The below story is taken from a RadioLab episode entitled ‘Reasonable Doubt’ – the events are retold in an approximation of  the account given in the RadioLab episode. The story is graphic in nature – you’re invited to connect with the suffering and pain experienced by Penny in order to better understand the process of forgiveness that she moves through. If interested, please check out the original story at: Note as well that Penny answers several questions in the ‘comments’ section of the webpage.


As you move through the story below, there will be several moments where you’re invited to stop and check your reactions to the information being related. In these cases, you may also be invited to explore some other documents in this and other manuals dependent upon your reactions at that particular moment. The more honest you are with yourself (in recognizing your reactions) the stronger of a tool you make this section of the manual.


“Reasonable Doubt”


Penny and her husband walked down to the beach that morning to enjoy a sunny afternoon of leisure. After laying out in the sun, and enjoying a quick dip in the ocean, her husband pulled out a book to read, and Penny tied on her running shoes as she often did. She left her husband to his book, and went for a jog up the beach. On her way she passed a man who smiled and waved at her; she smiled and waved back, and continued to run. On her way back, the man called her over. He grabs her, and starts to pull her over the sand dunes further up the beach. The conversation is still casual, but it quickly moves to sexual requests – and then demands that Penny do sexual things for him. Penny says that two things went through her mind ‘stay calm’ and ‘get a good idea of what the guy looks like.’ She made a note of every detail of the scene – what the man looked like, distinguishing features, how he spoke, what he was wearing – all while the assault intensified. Penny continued to refuse the demands of her assailant…


Pause and Check – What’s coming up for you right now?

  • Are you scared for Penny’s safety – concerned and invested in her well-being? If you’re connecting with these emotions in a powerful/raw way, you’re likely still balanced – responding peacefully to the suffering of another human.
  • Are you angry at her assailant? Are you generating stories about how this is unfair, or one of those horrible things that keep happening in our world? If yes, check  out the appendix on Anger to better learn what’s coming up for you.
  • Are you thinking that Penny was foolish to go for a run by herself? If so, you may want to see the appendix on Blame.


Penny woke up a couple hours later. Sometime during her struggle, her assailant had strangled her into unconsciousness. She was naked, still behind the sand dunes. As she tried to regain her feet, she noticed that her hands were covered in blood. “This is evidence” she thought, “I’ve got to preserve this.” She started yelling, and crawling on her hands and knees over the dunes back to the beach. Her husband had called the police and had been searching frantically for her after she hadn’t returned after her run (which usually only took 45 minutes). She was taken to the hospital, where she was treated for her injuries. In the hospital, she gave the deputy a full description of her attacker.


The next day, Penny was called into the Police station to look at two line-ups of men. In one of the line-ups, Penny recognized her attacker. She describes all of the hair standing up on the back of her neck, and knowing instantly that this was the man who drug her behind the dunes. The man, whose name was Steve Avery, was arrested, and taken to trial. It turns out that Avery had a history of criminal actions – including holding another woman at gunpoint. During the trial, he his family and friends testified that he had spent the day working at their construction site pouring concrete – however, no traces of concrete or worksite debris were found on his clothing from that day. And, as the prosecution pointed out, the stories of Avery’s friends and family all lined up too neatly. It seemed like a sloppy attempt to cover for him. This flimsy defense, combined with Avery’s history, and Penny’s testimony caused the trial to move quickly. Avery was convicted and sentenced to a total of 32 years in prison. Penny left the courtroom relieved and returned home to rebuild her life.


Pause and Check – What’s coming up for you right now?

  • Are you feeling a sense of justice, that a bad man was put behind bars where he belonged? Are you hoping that he would have gotten a harsher sentence? Are you glad that he’s been punished? Justice, held with balance and peace, can be a deep need in us; Justice when it looks like vengeance and punishment is likely coming from a deeper hurt in ourselves.
  • Are you thankful that Penny has found a slight peace in this moment? Do you believe that, in a small way, this situation has offered her some restitution for an action committed in violation of a cultural agreement that we all hold? Are you wishing her future peace as she moves through a difficult moment in her life? If you’re holding these with a sense of mourning, possibility and empathy, you’re likely passionately balanced, and there’s still an option here to dig into a ‘restorative’ mentality, affirming that she ‘deserves’ peace.


The following months and years were a struggle for Penny. She was angry nearly all the time. She yelled at friends and family members, and generally withdrew more often from their company. She had recurrent nightmares in which she vividly saw Avery’s face as he assaulted her on the beach. She sought counseling, which helped a little, but didn’t end the recurrent sense of sadness and dread that hung over Penny’s life. Penny found a local presentation on forgiveness and attended it – she embraced the principles given at the presentation, and for the first time in a long time, held a sense of possibility around her future. Penny returned to the beach, and found the site where Avery assaulted her. She stood there, breaking down, and said “Steve, you don’t have power over me.’


