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The day she was arraigned in Penfield.

The day she was arraigned in Penfield.

When Megan Merkel was arraigned in Penfield Town Court last summer, she sobbed to the judge she had no one to bail her out. The bail was only $25,000 cash or $50,000 bond, an amount not out of reach for most property owners. She had no one in her life to help.

During that short hearing, it was revealed she didn’t have custody of her two children and had previous convictions for minor thefts.

I remember feeling sorry for this 23-year-old woman who’d made some very bad choices. Her young life was a train wreck and was about to get a lot worse.

After spending 10 months in jail, Merkel was found guilty of driving drunk, but acquitted of vehicular manslaughter. The district attorney took a big gamble with the manslaughter charge. Police said from the start Merkel’s friend threw Heather Boyum into the path of the car Merkel was driving. The jury’s decision was incredibly easy to predict.

Merkel has since given a public apology.

In a discussion on my Facebook page about Merkel and forgiveness, someone wrote:

“I absolutely don’t accept her apology and I never will. There is not one courageous bone in her body. This is self serving so she could actually leave her house in this community. She’s the most hated person in all of Rochester, NY. Rot in hell, Merkel.”

In many online discussions, Merkel and her co-defendant have been referred to “white trash.”

I don’t find it so hard to have compassion for Merkel. I don’t find it so hard to want her to lead a good life. I don’t find it hard to accept her public apology.

If we don’t forgive her, who can we forgive? Several thousand people in our community are convicted every year of drinking and driving. If we don’t forgive their mistakes, for which they pay a hefty price, an awful lot of people would be friendless and jobless. Whether you know it or not, these are your family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Forgiveness is not the same as condoning the behavior.

Some asked if I would have so much compassion if Boyum was my teacher, sister, friend or mother. I’ve covered many trials and spoken to many heartbroken families. I think there is no real remedy when bad things happen to good people. What’s done is done. All we can hope is that the truth comes out and the system delivers an appropriate penalty. Nothing, however, can reverse a tragedy. We only have power over how we choose to grieve and move forward.

Even though reasonable people think otherwise, a jury found Merkel wasn’t responsible for Boyum’s death. She still faces sentencing for the driving infractions. But she has and will face a penalty for being “the most hated person in Rochester.”

As a community, we can do better.

43 Responses to Compassion and Megan Merkel

  1. June 6, 2013 at 4:40 pm Nick Francesco responds:

    Well put, Rachel. Great column.

  2. June 6, 2013 at 4:45 pm Juanita Medina responds:

    I, too, want Merkel to lead a healthy and productive life, Rachel. For our community’s sake and for her children’s. But compassion? That is something that has to be earned. She hasn’t earned it yet. Perhaps if she turns her life around one day, then at some point one can say, “Wow. Poor thing. Look at the horrible choices she made when she was younger. And the fallout that she has to deal with” What has she done so far that necessitates compassion? An apology? So? She apologized. That is NOT enough. Anyone can apologize. She did not look or sound that remorseful to me. They are just words to her. If YOU killed someone, in these same type of circumstances, and you truly felt remorseful and made a public apology, do you think the public could tell? Wouldn’t you make SURE there wasn’t a doubt? Personally, I wouldn’t be able to make any kind of a statement without sobbing, shaking, and full of shame. Her past actions speak louder than ANY of the words she now says.

    • Compassion is not something you earn, it is empathy for the suffering of others. It is something you either have or you lack. This girl made some horrible choices, but she did time before being convicted of any crime because she’s poor and alone.

  3. June 6, 2013 at 4:47 pm Juanita Medina responds:

    PS. Huge fan. Love your work. Just disagree with you on this one.

  4. June 6, 2013 at 4:48 pm Ginny Maier responds:

    Beautifully said, Rachel.

  5. June 6, 2013 at 4:55 pm goodgov responds:

    I also don’t find it hard to feel compassion for this woman and am confused as to how heaping rage and vitriol on her helps her victims, her or our larger community. I do however, take issue with the idea of “accepting” her apology. Forgiveness is profound and valuable – even more so when it is earned. Why not give her an opportunity to demonstrate, through sustained action, that she is sorry for her actions and takes FULL responsibility for the havoc she has wrought (I’m thinking about the effects of her behavior on her own children as well). Saying “sorry” independent of sustained personal change is both meaningless and infuriating.

