Death row inmate finds peace in Moulton

Nick Yarris  and Jessica Stubley ' the pair hope to soon be married.
Nick Yarris and Jessica Stubley ' the pair hope to soon be married.

Home is where you are loved and are at peace – and it’s sometimes in the most unlikely of places.

That’s certainly the case for Nick Yarris, who has found love in Moulton – thousands of miles away literally and metaphorically from where he spent almost half his life.

Nine years ago, Nick walked out of one of America’s toughest prisons – after 8,057 days – 23 years – in solitary confinement on death row.

He had been convicted in 1982 of the rape and murder of a a young woman, who had been kidnapped. Four days after Linda Craig’s beaten, stabbed and raped body was discovered near a church, Nick was stopped by police for a traffic violation.

The routine stop escalated into a violent confrontation, resulting in Nick’s arrest for attempted murder of a police officer. But things went from bad to worse for the young Nick – who already had a rap sheet as long as your arm.

Between the ages of 13 and 21 he had been arrested dozens of times for crimes including drug-related thefts and breaking and entering. He relied on drink and drugs to block out the trauma of being raped when he was seven.

While in custody he accused an acquaintance of Linda Craig’s murder – but when the suspect was eliminated, Nick became prime suspect.

DNA testing on samples collected at the scene could not exclude him as a suspect and in 1982 he was convicted and sentenced to death.

He was to spend the next 23 years fighting to clear his name – suffering blow after blow, as well as severe beatings from which he still bears the scars.

But, sitting alone in his tiny cell, first awaiting the electric chair and later lethal injection, Nick made a decision – to educate himself, devouring thousands of books and completing distance learning courses.

Sitting across the table at a Spalding resturant last week, he said: “It was an act of defiance.

“I was always being called a rapist and murderer. I could have become angry and bitter but I decided to make my mind beautiful so when they executed me, they had wasted their time because I was beautiful inside.”

As he talks of his life, Nick’s mood swings from thoughful and pensive to one of lighthearted joyfulness. But behind it all is a lingering pain.

He hasn’t seen his daughter Lara, now eight, in almost a year, but is hoping a court case later this month could lead to renewed contact.

If so, Nick’s story could have the happy ending he once thought he might never have.

He was only freed after he became so ill with hepatitis C in prison that he begged for them to kill him. A judge ordered DNA evidence to be retested and he was cleared.

Today he still suffers physical pain from the beatings he took, but the “survivor’s guilt” is harder to bear.

He said: “For more than 20 years my identity was bonded with those people on death row, I cared about them. I believe life imprisonment is far worse than the death penalty.

“But as long as I have love I have hope and Jesse has proved that.”

Jesse – real name Jessica – is the reason he is rebuilding his life in Lincolnshire.

After his release in 2004, Nick wrote a book, released in 2008. Jessica, then aged just 18, was passed a copy by her boss where she worked at The Birds pub in Spalding.

She was so moved by it that the fate of the man who had spent all those years waiting to die preyed on her mind. In 2010 she sent Nick a message on Facebook.

Now living in St Leonard’s On Sea on the English coast, Nick was not at a good point and reacted badly. It led to him apologising and the two began to talk by text.

Their relationship blossomed slowly, but the couple were concerned about other people’s reactions, thinking they would believe Jessica had been brainwashed by this former death row inmate almost 30 years her senior.

They agreed to date, but Nick planned to return to the States after a year to his remaining family.

He said: “One night I had a text from Jessica to say she needed to talk to me. I drove the 350-mile round trip to Spalding. She told me that she couldn’t be happy knowing that when I left the UK I couldn’t be happy.

“I couldn’t believe someone so lovely could risk having her own life blown apart to be in love with me.”

“Her parents were worried and we had to go through a lot to be accepted but the support from her family since has been overwhelming.

“It is three years now and in that time I have done nothing but try hard to show that I don’t deserve what happened to me.

“I inherited a hard work ethic from my dad and I now work six days a week doing deliveries.

“We have a humble home and money is tight, but I am happy in Lincolnshire.

“I feel safe here. It is not like America, there are no guns on the streets.

“Jesse works in a pub and although I don’t drink I go there and try to be gregarious for her sake and I feel I have been accepted.

“That really hit home the first time Jesse’s nan called me duck. I just love that.

“I never put it out there what I have been through, but when something that big has happened you can’t hide from it, but neither can you be defined by it.

“It is part of who I am but look at what I developed from it.

“I found a sense of peace in hell – in the person I was – while they were trying to murder me, and calling me rapist and murderer.

“When I was first set free I didn’t know where home was going to be, but now I know it’s where people love you and I’ve found that here.”