Heading to Our First Parole

I am heading down south today to attend our first Parole Hearing at Avenal State Prison, which will be held tomorrow.  I am traveling with my daughter, Christina, and wonderful friends, Lorie & Jaimee.

I wanted to share with all of you what we will be saying in our Victim Impact Statements at the end of the hearing tomorrow.  We will be addressing the commissioners, as we are not allowed to speak to the perpetrator Mark James Taylor, and he is not allowed to speak with us.

We will meet in a room, with the commissioners at one end of the table, our group on one side, along with the District Attorney from Alameda County (where the crime was committed) who is there to represent us.  On the other end of the table, Mark James Taylor and his attorney will be seated.  The hearing could last as long as five hours.  Because this is the first of Mark James Taylor’s parole hearings, the commissioners will want/need to establish a record for this process going forward.  Establishing a record means detailing the crime once again.

I want this to be over.  It is consuming my life in a way I did not really expect.  I have very low energy and feel the heaviness of the impending proceedings.  I am tired of murder!

Here you go:

Parole Hearing – July 26, 2006

Mark James Taylor

Victim Impact Statement

Parole Board Commissioners,

My name is Radha Stern and I am the mother of Christopher Robin Hotchkiss, who was murdered by Mark James Taylor on March 21, 1996, a day when my life, along with the lives of my family and friends, was changed forever.

I am accompanied today by my daughter, Christina Hotchkiss, and family advisors, Jaimee  and Lorie.  Thank you for your time today.

I would not be standing in this room today if, Mark James Taylor, had not murdered my son, Christopher Robin Hotchkiss.  I do not feel it is necessary, nor do I desire to bring up the horrific details of the murder committed.  I live with the victim impact every day.

I do not feel Mark, realizes the consequences of his actions.  Mark does not comprehend that there has not been a picture of my son, Christopher, in 16 years; no birthday smiles, no hugs, no sit down talks about the challenges of the world, no family vacations with everyone, no “what’s for dinner mom?”, no wedding and no grandchildren.  Christopher would be 38 years old.  Mark cut his life short at 21.  What was he thinking?

I do not believe that Mark’s thinking has changed much since November, 20 1997, when he was sentenced for this crime of murder.  I requested to have a Victim Offender Dialogue with Mark, that was approved by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and I met with Mark in March 2008, to give him the benefit of the doubt and to assess for myself if he had embraced the reality of his actions.  Sadly Mark had not.

In our conversation several years ago, Mark did not take full responsibility for the crime, nor was he aware how his life had led him to take a life.  Instead, Mark was still blaming others for what he had done.

I think that this quote from the Dalai Lama is significant today:

“When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot.”

I wish for Mark’s sake that he would someday face up to the devastation his actions have caused.  Mark has traumatized my family by taking the life of my child, our loved one.  If he continues to refuse to deal with how his life led to the murder of my son, then two lives have been wasted.  Even if Mark remains in the prison community for the rest of his life, he can be a positive change maker–if his heart is opened.  Mark does not have to be defined by the worst thing he did in his life.  I don’t want Mark to do this for us.  Mark needs to do this for himself.

I have been volunteering in prisons for eight years now with Insight Prison Project.  I have addressed groups of inmates in classes such as Victim Offender Education Group, GRIP – Guiding Rage into Power–and Katargeo, which is an emotional literacy program.  I speak to inmates who wish to understand themselves better, how their life experiences and decisions led them to prison and how their crimes have impacted their victim(s).  I also help offenders understand and take responsibility for the impact of the crime(s) they have committed.  Mark does not seem to have this desire.  It pains me that two lives are being wasted.  My son is no longer, here and Mark is not being a productive and positive member of his community by not taking responsibility for his life crime.

I would like to stress during this hearing, that I, along with my entire family and friends, oppose Mark James Taylor’s parole being granted.  Until Mark can open his heart and take responsibility for his actions, I will continue to oppose parole.