    • June 6, 2013 at 5:01 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      I think if she hadn’t come out today and apologized, the media would have hounded her at every turn. I bet she meant it, but you’re right that she now has to turn her life around.

  6. June 6, 2013 at 5:03 pm Gary Craig responds:

    I’ve also been disturbed by the vitriol for the jurors in these cases. Whatever one thinks of their verdicts – and clearly people differ – I think it’s clear they were thoughtful about the law and the specific facts of this case. Their questions to the judge, and requests for readbacks, show they were wrestling with complex legal questions and a set of facts far from crystal-clear.

  7. June 6, 2013 at 5:05 pm Cindy Boyer responds:

    Well said Rachel – and I agree.

    Juanita – compassion is not something that is earned. Compassion is a gift, that actually benefits the person who is expressing it. Feeling compassion makes us better people, and it means we see beyond our own narrow point of view.

    It’s the same way with forgiveness – you can’t earn being forgiven, it is a gift that comes from the person.

    Respect, however, is earned.I agree with goodgov about giving her a chance to demonstrate through her actions that she truly has remorse for the act.

    How can that happen if she is treated as a pariah?

    I speak from the experience of one who lost her best friend to murder. I couldn’t feel the compassion right away, or forgive right away. But I have now.

    Forgive, yes – but forget, no.

  8. June 6, 2013 at 5:12 pm Robert Chandler responds:

    I find it difficult to grasp your position given her history. It is not ONLY this drunk driving infraction which resulted in the tragic death of a beloved, responsible (by all accounts) and INNOCENT victim. Look at her history as well. You can place all the blame on her equally-irresponsible companion, but they both were in the wrong and their irresponsible behavior killed a decent woman with a lot to live for. I am not going to judge this young woman, who has made her own life (and many others) miserable – that is not for me to do. But, I do find it impossible to just forgive and forget. It is very “PC” and common today to wipe away all of the perpetrators’ guilt but I just cannot agree with your position. To me it sounds painfully naive at the very least.

  9. June 6, 2013 at 5:16 pm goodgov responds:

    Rachel- You’re right about the media and the probable practical necessity of her apology. I also actually think she IS sorry. Turning that transient feeling into something valuable for her and those around her is the challenge.

  10. Rachel,

    I have always respected you as a journalist and reporter. Now, after having read your words regarding this case, I’ve come to respect you even more as a person. Too many times on TV and with politicians in the press, people have a tendency to say what they think the audience or public wants to hear, not what they really feel or believe. It is refreshing to read.

    I think this young lady will have nightmares for years to come and hopefully when the reality of what she did hits home, she will understand the responsibility that we all take on when we get behind the wheel. It was the jurors job to judge this young ladies actions and justice followed course. I can relate dealry to this incident in that my wif Kimberly was struck and killed while crossing Empire and Plank in 2002. Many a night I thought about putting the driver that hit her down because I don’t believe the truth came out and that he was distracted by something he was doing at the time of the accident. She left behind a 9, 11, & 13 year old for me to raise by myself and it took a log time for me to deal with the fact that the driver has had the luxury of 11 years more of life than my wife.

    This sounds like bad judgement across the board however, from everything that I have read and heard about the teacher killed, I question if she wouldn’t lean towards forgiveness for this young lady herself. Just food for thought from this veteran.

    • June 6, 2013 at 5:28 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Wow, Andrew. Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m so sorry for your loss. There are so many stories we never hear about. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your words.

  11. Scott Ireland’s comment on the FB page says a lot. I think the next couple of years will show if she truly learned that actions have consequences and we all have responsibilities.

    The deed can’t be undomne, but did she truly changes as a result? Let’s hope so.

  12. June 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm Nicholas Zuck responds:

    In my opinion, a minor technicality in the law kept Merkel from going to prison,where in my estimation , she belongs.THis is not a good person by any stretch, and she has earned every bit of rancor being directed her way.

