When it becomes a parent's turn to speak for the first time at the Christy House in the Pines, a cabin and retreat center in northern Arizona for the loved ones of murdered children, one of its owners says it's not uncommon for intense emotion to leave them at a loss for words.
Carol and Roger Fornoff, who own the cabin and named it in honor of their slain daughter, believe they have just about exhausted what they have to say after talking about their ordeal for more than two decades while awaiting justice. Wednesday marks the 27th year since Christy Ann Fornoff's body was found wrapped in a sheet behind a Dumpster at a Tempe apartment complex two days after she went missing while collecting payments for her Phoenix Gazette newspaper route at Rock Point Apartments, 2045 S. McClintock Drive.
She was killed by Donald Beaty, a maintenance worker with a checkered past who pulled her into his apartment, sexually assaulted and suffocated her as he gagged her to the point she choked on her own vomit while she was trying to cry out for her mother. He kept the girl's corpse inside his apartment for two days, according to court documents.
Beaty, 56, who has been on death row since July 1985, is scheduled to be executed May 25 by lethal injection at a state prison in Florence for the death of the Connolly Middle School seventh-grader who now would be 40 years old. Beaty has exhausted his appeals. The Fornoffs are waiting to see if the legal maneuvering of Beaty's attorneys has come to an end as they plan to attend his execution.
From missing to murdered, a gruesome death
In 1984, Christy Fornoff's death captured national attention, put the Valley on edge, and led to management at apartment complexes conducting better background checks on people they considered hiring. It also put a stop to in-person newspaper collections.
But the heartache, hell and frustration of court proceedings continue for the Fornoff family, which had moved to Tempe from Buffalo, N.Y., in August 1983 to be closer to their oldest son and grandchildren. Christy had been delivering newspapers in the neighborhood for about six months when she was killed, her mother, Carol Fornoff said.
"Sometimes, it seems that long ago; other times, it seems like yesterday," Carol Fornoff told the Tribune. "It's not like we think about this all the time, but only when another thing comes up involving the execution. Then, you go through it all over again."
The tragedy also led to a $1.5 million settlement for the Fornoffs from the apartment complex, which had not conducted a background check on Beaty.
In Tennessee, Beaty had been convicted in a stolen property case involving rings, according to Mike Palmer, the lead Tempe police detective on the case who now works in the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. Beaty also had been convicted of trying to sell his son in Texas and had been fired from the two apartment complexes where he worked prior to Rock Point for questionable behavior including peeping in windows, according to past published reports.
Carol Fornoff and her husband Roger once regularly spoke about the death of their child, but the family's interviews with the media have declined in recent years as Beaty has been granted appeal after appeal. Roger Fornoff did not want to comment for this story.
A recent quagmire involved Beaty's attorneys trying to get his order or execution stayed because of how one of three drugs used during lethal injections was obtained - sodium thiopental, a sedative that is used before potassium chloride is injected to deliver the fatal blow. Sodium thiopental is in short supply in the U.S., and the state has been acquiring it from a British company. But the drug has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and was obtained illegally, attorneys contend. The Arizona Supreme Court has yet to hear the case.
And just last week, Beaty's attorney Sarah Stone filed a motion in Maricopa County Superior Court contending that the death sentence should be overturned on the grounds that one of his former trial attorneys never presented evidence that he was sexually abused as a child and suffers from brain damage from being beaten in the head by his father, according to the court documents.
The recent legal maneuverings have further emotionally agitated the Fornoff family.
"I'm in tears now," Carol Fornoff said on Monday, the anniversary of the day Christy was murdered.
On May 9, 1984, Fornoff was helping Christy collect money on her paper route the day she went missing, letting her daughter go ahead of her to a building of the Rock Point complex as Carol Fornoff stopped to talk to a resident who was complimenting their dog.
But Christy didn't return. Her younger brother's bike she was riding was outside the building, but Christy was nowhere to be found. Police were called, but didn't have enough probable cause to conduct a door-to-door search of apartments. Groups of people began to search for Christy, including Beaty who went up and down apartment stairs with Roger Fornoff to falsely assist in a search for the girl he had killed minutes before. On May 11, 1984, Beaty told police that he found the body wrapped in a sheet behind a Dumpster, but witnesses saw him at the trash bin before he told police he said he discovered her body there. When police executed a search a search warrant in Beaty's apartment, they discovered evidence that put the girl inside, including a ferret hair found on her body left behind from a previous tenant who had kept the animal in a closet. Christy's vomit still was on the floor of the closet where Beaty gagged her. It matched a smear of vomit on her body, according to court documents.
While incarcerated in Maricopa County's Durango jail, Beaty told a psychologist that he didn't mean to kill Christy, but covered her mouth to keep her from yelling for her mother.
Ralph Tranter, who retired as the Tempe police chief about two years ago, was a sergeant for the Tempe Police Department in 1984 and oversaw the team conducting surveillance on Beaty until investigators had enough evidence to arrest him. He said it is not that unusual for death-row cases to go on for more than 20 years.
"Any time an execution comes up and you look at the date of the crime, it's often 20 to 25 years," Tranter said. "The family never gets closure because executing someone who murdered a love one will never bring that loved one back, but at least this execution will bring a resolution in this chapter. The wheels of justice turn, but all too often, slowly."
In June 1985, Beaty was convicted of first-degree murder and sexual assault. The next month he was sentenced to death for killing Christy, who was described by her mother as someone who had a good outlook on life and was a helpful child among seven siblings. Christy was learning pom-pom routines from her neighbor so she could part of her school's pom line the next school year.
"Christy wanted to be a star," Carol Fornoff said. "She wanted to be a model."
But that next school year for Christy never came.
Faith, family and friends
A devout Catholic family with seven children, 25 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter, the Fornoffs have leaned on their faith to help them through the tragedy and years of legal proceedings.
"We are very fortunate to have dear family, friends and our faith," Carol Fornoff said. "We pray for God's will."
Seventeen years ago, the settlement from the apartment complex where Christy was killed helped the Fornoffs purchase the cabin named for Christy. To date, more than 2,000 people have visited for retreats or healing purposes, Fornoff said.
"The cabin has been able to help us in our healing process," she said.
But the scars from Christy's death remain in the neighborhood where the Fornoffs once lived.
Bill Gordon and his wife Lorraine, who lived next door to the Fornoffs and have lived in the Palmcroft Manor neighborhood since 1964, still remember the crime as if it happened yesterday.
"It was such a shock," Bill Gordon said. "People everywhere were stunned. She was just a cute, sweet little girl. She was full of life and energy. Anyone who came in contact with her liked her."
"To let someone sit on death row this long for what they did is a farce of the justice system," he added. "It's a bad, bad system that drags this out for so long. It's torture to the family of the victim."
It wasn't the first time Gordon knew someone who was brutally murdered:
He also was friends with Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles, who was killed from a car bomb explosion in 1976 in the midst of investigating a land fraud deal between members of the state legislature and organized crime.
When asked if she believes justice has been served, Carol Fornoff's answer is perhaps like that of an emotional parent speaking for the first time at that house in the pines and struggling to find the words:
"Well, he's been off the street all this time, so we can somewhat be thankful for that," Fornoff said. "We are relying on God's will and whatever happens, we'll deal with it. We truly believe our God walks with us, and Christy walks with us, too."
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