Surrounded by the lights and greenery of the holiday season, a crowd of about 60 people lit candles in front of the Madison County Courthouse on Friday night and remembered two women who were killed violently two years ago.
Meredith King, 32, and Cornelia Gayle Mullins, 55, were found shot to death Dec. 4, 2010, in a Mullins’ Hillsdale Avenue home. John Payne, King’s boyfriend and Mullins’ son, was charged with murder the same day.
Friday night, people gathered in small groups at the courthouse, sipping coffee and hot chocolate while sharing their memories.
“She was awesome,” Renea Banks, of Berea, said about King when asked to describe her best friend since first grade.
Banks said King was outgoing and a good friend even when there were periods later in life that they didn’t see each other often.
King’s mother, Sharlene Evans, wanted to emphasize that the vigil also was for Mullins’ family and friends.
“They’re innocent people too,” Evans said. “We don’t want to leave Gayle out of this.”
After about 40 minutes, the group gathered in a loose circle in front of the courthouse steps while soft music played. One candle was lit, and the spark was passed around to each person until dozens of small flames glowed in the night.
Pastor Owen Moody from the Richmond House of Prayer comforted the group with words of solace and strength.
“It’s a sad occurrence to cause us to be back here again,” Moody said.
He added that sometimes in times of hardship it can seem like darkness overcomes the light, sadness eclipses joy and pain wins over strength.
“Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world,’” Moody said. “... These candles represent the light of a life that touched all of you.”
Moody said families who suffer violent loss such as this can never really get over it, “but by God’s grace, you can get beyond it.”
Several friends and family members of the two women spoke to the gathering about their memories.
“She always made you laugh,” one friend said about Meredith.
“Never a dull moment!” a man in the crowd replied as the group laughed.
A candlelight vigil also was conducted last year on the anniversary of the deaths. Evans and others have attended all court hearings at which Payne has appeared, wearing matching T-shirts with King’s picture on them.
Evans said the murder case should be resolved by this time next year, and she expected the family would have a private remembrance ceremony in the future.
Several trial dates have been set, including Dec. 5, 2011, and Oct. 8, but the case has faced delays. Payne is now set to stand trial April 15.
Commonwealth’s Attorney David Smith said in September that he would seek the death penalty against Payne if he is convicted by a jury.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6694.