Originally created 07/13/06

Healing continues as execution nears

Nina O'Mailia found peace the day she forgave William "Junior" Downs for raping and strangling her 6-year-old son, Keenan. Watching him die wouldn't bring her more comfort, she said this week.

"I will not be going to the execution, nor will any family from the West Coast. I have forgiven him for what he's done, and I pray he makes peace with God before he dies," she said in an interview from her home in Portland, Ore.

Mr. Downs, 38, pleaded guilty to killing the North Augusta boy in 1999.

During a 2002 hearing, he asked a judge for a death sentence. He is scheduled to die Friday.

It took two years of grief therapy for Ms. O'Mailia to forgive her child's killer. Even Keenan's grandmother, Merrie Miller, found it difficult, publicly labeling Mr. Downs a "monster" and "demonic being."

Ms. O'Mailia thinks differently these days.

"God allows things to happen, but he cannot create evil. What happened to Keenan was evil. Mr. Downs was overcome by evil," she said. "I blame the king of this world, not the king of heaven."

Still, Keenan's death was heartbreaking for Ms. O'Mailia, a single mother who had lived in North Augusta for just two months when it happened. She had moved from Oregon and had applied to attend the Medical College of Georgia.

On April 17, 1999, Keenan went bike riding near Riverview Park while his mother cooked dinner inside her Georgetown Villas apartment.

He never returned home.

His body was found the next day just outside the park after a massive search.

Mr. Downs had only been in Augusta for three months, having moved from Albany, Ga., when he learned he had a son in the area. He crossed the 13th Street bridge into North Augusta one day and saw Keenan riding a bike along a dirt path.

He stopped the boy and asked his name before throwing the boy to the ground and raping and strangling him.

Today, an urn containing Keenan's ashes sits in Ms. O'Mailia's bedroom. Her second child, Amiyah, is now the age Keenan was when he died. Ms. O'Mailia said her daughter has been instrumental in her recovery.

Ms. O'Mailia said Keenan's life was too short. He was a kindergartner at Hammond Hill Elementary School.

"He didn't even see his kindergartner graduation," she said. "Here in Portland, I see the neighbor boys who were his friends, and they are so tall. Keenan would be 13 now, entering eighth grade. I think most about what Keenan would be."

After Keenan's death, Ms. O'Mailia moved back to Portland. Remaining in North Augusta would have been too painful.

"Too many memories," she said.

She joined a parental support group called Compassionate Friends and Parents of Murdered Children. She also started seeing a grief counselor.

It took almost two years of therapy before she felt she could learn to deal with things on her own.

Soon, Ms. O'Mailia went to work at her church as an administrative assistant. Being part of a church community taught her how to turn her pain into something positive.

"My church family helped me become a better friend and parent. I was taught how to disciple others and give back to my community," she said. "Focusing on others instead of myself helped tremendously."

Today, she is back on track with her dream of working in health care, attending Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore. She is working on earning her master's degree in physician assistant studies. Graduation is August 2007.

Her boyfriend and Amiyah's father, Habib Shakoor, lives in Rock Hill, S.C., and they have discussed marriage once she is finished with school.

On Friday, Ms. O'Mailia will take the day off from school and spend time with her daughter and mother. She feels sorry for Mr. Downs, who dropped all appeals.

A year after he was sent to death row, Mr. Downs pleaded not guilty to murder and sexual assault charges in the death of 10-year-old James Porter, whose body was found in the Augusta Canal two months after he disappeared in March 1991. Police said Mr. Downs confessed to that slaying.

In March, defense attorney Robert Dudek said Mr. Downs told him he would rather die because the best he could get out of an appeal would be a life sentence without parole, according to an Associated Press report.

"I cannot imagine how it must feel to know the day and the time you are going to die," Ms. O'Mailia said. "(But) I support the State wanting to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. I found peace when I forgave Mr. Downs. His execution won't give me any more."

Greg Rickabaugh can be reached at grickabaugh@hotmail.com.


Mr. Downs' execution is set for 6 p.m. Friday at the Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia.


More comments from Nina O'Mailia:

On her son, Keenan: "I remember Keenan being all boy, hardheaded with a soft heart. He was very proud of me for trying to get us our own place, but he was more concerned about the needs of the household than his own."

On the community's support after Keenan's death: "The North Augusta community was amazing. People were so generous; they brought food, beverages, cards, balloons, stuffed animals and monetary gifts. I couldn't believe how caring everyone was, like their son had died. They truly embraced me as a part of the community. I know people prayed for me. My healing was definitely a product of prayer."

On William "Junior" Downs' courtroom apology to her in 2002: "I felt God's grace in the courtroom. One of the S.C. Public Safety officers told me that Mr. Downs had felt no remorse for his actions until I told him I forgave him. Forgiveness is very powerful."


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