Murderer and widow, forgiven and forgiving

February 28, 2000|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

Dear Mrs. Badger,

I hope you and your loved ones all have a safe and wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year. You sent me a card like this one last year. I'm also enclosing a photo of myself. It makes me look fat. Remember, Jesus loves you and so do I.

Love,

Billy Kreutzer

Billy Kreutzer, it should be known, is not just a friend to Diane Badger, not just a "soul mate," as he has said, not just a person sending warm wishes and reminders of the love of Jesus.

William J. Kreutzer Jr., 31, of the Maryland town of Clinton, is also a convicted murderer who could become the first serviceman to be executed in the United States since 1961. He killed his victim brutally, with a shot from a rifle so powerful it blasted two holes through the man's skull, left steam rising from the wounds.

The victim: Stephen Badger, 37, distinguished major in the U.S. Army, loving father to eight children, doting husband to Diane Badger.

Which does nothing to explain why Diane Badger answers Kreutzer's cards with equally warm wishes or why she prays for him daily and agrees that they are indeed soul mates.

Or why, not too long after Kreutzer was put on death row for murdering her husband, she hugged the killer, cried in his arms and embraced him, she says, "like neither of us ever wanted to let go."

And it does nothing to explain why Diane Badger can consider saving Kreutzer's life.

Or why she has gone to great lengths to help prepare him for possible death.

"I've reached a wonderful peace," she says at her home outside Salt Lake City.

She talks about this peace even as she begins to cry. "I've made a new friend in Billy. We're peculiar soul mates because of what's happened."

Murderer and widow, their story is one of life and death and of faith and forgiveness and of, perhaps, more life -- or more death.

If prosecutors get their way and his appeals fail, Kreutzer -- a soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division whose mental problems were ignored by the Army -- will die by lethal injection, perhaps within three years.

His appellate attorneys have asked Badger to intervene, to tell the court that he should not die, which could carry great bearing on whether he lives. His attorneys plan to file his appeal within weeks, his first major appeal and his best chance at having the death sentence reduced to life in prison or having the conviction reversed altogether.

Time, all involved recognize, is running out for the condemned soldier.

So Badger considers what to do about Kreutzer, the murderer of her husband, about Billy, her new friend. She prays: Lord, grant me the wisdom to do the right thing.

Gung ho

William Kreutzer Jr. wanted to be a soldier for as long as anyone who watched him grow up in Prince George's County can remember.

As a child, when his family visited the region's Civil War sites, he barked lectures about historical battles as if he were a little tour guide, and he was astute enough to understand the intricacies of war.

So it was no surprise when he joined the Army in 1992, after graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, no surprise at all.

"It was so natural," says his father, William Kreutzer. "He had a passion for it."

His son became a top gun in military classrooms, evolved into an expert marksman, a member of the 82nd Airborne, the storied group of gung-ho paratroopers stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.

He made friends. But with thick glasses and a boyish, sometimes awkward demeanor, Kreutzer also became a target for hazing. He endured it, marched on.

In his mind, though, he was devising a homicidal plan.

After his unit deployed to the Sinai Peninsula as part of a multinational peacekeeping force in 1994, the young soldier knew he was in trouble and sought psychological help.

He wrote in an application: "I feel a great deal of anger and hatred and I am preoccupied with violent feelings/thoughts."

He was losing control, he told a counselor, and felt as if he might open fire on his squad.

The counselor placed Kreutzer with noncombat personnel for about a week to ease the stress. When his unit returned to Fort Bragg, Kreutzer rejoined them and resumed his duties. He received no counseling, was referred to no psychiatrist, no psychologist.

Instead, the Army rewarded the soldier who had just reported his preoccupation with violence, who had just threatened to kill his squad. The Army promoted him to weapons sergeant.

Bullets, screams, blood

On Oct. 27, 1995, in a warm house just outside Fort Bragg, bedrooms filled with children, Maj. Stephen Badger rose early, before the sun, pulled on his training gear and turned to the bed where his wife remained snuggled under the covers.

"He bent down," Diane Badger says, "and gave me the sweetest kiss on the lips and said real softly, `I love you.' I can never forget it. The memory's emblazoned on my lips forever."

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