  13. June 6, 2013 at 5:42 pm Mary Jo Polito responds:

    Completely disagree. She deserves nothing. Not forgiveness, not compassion and most CERTAINLY not to “go home to her 2 children”! She didn’t have her children prior to this. How can she say she is not responsible, whether she had alcohol in her system or not? SHE HAD NO LICENSE!!! Even if she was stone cold sober, she had no business being behind the wheel of the car! In my opinion, she shows her ignorance with that statement. She is not remorseful. How can she be when in her own words she doesn’t feel responsible? I don’t believe she will lose a nights sleep. I doubt she knows even the NAMES of the children she left motherless. She took Heather’s life. She is as equally responsible as Scerbo. I just pray the Boyum family can find peace after such an injustice.

  14. Here is the thing people don’t seem to realize:

    At the end of the day, the court of public opinion does not equal a conviction. Her past, her initial ire, her socioeconomic status all make her an easy target when an upper middle class, pretty White woman is the victim of a crime. I don’t say this to be inflammatory; I’m just making an observation. The simple fact is hit and runs happen often. While the facts of this one were particularly stomach turning, I’m fairly sure if the victim were of another race and lived on Avenue D instead of Fairport? This case wouldn’t even be in the media.

    I just wish people thought about this before screaming about the injustice of the whole thing. If you’re going to decry the whole legal system, at least be consistent and be angry about all those “other” sorts of people that die in hit and runs as well.

  15. June 6, 2013 at 5:54 pm Jeff responds:

    Compassion is a wonderful thing and is yours to give as you see fit.
    Here is why this young woman will not get mine.
    During her public relations event this afternoon she responded to two questions which I think reveal here true nature. I will paraphrase…
    #1. What would you tell kids going down the path you were going down?
    Her immediate answer was that she would tell them to be careful of the friends they choose. Not that they shouldn’t drink and drive. Not that they shouldn’t do drugs, although she eventually got around to that. She responded that people should choose their friends better. All that tells me is that she is blaming her friends and not herself or her actions at all.
    #2. Do you feel responsible?
    Her answer was immediately NO. Really? She was drunk, on drugs, driving without a license in a car she knew was a piece of junk and she has the audacity to claim that she was not responsible? Legal evaluations aside, I would assume that most penitent people having been even remotely attached to this situation would feel some sense of responsibility. What if she decided to follow the law and not drive? What if she decided to ask her friend who was driving recklessly to stop? What if she took any action that morning that wasn’t completely selfish?
    I wish her well. I hope she does something with her life that her children can look up to. I hope she can become a contributing member of society. However she will have to do so without my compassion.

  16. June 6, 2013 at 5:55 pm Auntieof3 responds:

    I feel compassion for merkel too. She has had 10 months of incarceration to think about her choices. I read her apology I didn’t watch it. I pray that she is sincere in wanting to turn her life around. I pray she demonstrates that. Rachel is correct that our society needs to be the bigger person. It seems that Megan Merkel grasps the magnitude of her choices. She states it was a HUGE wake up call. I also pray that the boyum family are able to forgive her. Ms. Merkel is correct in saying no matter how much she apologizes it won’t undo her horrible choices.
    I didn’t know Mrs. Boyum. However I can say that if it was my family I would forgive merkel because that is how my family is. Would it be today? Maybe not would it be easy? No.
    Rachel is correct in her statement, many people we know have made horrible choices at sometime in their life. Did they lead to another persons death? I hope not.
    To the gentleman who lost his wife in an accident; I’m sorry for your loss, I respect your courage.

  17. June 6, 2013 at 6:11 pm Bored...man...street responds:

    I have no compassion for her, she has 2 kids who she has already lost custody (first sign that she is incredibly irresponsible- why the hell does she have 2 kids??) and she’s out all night drinking and blowing some mystery white powder that turns out to be bath salts.
    The boyfriend had already been in prison for DWI, he should never touch a vehicle again.

