By Dave Pearce
A 74-year-old Poseyville woman celebrated what she termed as her “Best birthday ever” on Sunday afternoon, July 8. Ina Kay Simpson, who lives with her sister in Poseyville, indicated Sunday evening that she was “thrilled beyond words” when she learned that the man who killed her husband 14 years ago would be released from prison the day after her birthday.
Erick S. Schmitt, 33, will be released Monday from the Indiana Department of Corrections because of a sentence modification granted Thursday by Senior Judge Michael Eldred in Vigo Superior Court 1.
Schmitt was convicted of murder and attempted murder in connection with the 1998 murder of Charlie Simpson, Ina’s husband of 22 years. Mr. Simpson was 55 at the time. He was a clerk at the Moto Mart near the intersection of Highway 65 and I-64 when he was shot and killed. Another individual in the store at the time was also injured.
Schmitt was captured on surveillance video walking into the store, firing a gun numerous times at Simpson, then shooting and injuring another customer in the store.
Schmitt faced the death penalty, but the jury felt the murder of Charlie Simpson wasn’t pre-meditated, and they believed testimony by drug experts that Schmitt wasn’t fully aware of the crime he was committing because he was so high on drugs. According to records, at the time of the crime, he was high on LSD, methamphetamine, and cocaine.
The case was originally tried in Vigo County after being venued from Vanderburgh County, where it was filed as a death penalty case.
But Simpson’s widow, Ina Kay, has been one of the biggest proponents of Schmitt’s incredibly early release.
“He’s a changed man,” Schmitt said in a Sunday evening interview. “He has become my brother in Christ.”
Ina has been actively involved in the hearings since Schmitt was incarcerated in 1998.
“It was his Aunt Maggie (Rapp) who has kept me in contact since the very beginning,” Simpson explained.
Ironically, the two women had met in a Bible study. For seven years the two women had been sharing rides to a Bible study and love of Scripture together.
According to an excerpt from The Message, the Evansville Diocese newspaper, when Maggie received the devastating news of her nephew’s arrest and found out the incident involved Ina’s husband, it added even more grief to the situation. Maggie immediately went to Ina to offer comfort and support. Ina not only accepted it but embraced it.
Ina began writing to Erick to offer support to turn his life around, to educate himself and prevent another young person from this path of destruction with drugs and violence.
“Christ bore the sins of the world for all of us, even before we were born,” Ina Simpson said on Sunday. “Since he went through all of that for us, how could I not forgive him?”
But Charlie was the love of her life.
“People always just loved Charlie,” Simpson said of her late husband. “The young girls around Cynthiana, when Charlie would drive through town in his Torino, they would run out and ask him if he was going to the movies in Princeton if it was on a Saturday. He would have a carload of those girls and they would be pitching their quarters into the console to help pay for gas. Yes, everybody loved Charlie.”
After the pair met when Ina was 27, they found out that their mothers had gone to school together. She shared that the two families had gotten together for farm dinners and wheat threshings in the past.
But Simpson speaks with similar excitement when she talks about Erick Schmitt. Schmitt holds a similarly dear place in her heart after convincing her, his family (particularly his father), and prison officials that he, indeed, has changed.
Ina says she simply has not allowed herself to harbor bitterness over the years. It would eat away at her and make her miserable. And once she realized Schmitt had accepted Christ, she encouraged him to forgive himself, just as Christ had forgiven him when he repented and accepted Christ as his Savior.
Simpson said at one of the hearings, prison officials had asked her if she ever felt “hatred” toward Schmitt.
“I turned around and looked them right in the face and said, ‘my goodness no’,” she recalls.
As a matter of fact, she says she can remember during the showing of Charlie Simpson, she stood near her husband’s coffin and asked for prayer for the young people who had committed the crimes and their families.
During his time at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility at Carlisle, Ind., Schmitt completed every educational program available to him, as well as drug programs, and maintained a clean conduct record. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in human services, and had earned maximum credit time permitted by the Department of Correction’s classification program.
“His mother, Suzy, told me that Erick was reading the Bible like everything and was praying,” Simpson said gleefully. “Six of the priests or ministers had chosen him to preside over the Bible studies in a case they couldn’t be there. He plans to go on to school for four more years and get his Deacon’s degree. He needs to be out telling his story. The world needs him.”
The forgiveness and support Ina offered Erick gave him hope to make the necessary changes in his life, with education and faith being the primary focus. Her unconditional love provided him the opportunity for a second chance at life. He has apparently accepted it with an equal passion for a trusting God.
It was during their first face-to-face meeting that Simpson told Schmitt that he could help change the world.
“There are so many kids out there that are using drugs and things and I believe God wants to use Erick to talk to these kids and tell them about what he has been through,” Simpson said. “Even the officials at the prison have said that the place is not as hardened because of the message of hope that Erick’s faith has brought to them.”
Simpson recalls her first face-to-face visit with Schmitt vividly.
“God was with us giving me what I needed to say to Erick. I wanted him to someday teach children about the evil of drugs. His eye to eye sincere contact brightened up when I told him that he was needed to share that message,” she said. “He looked at me as if he had suddenly found the answer and said, ‘so that’s what God has planned for my life’.”
Ina is a member of the Fair Haven Christ Fellowship Church in Cynthiana.
Ina said that her dear friends the Schmitts, stopped by her house on Sunday to bring a birthday card. She said she is always glad to see them.
He will be placed on home detention with electronic monitoring through the Posey County Community Corrections program for the balance of his sentence, which has a prison release date in September 2016. He must also serve 10 years on probation and submit to drug screens.
Another teen convicted in the shooting and robbery, Ryan Specht, has a prison release date in June 2017. The third defendant, Michelle Evans, was released from prison in June 2009. Schmitt was 19 at the time of the shooting.
In an interview with Stefanie Silvey, and Evansville news investigative reporter, the Schmitts said they knew their son had problems with drugs. They went to counseling and parenting classes, and they even sent Erick to military school in Canada. Then when all else failed, they kicked him out.
But the Schmitt’s never imagined their son would kill someone. Looking back, the Schmitt’s say the warning signs were there, but by the time they realized it, it was too late.
“Parents be aware, even at a young age, don’t be as naive as we were,” Suzy said. “You hate to say phone calls and notes but kids write a lot of things down and you hate to be a snoop, but then again you don’t want to fail your child and that’s part of why Erick is in there is because somewhere along the line I failed.”
Simpson indicated that she would be supportive of Schmitt’s efforts to speak where ever he gets an opportunity.