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Night of evil, days of agony

On the other side of the metal detector they sat, worried and waiting for word on the fate of their sons.

One mother buried her face in her hands as a prosecutor stood before a jury, slapping an 8-inch Rambo-style knife on the palm of his hand. She had heard the allegations before, but what must she have thought as once again somebody painted the terrible image? How could she endure the mental picture of her boy pushing that knife through the neck of a 75-year-old woman with such ferocity that the only thing keeping the head from completely falling off was a swatch of skin?

And when the jury convicted 19-year-old Bobby Garner of murder, this wisp of a woman found refuge in the arms of the mother of one of Bobby's accomplices, Alvin Morton, who seems destined for the electric chair.

These mothers supported their sons, though testimony _ including their own confessions _ left no doubt as to what happened inside that house in Hudson on Super Bowl Sunday 1992.

Just down the hall, a bit farther from that metal detector, another mother stood crying in another courtroom as her son, 30-year-old Alan McCullers, was convicted of beating to death a 60-year-old drifter in a dispute over a few cigarettes.

On this Thursday afternoon in Pasco Circuit Court, two young men were officially stamped murderers. Three mothers wept.

They were a sorority of pain.

Such trials are always surreal. In modern courtrooms, sterile, bright and formal, the violence seems so distant. To look at Bobby Garner on trial was to see a scared, chubby boy with a scrubbed face and a collegiate sweater, not the monster he and his pack were the night they killed Madeline Weisser, her 55-year-old son, John Bowers and their two poodles, Jay Jay and Honey.

The reality of that awful night is, of course, preserved in the graphic photos bound in the court file. There is, of course, the chilling description of how the boys, led by the cold-blooded Morton, cut off Bowers' pinkie finger so they could show it off to their friends as a trophy.

It is the stuff of nightmares, and it must make a mother wonder where she might have done something differently.

As I watched Bobby Garner's mother in the bench behind her son, Assistant State Attorney Robert Attridge explained how Mrs. Weisser had to endure witnessing Morton stick a sawed-off shotgun to the head of her pleading son and then pull the trigger. The prosecutor described how mother and son died on the floor beside each other.

And it occurred to me that in the two years since the killings, little has been said about the victims _ save for the way they died and how the wilding of four punks left an entire community terrified.

Madeline Weisser was typical of so many West Pasco residents, lovingly tending her red, pink, white and yellow roses. She had a lifetime collection of knickknacks, and friends said they were meticulously placed throughout her neat, clean home on Sanderling Lane. She loved her little Jay Jay.

John Bowers sold real estate and had a passion for poetry. He was described as gentle and faithful to his children, even though his marriage to their mother had disintegrated 20 years before his death. His devotion to his mother led him to move to Florida from Massachusetts. He and Mrs. Weisser were described in court as "hermits," a bit of an overstatement, but more of a description of their private nature.

They weren't the kind of people you would expect to read about in the newspaper. But now, as their killers get their due, they should not be forgotten, nor remembered only as the ultimate victims.