Her story was already beginning to unravel, though, as Charlie was being questioned at the sheriff’s office in Emory. Detective Almon, a plainspoken Navy veteran with a blunt, intense manner, led the interrogation, while Texas Ranger John Vance assisted. At the outset, Charlie muttered, “I’m in a lot of trouble.” Almon informed Charlie that he had been identified by a victim who had survived the attack and asked him to tell them exactly what had happened the previous night. If Charlie was startled by the news that he had left behind an eyewitness, he did not give himself away. Slowly, though, he began to parcel out information. Erin had called him the day before, Charlie said. She was, he recounted, “still pretty pissed off about her parents telling us we could not see each other.” Once again, she told him that she wanted them dead. Charlie had urged her to just run away, but Erin had said, “No, kill them.”
Around one-thirty the next morning, he told Almon, he and a friend had gone to the Caffey home. The friend, whom he initially refused to identify, was his hunting buddy Charles Waid, Matthew’s younger brother. The twenty-year-old needed money, and Charlie had promised him $2,000 if he would help him kill the Caffeys—cash that Erin had told Charlie he would find in a lockbox inside the house. They brought along Waid’s girlfriend, a bubbly high school senior named Bobbi Johnson, whose silver Dodge Neon they were driving. According to Charlie, Johnson did not know what the boys’ plans were but had insisted on coming with them. Charlie told the detective that when they first drove up, the Caffeys’ dog had barked so much that they decided to leave, but Erin called him on his cell phone afterward and promised to keep the dog quiet when he returned. And so with Waid behind the wheel of the Neon, they went back to the Caffeys’ house.
The threesome picked Erin up at the end of her parents’ driveway and rode around for an hour, talking about what to do. Charlie told the detective that he asked Erin several times to consider running away, but she was emphatic that she wanted her parents dead. Finally, they turned back toward the Caffey home and parked down the road. It was agreed that Charlie would kill Erin’s parents, and Waid would take care of the two boys so no witnesses would be left behind. “I ain’t got no conscience,” Charlie said to the investigators about his decision to follow through on Erin’s wishes. “I joined the Army to do whatever needed to be done without thinking.” As for her parents, he said, “I intended to kill them because I thought I was in love.”
Tanner sat down with Terry Caffey and showed him the phone records this past June. She needed to explain to him why prosecutors were asking the court to certify Erin as an adult. (If certified, she would face the same punishment at trial as an adult, including life without parole—with one notable exception: Even when certified, a juvenile cannot receive the death penalty.) Tanner was in the difficult position of briefing the victim of a crime who also happened to be the parent of the perpetrator. “It was an awful thing to have to do, to lay out to a man that his daughter wanted him dead and was responsible for the deaths of the rest of his family,” Tanner said. “I brought all of the relevant documents and pictures, and we went through everything. I showed him photos of the suitcase that Erin had packed and the burned-out lockbox that was open to the combination that she had given Charlie. I showed him the statement that a friend of hers had given to investigators about how Erin had wanted them to be killed. I told him about her and Charlie having sex afterwards, which was by far the hardest thing to have to tell him. Terry cried a lot and kept asking, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I don’t understand. We didn’t see any of this coming.’”
And yet, after Terry had seen every last piece of evidence, he continued to visit Erin and never wavered in his support, standing beside his daughter at each court appearance holding her hand. For the many people who puzzled over his loyalty, there were many others, in the pews of Miracle Faith and elsewhere, who understood it as the scriptural imperative of unconditional love. Terry drew particular sustenance from a passage in Romans, chapter 12: “Bless them which persecute you,” a principle that, in the end, informed his wish that his family’s killers be spared the death penalty. “My heart tells me there have been enough deaths,” Terry wrote in a letter to the Rains County district attorney, Robert Vititow, this past fall. “I want them, in this lifetime, to have a chance for remorse and to come to a place of repentance for what they have done. Killing them will not bring my family back.” He asked that Charlie Wilkinson and Charles Waid receive sentences of life in prison without parole. After consulting with the attorney general’s office, Vititow honored his wishes and offered them a plea deal. In November they each pleaded guilty to three counts of capital murder.