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Justice delayed; Mother waits almost 30 years for daughter’s killer to face justice

By Brandon Evans | Published Saturday, September 29, 2012

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MOTHER’S MEMORIES – Ever since a killer took the life of her 18-year-old daughter more than 28 years ago, Sharon Harvey was left with only photographs and memories of her only daughter, while the killer roamed free. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

More than 28 years ago, Ginger Hayden’s 18-year-old body was laid to rest, her coffin covered with dirt.

Meanwhile, her suspected killer, a 17-year-old neighbor, lived free. He moved on with the life Ginger never had a chance to enjoy.

Grass soon covered the troubled soil over her grave.

The suspected killer, Ryland Shane Absalon, now 45, moved out of state. He got married, had kids, got divorced, got married again.

Flowers were placed again and again at Ginger’s headstone, at a cemetery in Kennedale, the marble and grass spotted again and again by a mother’s tears.

Yet Absalon got to hear the cry of his newborn children. He got to see them crawl, walk and speak for the first time. He enjoyed a full life he never granted his victim.

Yet he, too, was haunted all those years. Even if he didn’t know it, the ghost of a mother’s belief that justice would one day be served was all around him.

PICTURES OF YOU – After escaping justice for almost 30 years, the murderer of 18-year-old college student Ginger Hayden was finally convicted of capital murder last Friday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

A MOTHER’S NIGHTMARE

Wise County resident Sharon Harvey remembers it like it was yesterday. The memory of her daughter, Ginger, and what happened to her 28 years ago plays out in her head every day.

Harvey returned home from work about 4 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 1984. Instead of checking on her daughter in the next room like she usually did, she went straight to bed. She woke up a couple of hours later to the sound of an alarm blaring.

“I went to bed at 4, and at 6 I heard her alarm go off,” Harvey said. “I said, ‘Turn your alarm off, Ginger,’ but it never went off. So I got up and went in there. I didn’t see the blood. I saw nothing. I only saw that my daughter was lying underneath the bed. I thought she was playing a trick on me. I touched her leg, to shake her, but her leg was cold.

“I held onto the walls. Walked over to the telephone. I called the operator and said, ‘I think my baby is dead.’

“Then I went outside and started screaming.”

The night before, Absalon had broken into their apartment. Upset that Ginger had refused his advances, he plotted revenge. He hid in the closet, waiting. He waited for Ginger to finish her shower and climb into bed. Then he attacked – a brutal, savage outburst in which he stabbed her more than 50 times with a steak knife.

He crept out and left the carnage behind, a beautiful young woman ready to begin the next phase of her life lay dead in a pool of blood. But he also left behind DNA – a towel in the bathroom containing some of his blood.

“It goes through my mind every day,” Harvey said. “He stabbed her 57 times with a steak knife. I don’t know how somebody can do that.”

The killer was brazen. As the investigators came in to study the crime scene and remove Ginger’s body, they told Harvey she should go sit down someplace else. So she went to a neighbor’s apartment.

“So I went upstairs to (Absalon’s) dad’s apartment,” she said. “I was in shock.

“That was when I smoked. So I asked (Absalon) if I could have a cigarette. And he looked like he was on another planet. Finally his dad said, ‘Shane! Give her a cigarette!’

“He couldn’t even hand it to me. He threw it over to me. We were sitting on the couch, and a little later they took Ginger out. He just looked out the window and watched. And he’s the one that did it.”

CLINGING TO HOPE – Wise County resident Sharon Harvey wears a pendant with the photo of her late daughter, Ginger Hayden. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

JUST BEGINNING

A necklace with a picture of Ginger when she was 17 years old dangles around Harvey’s neck.

“She was beautiful,” Harvey said of Ginger. “She was smart. She graduated magna cum laude in her high school class. She played the piano. She didn’t play sports. Getting good grades was her thing.”

Harvey moves around her house with the help of an electric wheelchair, pointing out the photos of Ginger with her family. Several years before her daughter’s murder, Harvey was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

The illness prompted Ginger to enroll at the University of Texas at Arlington and major in physical therapy. But she only got the chance to attend one day of classes before her life was cut short.

Ginger’s death also caused Harvey’s condition to worsen.

“Well, the progression was slow until she was killed,” Harvey said. “I was still walking. Then it just went bonkers.”

She kept Ginger’s memory alive through the years by putting up pictures everywhere. Harvey also changed her middle name to Hayden, Ginger’s last name, to help keep her memory alive.

And she never stopped hoping.

JUSTICE DEFERRED

Absalon was a prime suspect in the case, but there was never enough evidence early on to hold him accountable.

“When it first started, they thought Shane did it,” Harvey said. “But they didn’t have any evidence. At the time Ginger was dating Jeff Green. He would come over and visit, then he’d visit Ginger and so would Shane. All their fingerprints were everywhere. They couldn’t prove anything.”

Also, the science of crime scene investigation wasn’t what it is today.

“In 1984, they didn’t have the DNA,” Harvey said. “Then he moved to Washington state. He got married and had some kids.”

But she always knew who it was.

“I had faith,” Harvey said. “I waited all these years. I asked God, ‘Who killed her? Show me something.’ Nothing happened. But then 1,000 years is like a day to God. I don’t know why He waited so long.”

THAWING OUT THE CASE

On the morning after the murder, Harvey had thrown a towel on the bathroom floor. It soaked up water and blood. The blood in that towel was from Absalon. It provided definitive evidence of his guilt. It took almost 20 years before the cold case unit in the Fort Worth Police Department was able to unravel his DNA from the fibers of that towel.

“Cold case started with the towel,” Harvey said. “They called me and told me they were interested in it, and I said, ‘Good!’”

It took another 10 years to get him to trial.

DNA evidence uncovered by Fort Worth police department’s cold case unit linked Absalon to the crime scene. But Absalon had also confessed to the grisly murder just two years after committing it, during drug and alcohol abuse treatment sessions. He said he had killed Ginger because she had turned down his advances.

The trial began Monday, Sept. 17. It came to a close last Friday.

CLOSURE

In a Fort Worth district courtroom, jurors convicted Absalon of capital murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

“The district attorney told me to remain silent and still and stoic when the verdict was read,” Harvey. “I said, ‘Yesss’ under my breath. But I was so happy. I let go once I got out of the courtroom. I started to cry. My husband knows I cry when I’m really happy.”

Absalon couldn’t be given the death penalty because he was only 17 when he committed the brutal murder.

Harvey said she prefers the sentence of life in prison over the death penalty.

“I didn’t want him to have the death penalty because that would be too easy,” Harvey said. “Plus, it costs a lot of money because he would keep going back to appeal.”

The verdict helped end a long and painful chapter in a mother’s life.

“It’s a relief,” Harvey said. “It’s a closure. I just wanted it to end. I wanted it to be over with. They can’t bring her back. I was just ready for them to take him away.”

Along the way she never gave up hope that he would be brought to justice.

“I’m trying to give people hope,” Harvey said. “Never give up. If I’d given up (Absalon) would have lived the rest of his life out. I would never give up.”

And now, as the leaves of autumn blow over Ginger’s grave, Absalon’s life has finally been put on hold. His unwarranted freedom has been revoked, and the ghost of hope can rest.

Justice has been served, and a mother cries tears of relief.

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