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Day in court brings fresh wave of pain

Eight years ago, Willie Crain abducted and killed 7-year-old Amanda Brown. He appeared in court again Friday, but the sight brought no closure for Amanda's father.

Published September 9, 2006

[Times photo: Joseph Garnett Jr.]
Roy Brown and his wife, Sylvia, embrace outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse Annex after sitting through a hearing for Willie Crain.

Amanda Brown
Willie Crane

TAMPA - Roy Brown wanted Willie Seth Crain Jr. to die for killing his 7-year-old daughter Amanda in 1998. But he also wanted an answer.

Ten, maybe 15, times Brown tried to write the letter. Only anger and insults spilled from his pen.

Then, days ago, Brown got word that the death row inmate would return to court Friday. Brown couldn't sleep. He had to write.

Mr. Crain, he began, choosing his words carefully with the help of a retired sheriff's deputy friend.

Our innocent little girl placed her trust in you as a friend, and as a result of that trust, lost her life. ... Every day not knowing where she is, not having laid her to rest, it is torture for all of us, especially my family. If that is your goal, then it is working.

On Sept. 11, 1998, Roy Brown's ex-wife awoke to find Amanda missing from her Seffner home. Crain, who had spent the night hours after meeting the mother and daughter, was gone too.

Hillsborough sheriff's officials and volunteers eventually found drops of Amanda's blood on the convicted child molester's toilet and underwear. They didn't find Amanda.

The mystery haunted Brown, 55. Seared in his memory was the way Crain had looked at Brown and his current wife after a judge announced the death sentence.

"He grinned at me and Sylvia," Brown recalled this week, "and told me he wasn't going to die."

In recent years, Brown has been a quiet fixture at the scenes of missing children.

Last week, the Amanda Brown Foundation became an official nonprofit organization. Brown wants to give financial and emotional support to families of abducted children and educate parents about sexual predators.

Still, Brown kept bottled inside the words he needed one man to hear.

"I want Amanda," he said.

For so long, he had worried about what might happen if he finished the letter. He knew name-calling and bitterness wouldn't achieve anything. He thought a rambling diatribe would dilute the effect.

"I was told all through the court process just don't look at him, don't talk to him, don't show no emotions or nothing," Brown said. "You're just scared to death that if you say anything ... he'll get an appeal."

Two years ago, the Florida Supreme Court upheld Crain's conviction and death sentence. The appellate process is in its early stages, to Brown's dismay.

"He already outlived my daughter, and there's something wrong with that," Brown said.

But Brown wondered this week if time might be his friend. Maybe Crain was ready to reveal Amanda's whereabouts.

Brown decided he would give Crain, now 60, the letter at the hearing. Wednesday night, through tears, he started yet another draft. He added the last touches the next morning, then gave it to his wife to type on foundation letterhead.

We can only pray to God that he helps us through each day and one day will enter into your life and guide you to do the right thing. Let us know where we can find Amanda. Let us bring her home where she belongs today. Sincerely, Roy Brown, Amanda's father

Feeling "a relief and a half" about having finally written the letter, Brown carried it to court Friday morning - only to learn that he would not be permitted to hand it to Crain.

He could do nothing, except strain to control his anger at the sight of Crain and listen to perfunctory talk about appellate motions and Crain's relationship with his attorneys. Like others in the courtroom, Brown learned Crain has colon cancer.

The hearing ended, and Brown still had the letter. But he had taken the first step toward peace.

This weekend, he'll take another. On their way to Tallahassee for a memorial service honoring Florida's missing children Monday, Brown and his wife will stop at the prison for death row inmates in Starke.

They can't deliver the letter to Crain in person, but they can leave it at his front door.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 813 226-3337 or

[Last modified September 9, 2006, 00:31:59]

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