially with not getting the representation you might deserve," she said.
Bell's appellate team has argued that his original lawyers botched his defense during sentencing. Calling more witnesses to the stand could have changed his fate, they said. Bell's mental capacity has been questioned, and he has always maintained his innocence.
But after his conviction, appeal after appeal was denied.
Holly Hoey, 20, who has been a member of the Amnesty chapter for two years, spoke at the vigil about "valuing a life for a life."
"I think it shows a lack of respect for humanity," she said.
She said that, along with her colleagues, she wrote to Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and other legislators urging clemency for Bell. She said she would do it again to help someone else facing the same fate.
"I find that harming other people is no means to an end," she said.
When Rhodes and others called an earlier event to discuss the death penalty, some proponents of the practice showed up. Events like Thursday's vigil facilitate the discussion, she said.
"This is a problem that needs to be addressed," she said. "When we show the facts, we like to think we make a difference."
Crawford said it's normal for some students to lash back at e-mails the group sends to promote its events. This time, though, there was little vitriol.
"It's a horrible story with Ricky being killed at a young age with a new baby on the way," Crawford said.
She said she's been in contact with one of Bell's ex-girlfriends, who had children with him.
"It's really sad, because you hear about Eddie Bell's children. Now they're going to have to grow up without a father."
Contact J.R. Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org