The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


ELCA pastor forgives man who killed her family

Eileen Harris, whose husband and daughter were killed June 29 by their former housecleaner, spoke a word of forgiveness to Russell Sedelhaimer in a court appearance Nov. 22.

The bodies of Ivon Harris, 65, pastor of Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church, Chicago, and their daughter, Sarah Harris, 24, were found in their Buffalo Grove, Ill., home (see "Churchscan," September 2005, page 42 in the print edition).

Eileen Harris, ELCA chaplain of St. Matthew Center for Health, Park Ridge, Ill., described in Cook County Circuit Court the pain and longing she’s endured since the murders. “Russell,” she said, calling his name twice before he looked at her. “Because I value the gift of life and I know God forgives and loves all of us, especially you, Russell, I support a sentence of natural life” (Chicago Tribune, Nov. 23).

“Thank you,” Sedelmaier said quietly, later adding, “I’m sorry what I did to the Harris family and what I did to my own family.” Sedelmaier would have been eligible for the death penalty if the case had gone to trial. In court he waived his right to trial and pleaded guilty to killing the Harrises. He was sentenced to life without parole.

“I really felt in my heart forgiveness,” Harris said of her comment to Sedelmaier. “I really know that if God can forgive him, why not me? That’s where I am in terms of my faith and my understanding of life. ... I really believe capital punishment continues the cycle of violence.”


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