  18. June 6, 2013 at 6:16 pm Derek Sanderson responds:

    This is one of the most powerful things I’ve read on here. Thank you for sharing. Many times, forgiveness is very hard. I hope Merkel is sincere and can change her direction in life. I hope the Boyum family can find peace.

  19. June 6, 2013 at 6:35 pm Joe M responds:

    Time will tell if she is truly penitent. My guess is she is not. Knowing a little more of her history than others I am not holding out hope for her to become a useful member of society. I have to wonder though if she has been told by counsel to not admit to any fault due to the potential for it to be used in a possible upcoming civil suit.

  20. June 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm David Johnston responds:

    If you are a parent and your child makes a poor choice, do you hate them for the rest of your life? Unlikely. You hope and pray and try and guide them to a productive life. You have truly hit the nail on the head! So powerful. Look at yourself. Have you not made poor choices but had people to help you thru the consequences? I hope Megan Merkel does. The past is done. I will forever feel for thei Boyum family. I hope and pray they find peace and happiness in the future.

  21. My thoughts….compassion? Forgiveness? Unless you know her or plan on crossing paths with her, it is really a non issue. Compassion and forgiveness are personal demons. It is not to benefit Merkel, it is to benefit you. As for me, I will more than likely never cross paths with her. As a result, I don’t even waste my time thinking about her. From what has been reported, I classify her as a burden on society. There are many people that I would put in that group. Simply spend time at courts and you will see plenty of repeat offenders who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, poor life choices, poor choice of friends, etc. it is a subculture of our society that is rarely reported on due to the PC crowd that would cry racism or abuse of the poor. The Merkels of our society are enabled by the social safety net of NYS that provides welfare, DSS benefits and SS disability benefits for anyone who clhoses this lifestyle. No, I don’t have compassion for Merkel. She put herself in a position that resulted in tragedy. I will end this by saying I totally agree with the jury decision. They were REQUIRED to base their decision on the facts and to how they met the elements of the law. I would suggest that the DA’s office overcharged. They were exposed for their poor performance. Maybe the investigative reporters should start questioning the DA’s office. Remember the purge of many experienced prosecutors when Doorley was elected. Are we paying the price now?

  22. June 6, 2013 at 9:29 pm Bill responds:

    Maybe she was found innocent based on the laws on the books, but I think all that means is we need new laws to govern this. If someone gets in a car or motorcycle and drives down the street and injures or kills someone they should be held responsible for that death. I don’t care if the person is “thrown” in front of them, that vehicle shouldn’t be on the road. If you don’t have a license you can drive, you are committing a crime by driving and while committing that crime you are involved in the death and injury of someone else; I think we need a law on the books that sends people away for a long time if that happens. We regulate everything else in this nanny state, we might as well regulate something that causes death, injury, and property damage on a daily basis. Talk to a cop or fireman, I bet they’d tell you they go to many accidents where one of the drivers doesn’t have a license.

  23. What purpose does compassion and forgiveness by uninvolved persons and the public serve? Does it make the uninvolved feel like a better person? Does it clear the conscience of the perpetrators? Does it give them a new lease on life? Wouldn’t it be better if wrongdoers made amends and demonstrated a commitment to turning their life around and making a contribution to society before they are made to feel they were the victims as I think you’ve done here. The trouble I find with your “what’s done is done” argument is it devalues life and diminishes society by absolving everyone before the fact.

    • June 6, 2013 at 11:33 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      I never said people shouldn’t be held accountable by the justice system.

      There is so much hate and vitriol directed at Merkel and the jurors, it is clear people do care about passing judgment, whether it is compassionate or not.

  24. June 7, 2013 at 7:25 am Animule responds:

    23 years old. Two kids she doesn’t have custody of because she wasn’t capable of taking care of them. Multiple daddies too? No driver’s license. High on bath salts and drunk to boot after a night of “partying” – great behavior for a parent of two. Gets behind the wheel and kills a person. And we’re supposed to “forgive” this and feel sorry for her? Give me a break. What are the odds that she has learned NOTHING from this entire episode and will repeat this pattern of behavior in the future?

