As a doctor, Denise Taylor is expected to be compassionate. However, she could hardly be expected to feel any compassion for Ronnie Fields. You see, Ronnie is the man who murdered Denise’s brother — Jonathan “Bo” Taylor — in 1984.
Many people will be shocked when they learn why Denise and her father Jim attended Ronnie’s parole board hearing at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, California. Unlike other victims or victims’ families, they weren’t there to oppose the parole for Ronnie. They were there to support it.
Denise and her younger brother Bo at her high school graduation.
To understand the Taylors’ motivation for trying to help give back Ronnie’s freedom, people need to know exactly how it got to this point. It didn’t happen in an instant, that for sure.
The tragic tale starts in September 1984. At that time, Denise was just 22 and her brother Bo was 19. She was gearing up to go to medical school, while he was going through a rebellious phase.
Denise and Bo had no idea their time together would be limited.
One afternoon, Bo and his friend were hanging out at Manhattan Beach. They met two African-American girls who asked them for a ride home. The girls lived in Compton.
In her special report for BBC, Katya Cengel explained: “That is how Bo, a white boy from an upper-middle-class suburban enclave, ended up in Compton in the 1980s, a time when the crack epidemic was destroying inner cities.”
When they reached Compton, Bo and his friend parked outside a liquor store. Then, they just randomly asked two young African-American men where they could get some pot. One of those men was Ronnie Fields.
The BBC report noted: “Ronnie initially thought Bo and his friend were cops. Then, after he figured out they were just clueless kids, he decided to rip them off.”
Ronnie decided to take the boys’ money without delivering the pot. In order to make sure Bo and his friend wouldn’t fight back, Ronnie got a homemade gun from his car. He pointed it at the boys and told them to run.
While Bo’s friend managed to get away, he wasn’t so lucky. Ronnie ended up shooting him right in the heart. He died and Ronnie was sentenced to a minimum of 27 years in prison.
Denise and her family supported the verdict. They tried to move on from the tragedy.
However, Denise revealed that she started thinking about Ronnie again in 1997. She was a newly minted doctor back then, so she was often assigned sent out to locations where the hospital’s senior staff didn’t want to go. One of these assignment was required her to treat inmates at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo County, a medium-security men’s prison that’s halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The last two places where Bo was seen alive.
As she heard the inmates’ stories, Denise was struck by the fact that many of them were actually quote normal. She said, “They were nice people who made mistakes.” Indeed, many of her patients expressed regret for what they had done.
As such, Denise suddenly became curious about what had happened to Ronnie. In 2005 — 21 years after Ronnie murdered her younger brother Bo — Denise wrote to him and asked if she could visit him.
The letter where Ronnie poured his heart out to Denise.
Ronnie’s reply to her letter was unexpected. Part of his letter reads: “Miss Taylor, you made a request to visit me and I am ashamed to see you though I owe your family as much so therefore I will honor your request to visit.”
That was the start of Denise and Ronnie’s friendship. The first time visted Ronnie, he expressed his remorse for what he had done. He told her, “I’m sorry for what I took from you. I’m sorry I’ve caused you this pain.”
The next time Denise visits Ronnie, her father Jim is with her. Jim is a devout Christian who believes in redemption. Although he was initially enraged by the thought of Ronnie killing son and had even wanted him dead, he has forgiven him.
Both Denise and her father began attending Ronnie’s parole board hearings. Ronnie had been eligible for parole starting 2001. However, he kept getting rejected due, of course, to the brutal nature of his crime.
Denise and her dad Jim forged a relationship with Ronnie.
Denise and Jim expressed their support for setting Ronnie free, as Bo was his only victim and they believed that he wouldn’t do it again. It was Jim who said that he wanted Ronnie to be released “while he is still young enough to enjoy freedom.”
Jim is quoted as saying, “I think maybe 10 to 15, possibly 20 years, that was justice for Bo, He’s not going to come back. So now the justice I got to worry about is justice for Ronnie. And I don’t think a life sentence is just for him.”
Another indication of Ronnie’s growing closeness to Denise and Jim was the fact that he listed Denise as his next of kin in his prison documents. Apparently, they had both been optimistic that he would get paroled that he sent her his guitar along with the clothes he planned to wear when he got paroled.
It's almost as if Ronnie took Bo's place as Denise's brother.
Through the help of Denise and Jim’s consistently strong testimonies in favor of granting him parole, Ronnie finally got what he wished for. He got paroled. He had gone into prison a 24-year-old man. He was pushing 57 when he recently got out.
The first thing Ronnie did when he found out he was getting paroled was call Denise. Jim even offered to let Ronnie live with him when he got out.
However, Ronnie preferred to go to a transitional home before joining his family. He reasoned that while he knows the Taylors have forgiven him, it sometimes gets hard for him to be with them. He explained, “We try to have the best time. But it’s always in me, that guilt is always in me that I took their loved one away from them.”
After 33 years in prison, Ronnie is out on parole thanks to Denise and Jim.
Ronnie, by the way, is on parole for life. He has to check in with his parole officer twice a month, every month for the rest of his life. He also has to take the periodic substance tests mandated by law.
Ronnie is now doing well and is looking forward to rejoining his family. He has, of course, kept in touch with the Taylors. It seems that they are helping him start a new life. He thanks the Taylors for giving him a second chance even when they had every right to condemn him.