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Murder victim's family ready for closure

Now that the murder trial of Dannie Lee Samuels is over and his fate known, family members of Barbara Hefner are hopeful they can begin to heal.

"Forgiving has been the most difficult thing for me to do," said Ms. Hefner's 32-year-old daughter, Marijane Hefner, of Dearing. "I'm hoping that I can somehow forgive him in my heart one day."

Ms. Hefner and other family members attended each day of the trial.

"It's been pretty tough on all of us as a family," she said during an interview with The McDuffie Mirror on Saturday.

She said she was "very disappointed" that she and other family members weren't able to read their victim impact statements in their entirety in court before Judge Roger W. Dunaway, Jr. announced Mr. Samuels' sentence.

"He (Mr. Samuels) was able to put up witnesses, but we were told it was best if the judge just read our statements," said Ms. Hefner. "We understood, but we still were very disappointed."

She had presented a letter with four typed pages, two of which were cut by defense attorneys.

"What I wrote was what I felt in my heart and I wanted to share it," said Ms. Hefner, who is raising her 12-year-old son, Michael, as a single parent.

"My son was only 7 when his grandmother was murdered," added Ms. Hefner, who works as a yard manager at Bennett Distribution Services in Grovetown. "He misses his grandmother very much. We all do."

After her mother was raped and strangled, Ms. Hefner sought counseling from her pastor, Butch Baston at Union Baptist Church near Thomson.

"I had a lot of anger and a lot of fear after that happened to my mama," she said. "He really helped me to see and understand that God knows what we need and how we need it."

The tragedy of her mother being killed at 53 wasn't the first time that Ms. Hefner has experienced traumatic pain in her life. Several years ago the man she was engaged to was killed in a wreck in Eatonton. His name was Clay Ryals.

She became a Christian soon afterward.

"I know now that I had to lose Clay so I could grow as a Christian and my life could change," she said.

She admitted that she and her mother weren't always close, but said she loved her. "My mama was so talented," said Ms. Hefner. "She could sew, draw and paint. She could even write and had considered writing a novel."

Billy Oliphant, of Grovetown, Barbara Hefner's brother, continues to struggle with his sister's death.

"I won't ever be able to see or talk with my sister again," said Mr. Oliphant. "That's the hardest thing to try and cope with. I know how I feel. God tells me one thing and my gut tells me something else."

His younger brother, Tommy Oliphant, who lives in Warren County, also is distraught over his sister's death. He said he even feels bad about the loss that Mr. Samuels' family feels.

"They've lost as much as we have to an extent," said Mr. Oliphant. "The only difference is that they can still see their loved one and can communicate with him. We can't."

He said had it not been for his Christian faith that this ordeal would have been impossible to withstand.

"My church family has really supported me and my family and I'll never forget it," said Mr. Oliphant. His pastor, Keith Kurtz, of Divine Community Church in Thomson, sat with the family in the courtroom.

"There's not a day that goes by that it doesn't affect you, your job, life at home, everything," said Mr. Oliphant. "It's been devastating for all of us as a family."

All three of the family members of Barbara Hefner praised the support they received from the District Attorney's Office, the Victim's Assistance Program, as well as from Sheriff Logan Marshall and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

"Everybody at the district attorney's office has been wonderful to us," said Ms. Hefner. "They have always answered our questions, been patient and compassionate. Marie Johnson, (head of the local victims' assistance program), was wonderful to us."

Billy Oliphant said authorities had been "awesome" in working with his family.

"Logan Marshall, Doug Parker, Dennis Sanders, Woody Davis and Marie Johnson have gone beyond the call of duty to help us through this. I'll never forget what they did to help my family," he said.

Web posted on Thursday, August 27, 2009

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