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Forgiving the unforgivable

In 2004, teenager Michael Hernandez murdered his 14-year-old best friend, Jamie Gough, in a bathroom at Southwood Middle School in Coconut Grove. Gough’s parents, George and Maria, spent the next three years attempting to forgive Hernandez, a path that threatened their marriage and fueled bitter arguments with family friends, who believed the Goughs were foolish to stop hating the convicted boy who killed their child.

Miami author Jason Wood, George Gough’s close friend, was one of them. But Gough convinced Wood to chronicle the couple’s reaction to the crime in the book “From Fighting to Forgiving: Learning To Let Go.”

“I told George in the beginning … ‘I’m not going to forgive this kid.’ I was adamant about rejecting that idea, and told him, ‘You are weak. I don’t want to talk to you anymore,’ “ says Wood, who will discuss the book Thursday at Books and Books in Coral Gables. “We had this big confrontation, and I realized I wasn’t being supportive. I thought telling him to get retribution was great advice. It was horrible advice.”

Hernandez’s murder of Jamie Gough resulted in a 2008 conviction of life imprisonment without parole. In March, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning automatic life sentences overturned the conviction, and Hernandez, now 22, is awaiting resentencing by a Miami-Dade court.

Wood’s book traces the Gough’s close-knit family and the immediate aftermath of Jamie’s murder. He includes transcripts of Hernandez’s confession and videotaped testimony (“It was an unbelievably callous, pre-meditated murder,” Wood says) , as well as the Goughs’ letters of forgiveness to their son’s killer, read aloud to Hernandez on the day of his sentencing.

“George and Maria have forgiven him, but he does not have any remorse. He appeared to just not care,” Wood recalls. “There’s a big difference between forgiving and justice. Justice is saying, ‘We live in the same society and if you veer outside it, you need consequences.’ And the family believes Michael needs consequences.”

Jason Wood will discuss "From Fighting to Forgiving: Learning To Let Go" at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Books and Books, 265 Aragon Ave., in Coral Gables. Admission is free. Call 305-442-4408 or go to BooksandBooks.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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