Every year, people make an assortment of resolutions about the New Year, but Dianne Norris has a unique one.
Her resolution: finding a way to forgive the man who raped and strangled her sister in 2004.
"This is something that's been tugging between me and God for about two years," Mrs. Norris said during a recent interview. "I want to forgive that man who did those terrible things to my sister, because if I don't, I won't be doing what God wants me to do."
She realizes that such an attempt will be a struggle, but she's committed to trying forgiveness with God's help.
"It's going to take God being with me every step of the way," Mrs. Norris said. "This isn't something I can't do alone."
Dannie Lee Samuels, of Thomson, was tried and convicted in McDuffie County Superior Court last year for the March 6, 2004, death of Barbara Hefner. Toombs Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Roger W. Dunaway Jr. sentenced Mr. Samuels to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ms. Hefner was Mr. Samuels' supervisor at Augusta Coating Manufacturing near Thomson at the time of the attack, which occurred at Ms. Hefner's home off White Oak Road. After the sexual attack and strangulation, Mr. Samuels put her body into a car that was parked on Ballard Road. He drove around awhile, Mr. Samuels decided to dump the body into Folly Lake off Stagecoach Road, a short drive from where the crime occurred.
"I knew when they arrested Dannie that they had the right man," Mrs. Norris said. "There was never any doubt in my mind."
She knew Mr. Samuels.
"He was working for my sister when I worked as a receptionist and accounting clerk at Augusta Coating," Mrs. Norris explained.
A 1972 graduate of Briarwood Academy, Mrs. Norris now works as a bookkeeper at Watson and Knox in Thomson.
Mrs. Norris said before the murder trial that God had been talking to her heart about forgiveness.
"Before I became a Christian, I would never have thought about forgiving this man for what he did to my sister," Mrs. Norris said. "My sister and I were very close and he took her from me and the rest of my family. That wasn't right and that's why he's going to have to pay for what he did the rest of his life."
She, however, needs to make a change.
"I'm ready to let all of this go and let God take it from here," she said. "God is a loving and forgiving God. He's forgiven me of all my sins. And I need to forgive this man."
She readily admitted that it will be "a different journey every day" in her attempt to forgive Mr. Samuels.
"I've got to get rid of the hatred I have for this person, and the only way I can do that is to forgive him," Mrs. Norris said.
Mrs. Norris said she is hopeful that someday her sister's killer will find Jesus Christ.
"That's really between him and God," she added, while noting that she never intends to meet with Mr. Samuels and tell him in person that she has forgiven him.
"I don't think I have to do that. I feel that God already knows my heart."
Mrs. Norris, a member of New Hope Baptist Church near Thomson, said she couldn't have survived the past several years, if it wasn't for her church family.
"The preacher and the congregation have all been so supportive of me and my family through all of this," Mrs. Norris said. "I'll never forget how nice they're all been.
"That's true of so many other nice people in this community, too."
On Dec. 31, 2003, just two months after Mrs. Norris accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior, her mother, Alma Oliphant, died after a battle with cancer. Her husband, David Norris, died Jan. 24, 2004, after injuries received in a wreck. Ten days later, her father died. And then Ms. Hefner was murdered in March.
"I've been through so much and it's been rough," Mrs. Norris said. "There's no way I could have gone through what I have without God's help."
Mrs. Norris said she was so glad that her sister had accepted Jesus Christ before she was killed.
"She accepted Jesus Christ just 18 weeks before her death," said Mrs. Norris, explaining that she and her sister were both saved during Heaven's Gates, Hell's Flames -- an annual play performed at New Hope Baptist Church.