Sue Jensen sat next to her mother in court and waited for the one word that might soothe the wounds from the wickedness that has afflicted the Vasholz family over the past decade.
She placed her hand on Betty Vasholz's knee.
Clerk John Friend opened the verdict form and pronounced the fate of the man sitting 15 feet in front of Jensen and Vasholz, Terrance Hale.
Jensen cupped a tissue to her face and wept. Vasholz looked down, dropping her chin and her hands onto her cane.
Jensen, Vasholz and the rest of their family hope tragedy ends in threes.
Ten years ago Sunday, Bob and Betty Vasholz's niece, Tina Williams, was stabbed to death by her estranged husband.
Six years ago, the Vasholzes' daughter, Beverly Flynn, died when a teenage gunman killed eight people at Von Maur.
And Monday, their neighbor, Terrance Hale, was convicted of what prosecutors described as the “brutal” beating and arson death of Raymond “Bob” Vasholz on Feb. 7.
The Vasholzes would have celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary this week.
“With all of this, you just don't ever believe it's going to hit so close to home,” Jensen said. “The question I have with my dad's death is 'Why? Why did all of this catapult to what it did?' ”
Only Hale knows that answer.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated three hours before declaring Hale guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Vasholz, 83.
In doing so, jurors rejected Hale's arguments that he was only at the scene after the fire — and that he had helped Betty Vasholz to safety.
A plucky, gray-haired woman with a cane and a keen wit, Betty Vasholz took the stand and told jurors that her name was spelled with V, “as in victory.”
She quickly contradicted Hale's claims — detailing the devastation that crashed through their basement window that Thursday morning.
A brick. Then a young man bounding up the stairs, knocking down Betty Vasholz and demanding money.
Betty told him they didn't have any money and offered to write a check. The man began beating the Vasholzes and set several fires throughout the house.
Betty managed to escape, only to watch her attacker claim to be her savior.
Prosecutor Jim Masteller said the case “came down to the testimony of Betty Vasholz.”
“She was sharp as a whip,” Masteller said. “She was able to stare the defense attorney down and answer all of his questions to ... the jury's satisfaction.
“If Betty Vasholz wasn't as strong of a woman as she is, not only would she have not been able to come to court and point at this defendant, she would not have made it out of that house alive,” Masteller said.
Jensen and Linda Hogan, the Vasholzes' niece, described Betty as spunky and spirited.
“She's a very strong woman,” Jensen said. “She was very dedicated to my father. One way or another, she was going to get him help that morning.”
Betty, 76, was devastated by her husband's death. Bob Vasholz — described as a strong-willed man — loved gabbing with people, especially about the train collection in his basement.
Betty couldn't bear to return to that home, Jensen said.
“What happened is burned in my brain,” she said.
But Betty Vasholz was determined to hold Hale accountable.
Though Hale's defense attorney pointed to Vasholz's vague and varied descriptions of the intruder in police interviews, Vasholz was adamant in court that Hale was the attacker.
Hogan said her aunt was undeterred by the defense's doubts.
“When Aunt Betty knows she's right,” Hogan said, “she definitely knows she's right.”
Prosecutors say her testimony was buttressed by the physical evidence at the scene.
Hale had two scrapes to his nose, which prosecutor Beth Beninato said were consistent with Vasholz's description of Hale breaking through the tiny basement window. Beninato also noted a large scrape and bruise on Hale's back, consistent with Betty Vasholz hitting him with a brass lamp.
And here's what jurors didn't hear: The 30-year-old Hale had served prison time for burglary and had a history of threatening behavior. In 2008, Hale's mother sought a protection order, alleging that he had “tried to burn my residence.”
“The attack on my parents was just a combination of everything he had done before,” Jensen said.
Jensen and Hogan said the combination of tragedies has been heart-wrenching for their family. Tina Williams was killed after trying to leave her abusive husband. Beverly Flynn was killed while wrapping Christmas gifts at Von Maur.
Bob Vasholz was killed in his home as the couple got ready for their daily routine: a trip to the store for a newspaper and a doughnut.
“It's hard to explain,” Jensen said. “Just devastation and shock. I think all of us — especially mom — have just tried to carry on with faith and the belief that God will get us through it.”