And, from my daughter Christina,

Parole Board Commissioners,

Mark James Taylor did not just take the life of my baby brother; he forever altered the lives of many.  Christopher and I were fifteen months apart and the best of friends.  We fought like brothers and sisters do, but we laughed together, shared secrets, protected one another and loved each other so very much – we truly were a team.  Christopher was an amazing person with a heart that charmed anyone he met.  He knew kindness and compassion for others and would do anything for those he loves, even individuals he hardly knew – he was a delight in the lives of many.  My brother was my world.  Mark Taylor’s selfish actions and lack of control completely altered my path in a way I still find difficult to articulate sometimes.  I was a very social person, outgoing and enjoying life and family until my brother was murdered.  I became fearful for my family and I had a difficult time being in public places because I was no longer in control of my life and the mass of continually changing emotions.  I suddenly was more withdrawn and cried day and night – exhausting myself emotionally and physically until my body just gave in and crashed.  In fact, crashed so hard that I had an emotional breakdown, and physically could not get out of bed or leave the house.  I was depressed, severely dehydrated and extremely thin.  Aside of Christopher being murdered that was the scariest thing I have been through.  I was completely lost and scared and the worst was that my mother had to endure yet more pain.  She had outlived her only son and had to stand by and watch me fall apart at the seams – helpless and hopeless.  All this because Mark James Taylor could not control himself and felt it okay to take the life of another human being, not realizing to this day the severity of his actions.

I did not have a choice in the path my life would take when my brother and best friend Christopher was murdered by Mark James Taylor.  I do however choose to be here today to fight for Christopher – to fight against the release of Mark Taylor, something I know and believe in my heart is right.  This journey has been the most difficult and deeply painful, but also the most rewarding and educational.  I have learned some priceless life lessons from incarcerated men serving time for like crimes.  The difference between those men and Mark Taylor are, first and foremost, they are taking responsibility for the crimes they have committed and they are working to improve themselves.  They are doing the work – the hard ugly work that is one of life’s gifts that Mark has the option to choose and he doesn’t.  Does he not owe this to himself?

I forgive Mark Taylor, but not because I am okay with him murdering my brother, taking away my best friend and leaving my family with just memories and old photos.  Mark not only took away the opportunity for my family and I to create more memories – he has also robbed his family of that gift.  Mark Taylor took the most precious gift of life from an amazing person – who gave him that right?  I forgive Mark because I will not allow him to have control over my thoughts, feelings and emotions.  Mark James Taylor is no longer in control.

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9 Responses to Heading to Our First Parole

  1. Antje Steinhoff says:

    Dear Radha,
    I was thinking of you all the last days and I will accompany you tomorrow in my thoughts. You do not walk alone…

    All my best for you and your family

  2. donna says:

    Radha and Christina, I so admire your strength! Please know my thoughts and prayers and wishes for continued strength to get through this God awful process are with you.
    With affection, Donna D’Acuti

  3. Judy says:

    My thoughts and prayers will be with you tomorrow. I am so sorry for you and your family. I do not have to endure what you have to as I really don’t know what happened to my son or why. His death was deamed an “accident”. Maybe some day someone will come forward. No matter what my son ever did the fact remains he was “my son” and his brothers twin. We, like you, only have our memories, old pictures and our grief but each day that goes by does get alittle easier but the tears still come daily. Again, you will be in my prayers and am so sorry for your loss.

  4. Brad Paul says:


    What an honest and powerful statement. My thoughts are with you today at the hearing.


  5. Steve Sharp says:

    I will keep you, Christina and your terrific friends, Jaimee and Lorie, in my prayers, for continued power and strenght over Mr. Taylor controling you lives. Your friend Steve.

  6. Michael Ferrari says:

    It is impossible for me to find adequate words. Thank you to you and your daughter. You are speaking for so many victims and familes, many who don’t have your strength and skills.

    I hope you feel all of the appreciation and support, not just from those that respond to your journal, but from those that are so “shut down” by what they have experienced that they still struggle with even encountering topics that stir emotions with which they can’t yet cope. You are in the thoughts and prayers of so many!

  7. A brilliant writer. Eloquent really. Having sat through a trial in S C Co last year I can relate. A friend of mine’s son also was murdered. Do you know about The Compassionate Friends? I was the chapter leader here for 8 years. I’ve lost two sons, but neither to murder. God bless you! Muffie Dominick, Los Gatos.

  8. Georgia Alioto says:

    Radha and family
    I still feel so strongly that Mark is in no way ready to be part of society at this time. Anyone who will not take responsibility for this type of act is a danger to others if released. I feel there are people in this world, and he is one. who will never be able to have remorse for anything he does. Georgia

  9. Pingback: Pearls in Prison | Griefprints

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