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Amanda Brown's dad seeks a measure of peace by meeting her killer

Roy Brown seeks a face-to-face meeting with Willie Crain Jr., convicted of killing his 7-year-old daughter, Amanda Brown.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Roy Brown seeks a face-to-face meeting with Willie Crain Jr., convicted of killing his 7-year-old daughter, Amanda Brown.

ZEPHYRHILLS — Two months ago, Roy Brown got the letter.

It was written by his daughter's killer on the 11th anniversary of her death.

Willie Seth Crain Jr. had finally agreed to meet with him.

"I will answer Roy Brown's questions as best as I can," Crain wrote.

On death row for killing 7-year-old Amanda Brown in 1998, Crain has never disclosed the location of her body. Prosecutors think the convicted child molester and crabber dumped her remains somewhere in Old Tampa Bay.

The case riveted Florida.

Brown wants her body back. An item of clothing or a place to grieve.

"I just need for him to look me in the eye," Brown said.

He thought he'd finally gotten that chance. Then the state Department of Corrections stepped in and said no.

• • •

Brown, 57, is possessed by pain. He has two deteriorating discs and emphysema. He walks with a cane, his vision blurred by medicine.

He stood, over and over, at the edge of Old Tampa Bay looking for Amanda's body. He pledged to sober up and did. Now he soaks up the sorrow of strangers, dropping into the lives of other grieving parents, thinking he might help. He finds them at missing children crime scenes.

Maybe when he has satisfied God, Amanda's body will appear. That's what Brown thinks.

But with his physical and financial health failing, he has grown weary. He just wants Crain to tell him the truth: Where is she?

At Crain's sentencing in 1999, attorneys told Brown to focus on the judge, prosecutors and a script so he wouldn't say something impulsive that would help Crain appeal.

Brown wanted to wad up his lawyered statement, stare at Crain and let everything out. Instead, he just sobbed through.

In 2006, Brown wrote Crain a letter and took it to an appeals hearing but was not permitted to hand it over. So he drove to the Florida State Prison in Starke and tried again. The warden stopped him but promised to deliver it. If Crain waved the letter off, the warden promised to read it aloud.

Years passed. Nothing.

Brown and his wife, Sylvia, 56, moved to Kentucky for a fresh start. But Brown felt guilty being so far from Old Tampa Bay. He felt sick when he learned of missing children and did nothing.

"For all those 18 months I was miserable," he said.

The Browns moved back into a Zephyrhills mobile home, where, at least this month, a friend paid rent. Money's tight. They lost his car to repossession.

Crain's letter agreeing to talk to Roy Brown — actually written to the Office of the Attorney General — gave him something to grasp. Brown read every word several times as if clues might emerge. In it, Crain maintains he was railroaded but said he remembered the warden telling him Brown wanted to meet.

"I don't have (anything) to lose by me talking to Mr. Roy Brown about his daughter Amanda Brown," Crain wrote.

When Brown called the warden to go ahead, state prison officials told him their administrative rules prohibit victims from visiting inmates. Rare exceptions are made for cases between spouses, state corrections spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff said.

Prison officials worry about what might happen, even with guards present. In the past, killers have toyed with victims, manipulating them with lies and fake leads to buy time or cruel enjoyment.

"We have great sympathy for Mr. Brown's inquiry and can only imagine the desire he must have to know the whereabouts of his daughter," she told the St. Petersburg Times.

Brown and Crain could correspond in writing, she said. Or a prosecutor could take Brown's place.

But that wouldn't allow Brown to look Crain in the eye.

If they met, Brown thinks the anguish Crain saw would compel him to come clean. It might not happen at the meeting. Maybe down the road later.

"I don't want a telephone call for nothing in the world," he said. "It defeats the purpose."

Brown thinks time is running out. Crain, 63, is battling colon cancer, and Brown has nightmares of waking up with a call from the warden saying his daughter's killer died, taking his secrets with him.

"Then I have nothing," he said.

If he got a location or a piece of clothing, Brown said, he might lobby to get Crain's death sentence commuted.

People tell him all the time that he shouldn't show a killer his pain. But Brown said Crain can't hurt him any more than he's suffered. He steeped his heart in the sadness of missing and murdered children.

"I've had more hurt in the last 11 years and not just my daughter. Carlie Brucia. Sarah Lunde. Jessica Lunsford. Trenton Duckett. Coralrose Fullwood. Haleigh Cummings. Zachary Bernhardt," he said. "The last 11 years have been nothing but death and trials and sex offenders. I've been involved with 30 families and their trials. Everyone who knows me knows I have to have this. I just need for him to look me in the eye."

Having spent years lobbying for stronger laws, he knows it will take a petition to get him a special exemption to see Crain. He plans to dig into other states' visitation policies. He flips through the business cards of law enforcement contacts he keeps in an old prescription drug bag.

"I'm grasping at straws. I need help," Brown said. "There's got to be someone powerful enough to make this happen."

In his house, an entire room is decorated with pictures of missing and murdered children. Amanda's jean jacket with little daisies on the collar is tacked up, reminding people how small she was.

On one wall is a group picture of a sad fraternity: the surviving families of Jimmy Ryce, Zachary Bernhardt and Amanda Brown — kids all abducted on a Sept. 11.

Brown keeps Crain's letter on the living room table while he mulls over a way to make the meeting happen.

"He has to look me in the eye," Brown said. "If I don't do this it's like nothing ever mattered."

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Amanda Brown's dad seeks a measure of peace by meeting her killer 11/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 7, 2009 11:21pm]
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