The Los Angeles Times on Thursday dropped Part 4 of six in its "Dirty John" series, and the title is "Forgiveness." If you've been following along, go ahead and read deep into that word. It's true: After uncovering more than 300 pages that documented her husband's prior criminal activities, Debra Newell went from terrified to willing to listen to his pleas that she come back to him to ... once again living with her husband. John Meehan was full of answers to her questions—he lied about working as an anesthesiologist so he could wow an accomplished professional like her; the cyanide capsules found in his possession were just a way for him to end it all if his multiple sclerosis got too bad—and platitudes about his love for her.
Here, writer Christopher Goffard takes a pause: To understand why she went back, perhaps you need to look at "the peculiar dynamics of Debra Newell's family." He goes on to flesh out the story of Debra's older sister, Cindi, who was in 1984 murdered with a bullet to the head by the husband she was trying to leave. That man, Billy Vickers, could have faced life. Then something odd happened: Cindi's mother, Arlane Hart, wanted to testify on behalf of Vickers, whom her deep Christian faith had allowed her to almost instantly forgive. Debra says that her parents drove home the belief that "none of God's children was irredeemable, and enough love could work wonders," as Goffard puts it. Vickers ended up spending less than three years in jail. And, some three decades later, Debra was now back with the man she feared might kill her. Read Part 4 here. (Read more Longform stories.)