Billy Gilley's videotaped confession from 1984, taken just days after he bludgeoned to death his parents and youngest sister with a baseball bat, was heard for the first time in court Tuesday.
The video was shown in Jackson County Circuit Court after Judge Ray White heard from Gilley's surviving sister, Jody Arlington, neighbors and detectives during the first day of a resentencing hearing.
The hour-and-a-half-long tape, which wasn't played for jurors during Gilley's 1984 homicide trial, showed the youth trying to explain his actions and expressing remorse.
"I really didn't have a very good childhood," said Gilley, then 18. "It's hard to talk about. I just couldn't stand to see the madness."
White will determine whether Gilley should continue to serve three life sentences consecutively, as a judge originally ruled, or concurrently. After serving 24 years in prison, Gilley won an appeal of his sentence on grounds he did not have effective legal representation. If White rules the sentences can be served concurrently, Gilley, 43, could be eligible for parole soon.
In the videotape, Gilley detailed physical and emotional abuse and said he and his 16-year-old sister, Jody, spoke often of "getting rid" of their abusive parents.
"I had enough reasons to do it for me. I had enough reasons to do it for her," Gilley said.
Later the teen expressed remorse for his actions.
"Oh God," said Gilley. "I had no right. They gave me life. I shouldn't have taken theirs."
After questioning from the detectives, Gilley said Jody had encouraged him to kill their parents, and even dreamed about a party they could have afterward with the money from their parents' wallets.
"She would often wish them dead. She'd say, 'You could do them in Billy, I wouldn't tell anyone,' " he said, later weeping when adding his sister was the only one who had ever believed in him or needed him.
The night of the murders, his sister was in trouble for skipping school that day. Jody's punishment had yet to be determined, he said. After the family ate dinner and attended a school play, Jody Gilley escaped to her bedroom. The rest of the family watched television. Gilley said he went to bed at around 11 p.m.
"I kissed my mom good night," he said.
Later that night, Gilley awoke, remembering how Jody had begged him during the play to finally kill their parents, he said.
"I was awake. Then I remembered what I had to do. I didn't think I could do it," he said.
He took Becky to Jody's upstairs bedroom to keep her safe, Gilley said. He entered the area where his father lay sleeping on the couch several times before finally administering the series of fatal blows with an aluminum baseball bat, he said.
"It was so strange. So quick. I don't know how I ever stopped. I didn't feel like I was right or I was wrong," he said.
Then he killed his mother while she slept in her bed.
"I picked up the bat and found myself doing the same thing over again," he said.
But Becky came back downstairs. And he beat her with the bat, too. She died of her injuries two days later.
Later, up in Jody's bedroom, he apologized for killing their youngest sibling.
"I kept saying, 'Are you mad at me, Jody?' And she said, 'No Billy, we had it planned. We had it all planned.' She was so calm. So cold," Gilley said.
"She planned it," he continued. "She didn't physically do it. She just planned it. She was going to tell Becky Mom and Dad were gone."
On Tuesday, Gilley remained calm through the daylong trial, crying briefly during the videotape of his confession. In the courtroom sat Wendy Jewell, a Texas woman who said she wrote Gilley in prison and eventually developed a romantic relationship with him.
"Regardless of what he did at age 18, he's not that same person today," said Jewell, who was accompanied by her mother. "He is remorseful for what he did."
Jody Arlington testified Tuesday that she was afraid of her brother. Labeling him as "a sociopath," Arlington said Gilley had repeatedly molested her as a child.
Arlington said she was testifying now because the familial violence and abuse had not been part of the previous court record. But she asked that her brother continue to serve his three life sentences consecutively, as handed down by Judge Mitchell Karaman in 1984.
"I have never felt safe about him being released," she said. "I could not in good conscience want anything less than a full sentence."
Her parents had a stormy relationship with each other, and repeatedly slapped, beat and verbally abused her and her brother, Arlington said, describing their parents' form of punishment as "malevolent."
Her father, Billy Gilley Sr., whom she described as "a dry drunk," had once sexually propositioned her, she said.
"He offered me all the money in his pocket if I would fool around with him," she said.
"(Her mother) didn't believe me," she said.
But Gilley's claims to have been repeatedly knocked out by his father are false, Arlington said. And, while she remembers saying comments to her brother about her parents like "God, I wish they were dead" or "I wish they were gone," she denied she was complicit in planning their deaths.
"I totally understand that he is trying to do or say whatever he can to get out of prison," said Arlington.
The night of the murders, Arlington said she heard pounding and screams from downstairs. She knew right away what he'd done, she said. When he arrived at her doorstep, covered in blood, she feared he would kill her, too. She calmed him down, told him to go change and then agreed to go to the neighbor's house with him, Arlington said.
"I had to pretend I was a heroine in my books and do everything I could to survive," Arlington said.
The former best friend of Billy Gilley's mother testified Tuesday morning that he was a troubled youth who had abused animals, and that Jody may have influenced him to murder most of his family.
"I do believe that Jody, in some sense, motivated or encouraged him," said Frances Stroup, who described herself as the best friend of Gilley's mother, Linda.
Stroup showed photos of the Gilley family and said she didn't see excessive physical punishment from Billy Sr. or Linda toward their children. She described them, however, as verbally abusive "parents at the end of their rope" with smart-mouthed, misbehaving children.
She testified that Billy was a slight and unassuming teen, "sort of, kind of" feminine and not muscular like his father. She said Billy had abused animals and that he'd been mean to a cat or dog and that the animal had died.
She also described Jody as an unhappy girl who "thought she was better than the other children" in the family.
Arlington said she hadn't seen her brother since the 1984 trial. But she has received "manipulative" and "threatening" letters from him. In the end, Arlington said she believed Gilley committed the murders out of a sense of protection.
"I believe Billy wanted to spare us all from our parents' abuse," she said.
The hearing continues today at the Jackson County Justice Building.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.