The Confusing Morality of Eric Windhurst’s Murder of Daniel Paquette
Thoughts Inspired by Our Little Secret and the story of Eric Windhurst
On the morning of November 9, 1985, 17-year-old Eric Windhurst shot Danny Paquette dead in Paquette’s own backyard.
It was a shot of some 300 yards, and Windhurst made it a single try. One shot. One kill. A remarkable shot.
The bullet sailed right through Paquette’s heart and out his shoulder. It was found days later lodged in a telephone pole.
Windhurst wasn’t alone that morning. He was accompanied by 15-year-old Melanie Paquette — stepdaughter of the slain Danny. She was the one who initially wanted Danny dead.
They were both on the soccer team, with Melanie being the only girl to ever play on the school’s boys squad. Windhurst was the most popular kid in school. They didn’t carry the murder out for fun. They didn’t do it for money.
They did it because they thought it was right.
Danny Paquette, by all accounts, was a troubled man who did troubling things. He was physically abusive. He was overbearing and bullying. Mostly forgivable sins, perhaps. But the reason Melanie wanted her stepfather dead was because, according to her (and these claims have never been proven), Danny molested her throughout her childhood.
Melanie was also afraid that Danny was going to find her after she’d secretly moved to a nearby town and started a new life. She lived in a daily fear. In order to protect her, her friend (they were never romantically or sexually involved) Eric Windhurst volunteered to take care of the problem for her.
It’s a shocking story of teenage passions run amok. Also one of a small town’s willingness to protect its own.
One question stuck with me most powerfully through the reading of this story, though. Reading every page, I kept finding myself asking the same thing over and over.
Was the murder wrong?
It was stupid. There’s no doubt about that.
The zealous passion of teenagers was clearly the fuel for a plan that was practically guaranteed to end badly for everyone.
Vigilantism is also clearly a dangerous thing to let loose in society. It should be illegal — always — because the entire concept is propped up on several slippery slopes. A society where justice is meted out by revenge cannot stay together for long.
But was it WRONG?
I ask myself that question in consideration that Danny really did habitually sexually abuse Melanie. That’s actually not clear-cut, which is something I want to make clear. For all of Danny’s provable crimes, his molestation of Melanie was never proven in or out of court.
Melanie had a history of lying about big things. The molestation charges were never tried, much less proven. Still, it’s not difficult to think the man capable of it. It’s also not difficult to think of his general violence and meanness as being enough to scare the girl into lying.
Beyond those questions, simply assuming that Danny did do those things for sake of this article, I find myself confused as to whether or not killing him was wrong in the simplest sense of the word “wrong.”
Eric and Melanie didn’t go to jail right away for this crime. It took 20 years, in fact, for the law to finally catch up with them.
By that time Melanie had five children in a happy marriage. Eric was loved by his community. He was a carpenter. Everyone called his work ethic unquestionable.
Then, in 2005, the lives of these two seemingly good people were brought to a screeching halt for the teenage murder of a man that by nearly every account was abusive and dangerous. It had happened long ago. Most people in town didn’t really particularly care that Danny died. “Good riddance” seemed to be the most popular sentiment.
Are all crimes forgivable? What are the implications if they are? Perhaps more importantly, what are the implications if they are not?
These are the things I find myself asking after reading Windhurst’s story.
Beyond the specific tale of Windhurst and the Paquettes, I find myself wondering about a broader topic. Sexually abusing a child is a heinous, revolting crime, but is it forgivable? In some deep part of my psyche, I don’t think it is. But, what are the implications if it or any other crime isn’t?
As I read Our Little Secret, I found myself hoping that Eric and Melanie would get away with it. I felt no sympathy whatsoever for Danny, nor could I connect with the crusade of his family who (admirably, in a sense) never let the case die and made sure Danny’s killers were brought to justice.
Danny’s brother Victor, particularly, would not let the matter go. His push to get the story on Unsolved Mysteries largely sparked off the series of events that led to Eric and Melanie finally being caught.
On a purely intellectual level, I can see why the killers had to pay. As one judge in the case said, there’s simply no room for vigilantism in society.
Still, that instinctive part of my moral fiber said to hell with that, Danny Paquette DESERVED to die.
But, the idea that child abuse is a crime that cannot be forgiven opens up its own Pandora’s Box.
If one crime is deemed unforgivable, in society’s view, or in the heads of two teenage kids, then who gets to say that another crime is unforgivable? What happens then when someone kills a woman for adultery? What happens then when the standards for “unforgivability” are switched to burglary, or harassment? How about vandalism?
Yet, in the other direction, there’s still another impossible question. The idea that everything is forgivable is itself another Pandora’s Box. Could Charles Manson have been forgiven? Ted Bundy? How about Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler?
These are both questions that pose their own dilemmas.
I’m sorry if you read this hoping for answers, because I don’t have them.
As I sit here contemplating Our Little Secret, less than 24 hours after finishing it, the morning sun is shining over Tacoma, and people are driving by my window on their way to work.
I think it’s going to be a good day.
Yet, these questions of morality and forgiveness are very much on my mind. They are, after all, one of the most essential yet complicated parts of our human condition.
Universal forgiveness seems to pose as many problems as universal mercilessness. Where are these lines drawn?
And, if all things can be forgiven, can I ever realistically achieve the character required to do so? Because, if you want the truth — the real, no-shit truth, I don’t give a damn that Danny Paquette is dead, and I hope they release Eric Windhurst as soon as possible.
I don’t make that statement thinking that it’s right. It’s just the truth. Maybe telling the truth about my own moral confusion is the one good thing I can do.
I don’t know.
Now, I’ll go shower and walk out onto the streets and join the rest of humanity. I’ll talk about work, sports, and the weather. Later, I’ll soak up sun.
Like every other day, I’ll muddle along in my imperfect, hopelessly flawed self, hit now and then by occasional bursts of wonder at the fact that we manage to keep it together at all in this world of mirrors and confusion.
Eventually, I think, I’ll find myself hoping, maybe even praying, that there is an afterlife where justice is equitably meted out, a place where someone knows the proper way to weigh the scales — because I sure as hell don’t.