  25. June 7, 2013 at 9:13 am mark responds:

    Struggling to understand why she needs forgiveness from anyone but the immediate victims and their families. We have no right to say we forgive or don’t forgive her.
    People need to focus their energy on making their lives better not waste time condemming strangers online.
    On the jurors, dont you think they have the same type feelings as the rest of us? BUT they’re privy to ALL of the details not what we hear on the news.

    • June 7, 2013 at 10:19 am Bonnie responds:

      Amen Mark. I’m a friend of Heather and her family and was at the trial everyday. I had her children at my house while Eric went to the hospital on the day she was killed. The only people who have the right to mete out compassion to Megan Merkel and decide if or when to forgive is her family. Talking about compassion just makes everyone else feel better. The Frazer/Boyum family doesn’t need to be schooled on this by anyone. Otherwise a big fan Rachel. You put this out there and a great discussion has followed.

      • June 7, 2013 at 10:38 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

        Thank you, Bonnie for your thoughts.

        I guess I don’t see why we can’t have compassion for both. I also do think we are all sitting in judgment of Merkel, thus the radio shows, online forums, etc. So we all have played a part in her judgment, though certainly it is deeply personal for the Boyum family.

  26. Jurors are not privy to all the details. Plenty of evidence gets thrown out and jurors never see it.

  27. June 7, 2013 at 11:22 am theodore kumlander responds:

    talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. if Megan was just one car behind her friend we would not even know her name. I feel sorry for her, she will never be able to forget how it felt to hit and kill someone, she has a life sentence in that department.

    • June 7, 2013 at 11:44 am Booored...man...street responds:

      I highly doubt that this was the first time she had been out all night and driven drunk, she clearly has terrible decision-making and chances are we would have known her name eventually.

  28. June 9, 2013 at 3:42 pm Louis T. Amico responds:

    Rachel… I so agree with you. It’s very difficult for many people to forgive someone who was involved with such a horrible and irresponsible act. And it is not easy for me either. But it is the right thing to do. Many of those commenting here are expressing the perfectly human emotions of outrage and resentment that lead them to hate and condemnation.

    For myself, I try to follow Jesus’ example when he forgave his executioners for putting him to a horrible death. Forgiveness is not only holy; but it also frees one’s spirit to feel peace. Thanks for your inspiring words of wisdom.

  29. June 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm Louis P. responds:

    Compassion belongs to good innocent people, not people like Merkel. She was no babe in the woods. She had thousands of opportunities to do the right thing in her life. Now she finally killed a beautiful person. It would be compassionate if Western New York took drunk driving seriously. It would be compassionate if we punished drunk drivers severely. Deterrence of drunk driving is compassionate to potential innocent victims, of which Heather Boyum was certainly one. Deterrence is compassionate to potential future offenders when they realize that the crime isn’t worth the time. The verdict in the Merkel case is unjust and the opposite of comapassion to the ones who truly deserve it.

  30. June 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm Louis T. Amico responds:

    To Louis P.:

    I agree with most of what you say here. However with regard to the verdict, and with all due respect to your feelings and opinion on the matter; neither you nor I were on the jury that rendered that decision. I therefore will not try to second guess the jury on evidence that I did not hear nor deliberate on.

    And with regard to justice; I am down with St. Paul in his letter to the Romans: “Justice is mine says the Lord.”

  31. May 23, 2014 at 2:54 am Dalan responds:

    Cleared in teacher’s death, Megan Merkel arrested — again


    Lets all join hands and puke a collective rainbow for this loser

  32. June 10, 2014 at 8:49 am Wanda Richardson responds:

    Rachel,everyone is entitled to their opinion;here is mine. There will be no compassion from me. Merkel has had her third child by as many fathers. She has been arrested again. My compassion is for my 2 grandchildren who go to bed at night blowing kisses to a mommy in heaven, a son who now lives without his best friend and wife. Merkel is as responsible for all of this as Scerbo. She was drunk and on drugs and driving the car that actually caused Heather’s death. If this is wrong, I am sorry.

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