Have you ever returned from a vacation and thought, ‘Wow! That was one of the best trips I’ve ever had!'” That was how I felt the evening of March 10, 2004, when my husband Ronnie, our youngest son, Lance, and I returned to Oregon from a trip to Chicago, where we’d had a great time with one of the most loving people I’ve ever known, my mother -in-law, Bernetta.
When we arrived home around 9:00 p.m. , we were feeling loved and happy from the amazing goings-on that we were so fortunate to have experienced. And we were absolutely exhausted. “Let’s just get some rest, and I’ll unpack in the morning,” I said. So we dropped our bags in the foray, then I hugged Lance and kissed him on the forehead (my unspoken “I love you”), and we all went to bed.
At approximately 12:31 a.m., our friend who was staying at our home woke us with an expression of curiosity on his face. He said the doorbell had just rung, and when he looked out the front window, he saw a Washington County Sheriff patrol car parked there. Ronnie fumbled into his pants and rushed downstairs to answer the door. I dressed quickly and followed him.
One of the officers asked are if we were, in fact, Ronnie and Rebecca Duckworth. “Yes,” we said simultaneously. My mind was racing a mile a minute, fighting to keep my thoughts positive, hoping the news wasn’t of someone’s passing. Just the thought of losing a loved one made my heart beat so fast and hard that I could hear my own heartbeat, like an echo of fear. After all, it’s not an everyday occurrence to have a sheriff knocking on your door at the “Witching Hour.”
I invited the officers to come in, as it was cold outside. The officer introduced himself as Deputy Yazzolino and his partner as Deputy Humphrey. After inviting the officers to have a seat, I asked what the reason was for their being there.
Deputy Yazzolino said they were dispatched to our home because someone had reported we had a firearm in our possession. Ronnie and I looked at each other in confusion and concern.
“Do you have a firearm,” the deputy demanded to know.
By the look on Ronnie’s face, it was clear he was stumped as to why anyone would think we had a firearm. We weren’t “gun people” and didn’t own one. “No,” he said quietly.
At that instant, though, I had an immediate recollection and my fear kicked into overdrive. Dreading the repercussions, I grit my teeth and said, “Actually, we do have one in the house. But it’s not ours.”
I explained that about a year earlier, our friend had brought his gun to our
house for safekeeping, as he had been burglarized a couple days prior and was going out of town. Our friend did not have an alarm system in his house, as we had, and was worried
about his father’s Winchester 22 caliber rifle, a family heirloom, being stolen from his home while he was gone.
Deputy Yazzolino asked to see the gun. Ronnie guided him upstairs and to our bedroom closet, where our friend’s gun had been stored for the past year. The deputy took the gun, which was still in the ducttape-sealed, 3′ x 5′ box in which our friend had brought it to our home. Ronnie and the deputy returned downstairs, where I was sitting with the other officer. Then, Deputy Yazzolino said he was going to step outside momentarily and took the rifle with him.
Fighting to keep my anxiety from showing on my face, I asked Deputy Humphrey what the big deal was.
“You and Ronnie are felons and cannot be in possession of any type of firearm.”
I gasped. My throat felt like it was closing up and my heart felt like it was pounding out of my chest as sweat pooled on my brow. Taking a deep breath, I said, “Oh, my God! That was years ago during a family feud!’
Then, I remembered: The day our friend had brought his heirloom rifle to our home for safekeeping, my daughter Amanda Dang (Dehaven), from whom I’ve been estranged since January 12, 2003, had also come over to borrow our carpet shampooer. She had walked in the door just as our friend was asking us to hold onto his gun for safekeeping.
Extremely upset, I asked Deputy Humphrey, “Are Ronnie and I going to jail?” Smugly, he said only that his partner was outside calling their sergeant.
Deputy Yazzolino soon returned and asked if we had the phone number of the gun’s owner. I did and went to get it, struggling to keep my composure and steady my shaky hands as I handed our friend’s cell phone number to the officer.
Again, the deputy stepped away briefly to call our friend, who was 250 miles away on a business trip. Our friend told the office the exact same story Ronnie and I had told. After the two officers conferred privately for a few minutes, which seemed like an eternity, they told us they were confiscating the firearm. They filled out a form and gave us our carbon copy of it. Then, they said good night and left. They did not seem concerned.
After the officer left, I became livid! I couldn’t get back to sleep, and tossed and turned the whole night.
The next morning, I told Ronnie, “I’m calling our lawyer.” We’d had two previous situations with family members (resulting in the felony charge) that had led us to hire an attorney.
Ronnie was pretty confident this situation was nothing to worry about, that we would not be charged with anything, and it would all just go away. I believed differently, and the thoughts running through my mind of us possibly going to jail paralyzed me.