Pause and Check – What’s coming up for you right now?

  • Are you sharing in the relief of Penny, that she was finally able to find some balance and understanding around the events of her past? Are you thankful that she found that forgiveness meeting, and recognized her own ability to release the pain of her past?
  • Are you thinking Penny’s going-on a bit about this whole thing? That she should just get over it and move on already. When she went to the beach, did you think ‘ugh, here’s some symbolic moment that she could have created herself a couple months ago!’ You may hear the sneaky and overt ‘shoulds’ in your offerings here – which trace-back to some judgments you’re likely holding around the ‘reality’ of Penny’s trauma. Perhaps the culture you were raised in didn’t have an understanding of mourning, or perhaps that process wasn’t celebrated within your family group. Perhaps you’re lacking some equality or ease in your own life, and so hearing about the suffering of others brings out your bean-counter nature and your own beliefs about how quickly you could get over such a trauma. In these cases, you’re invited to check out the appendix on Mourning and Trauma here.


Penny was close friends with her lawyer and so asked to be immediately apprised of any further legal action taken by Avery. Sure enough, during his incarceration, Avery began to file appeal after appeal – asking the courts to review the evidence. Penny went to every appeal hearing, and began to wonder herself “why is he so persistent?” Eventually the appeals tapered off, and life returned to ‘normal.’ Over a decade later, a restorative justice nonprofit took on Avery’s case, and re-examined the DNA evidence with contemporary technology. They discovered that the DNA submitted in evidence was not Steve Avery’s. Because of Penny’s testimony, an innocent man had spent 19 years in prison.


Penny was overwhelmed with guilt. She thought “If I wrote down every good thing that I’d ever done. It would never balance this out.” Penny then learned that the man who assaulted her, Gregory Allen, was in prison for another crime – he had been convicted ten years after Penny’s assault for another assault he had committed in the same area. Again, Penny was overwhelmed with guilt – this time because she believed that if she had correctly identified Gregory Allen earlier, he would not have been able to ruin other women’s lives. In a way, Penny felt directly responsible for ruining Steve Avery’s life, as well as the lives of all the women Gregory Allen had affected after assaulting Penny.


Pause and Check – What’s coming up for you right now?

  • Surprise? Surprise the Penny could be so convinced that it was Avery when it was actually Allen? Sadness, that an innocent man had spent so many years in prison, and that the guilty man had spent a decade walking free? Compassion for Penny? Wishing her a sense of peace, and hoping that she finds a way to work with the guilt and stories that she has now built around herself?
  • Are you sitting in the belief that Penny shouldn’t feel guilty at all? Heck, it was an honest mistake – and Avery did have a criminal record, so it’s not like he was completely innocent anyways. And, the misuse of DNA evidence had nothing to do with Penny.  Clearly, Avery had a poor defense and the jury was not satisfied. Again, nothing to do with Penny. Plus, maybe you’re not buying the whole DNA thing – maybe you’re thinking, ‘well, they made a mistake once… why not twice?!’ Note that again, even with the best of intentions, we’re placing a demand on how Penny should be acting. We’re attached to her happiness, rather than curious about her current experience. We’re shutting down her possibilities, rather than increasing them. We’re trying to take away her power, rather than enabling her to embrace her power.


Later that year, Penny asked to meet with Steve Avery. The two arranged a time – they met, and talked about the events of the trial, and about Avery’s time in prison. At the end, Penny reached over to Avery and said “Steve, I’m so sorry” and he replied “it’s ok, it’s all over now.” Penny felt a huge weight lift from her shoulders. She still affirms ‘that’s one of the most grace-filled things that’s ever been said to me.’


Two years later, Penny’s lawyer-friend called. She said that Avery was back in the news. It seems that a female reporter had disappeared after coming to Avery’s property to photograph Avery for a news story. Avery claimed that he was innocent, and that he was being set-up by the police. Penny was shocked. Then Avery’s nephew stepped forward. His nephew gave testimony that he had seen the photographer bound to Avery’s bed. Avery saw his nephew, and asked his nephew to help him rape and murder the reporter. Later that year, Avery was convicted.


Penny despaired again “did my initial affirmation, and the wrongful conviction of Stephen Avery transform him into a murderer and a rapist? Was it prison that screwed him up – making him the monster that I thought he was, and that the law convicted him (erroneously of being?! Or,” thought Penny, “is my ability to judge people so far off that I could shake hands and receive forgiveness from a rapist and a murderer and not know that anything was off?!”


The judge of the case, hearing of Penny’s self-doubt, affirmed “No, absolutely not. Avery was violent with a past of crime before his release. Most wrongfully convicted people who leave prison do not commit crimes afterwards.”


Penny still carries the guilt with her, and lives each day with the knowledge of the lives she believes she affected.


What do you believe?