So I contacted our attorney, who to us he would call the District Attorney’s office to see whether they were going to proceed with the charges. When our attorney spoke with the District Attorney’s office, he assured them that, should they bring charges against us, Ronnie and I would turn ourselves in willingly. The last thing we wanted was to be arrested at our home in front of Lance or at our workplaces. As the day wore on, we paced the house, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. The worry continued throughout the next day and for weeks to follow, but when more than a month went by with no charges being filed, we relaxed a little.
On August 4, 2004, almost 5 months after the deputies came to our home and confiscated our friend’s firearm, our attorney called with the bad news that Ronnie and I had been secretly indicted. He said it was the first time he had ever experienced or heard of something like that happening in all his years of practicing law. Our attorney was very upset with the DA’s office. He firmly believed that the only reason they were pursuing the matter was because of the “celebrity status” of our family. You see, Ronnie and I are
related to several professional athletes and also to Keyshia Cole, who at the time was releasing a new album, The Way It Is.
True to our word, Ronnie and I turned ourselves in. First, at our attorney’s request, we delivered $10,000 to his office so he could bail us out. I guess you could say the silver lining was that we were only in jail for a few hours.
But I was crushed. Devastated. Terrified. I kept screaming at Ronnie, “We’re facing 10 to 15 years in prison!” I kept thinking, “What will this do to Lance?” and “What the hell are we going to do?”
We went through 17 months of sheer HELL trying to clear our name, during which we also had to maintain client relationships and raise Lance.
Finally, on February 18, 2005, after the DA’s office had refused to accept a plea deal, Ronnie and I appeared in front of the Honorable Judge Thomas Kohl. We presented letters of reference with regard to our character, employment, and charities we’d supported. To be completely honest, we begged the judge to have mercy on us and silently prayed for sunshine to fall upon us, because the future was looking grim.
Not long after our first court date, information that had previously gone unnoticed had begun to come to light. It was confirmed that my daughter Amanda was the person who had reported to the Sheriff’s Department that we had the gun in our possession.
As we stood before the Judge Kohl, the first thing he said after the formalities was, “What have you both done to make this child so angry that she would like to see you both in prison?”
I answered him honestly: “I haven’t a single clue.”
Then I gave him the short version of my life story. I explained I had been raised by an extremely abusive mother and had left Illinois and moved to Oregon to get as far away
as I could from my mother and all those painful memories. I told him I had worked
extremely hard to gain a very reputable standing in the community and to build a successful career, and I felt I had accomplished part of my goals.
Judge Kohl looked at the photos of the gun in the court records. Shaking his head in annoyance, he said, “This gun is old, rusty, and in pieces. Should the Duckworth’s try and assemble this gun and fire it , it would most likely explode.”
I’ll never forget the moment the judge looked at the assistant district attorney and asked him, in so many words, “Why are you trying to prosecute the Duckworths?”
“Because they’re felons,” the Assistant DA said.
I felt like I was going to collapse and melt in the courtroom.
“Well, you know better than this,” the judge said, still looking sternly at the Assistant DA. “You have wasted the court’s time.” He then sentenced Ronnie and me to a misdemeanor charge, imposing no fines or post-court supervision.
After our attorney quickly ushered us out of the courtroom, I asked him, “What do we need to do next?”
His response was music to my ears. “Nothing. Just go live your life. But first, let’s file a restraining order against Amanda, which Judge Kohl already said he would sign.”
Soon after, we also filed a civil suit against Amanda. Between that and our legal battle to fight the “Gun Case,” we spent $42,000 in attorney and court fees, not to mention countless anxiety-filled hours of our lives.
The day Judge Kohl dismissed the felonary charges against us, we walked out of that courthouse feeling a sense of relief but still very shaken. As we got into the elevator to go home, I felt like a limp noodle and hoped my legs wouldn’t give out from under me. Then, I looked over at Ronnie and said, “Honey, it’s only two o’clock. Let’s go buy that Harley-Davidson you’ve always wanted and then buy tickets to go to Maui in May.”
That’s exactly what we did. After going home and changing into more comfortable clothes, Ronnie and I went to Paradise Harley-Davidson and bought that ever-so-beautiful Harley- Davidson Fatboy. That night, I went online and bought airline tickets and made hotel reservations for Ronnie, Lance, and myself for that long-awaited vacation to Maui.
I have not spoken to Amanda since then, and I never will. I believe in forgiveness — but to forget, NEVER. Those memories will forever be imprinted in my mind, and ultimately, Lance was the person who was emotionally damaged, once again, this time from knowing his sister had tried to imprison his parents. Someday, I may have closure, but this is a cross Amanda must carry.