Chapter 14: Two funerals

Date: 2007-12-16
Source: freep.com

Chapter 14: Two funerals

As families gather to remember the things that gave Ricky joy, exactly how he died remains a mystery that may never be solved

BY JACK KRESNAK • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER • December 16, 2007

More than $1 million was spent in the investigation of Ricky Holland's disappearance, and still the mysteries and contradictions surrounding the 7-year-old's life and death were never fully resolved.

Lisa and Tim Holland are in prison -- she for life and he for 30 to 60 years -- and have declined repeated requests for interviews. Each, as expected, has filed appeals, including challenges to autopsy findings that called Ricky a homicide victim but could not say what killed him. The appeals are pending.

Some investigators suspect that Ricky may have been alive when his father put him in garbage bags and dumped him in a swamp. Over the summer and fall of 2005, nature claimed the organs and other soft tissue, erasing most signs of abuse.

Lisa Holland's attorneys, Andrew Abood and Mike Nichols, are convinced that Tim -- who repeatedly lied to investigators and gave them contradictory accounts -- was the one who killed Ricky. They wonder whether they should have put Lisa on the witness stand to defend herself, and say that if she had gotten her own attorney early on and turned her husband in, she might be free today.

However, there is no doubt in the minds of police and prosecutors that Lisa killed Ricky and Tim covered it up.

Dr. Elaine Pomeranz, a child abuse expert who studied the case for the prosecution, also said it was clear to her that Lisa Holland humiliated Ricky and treated him cruelly for years.

"It was like torture by humiliation over such a long period of time," said Pomeranz, who works at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. "Truly, of all the cases I have dealt with, nothing turned my stomach more than this one."

A judge approves the funerals

Ricky's skeleton remained locked in a drawer in a forensic anthropology laboratory at Michigan State University for more than a year, in part because investigators wanted to preserve evidence in case of a retrial. But also, it wasn't clear who had the authority to bury him. His birth parents had lost their rights. By the end of March 2007, so had Tim and Lisa Holland.

But a probate judge was reluctant to cut out family members. In the end, the judge approved a settlement allowing two funerals, one for Tim's family and one for Lisa's. Only invited guests would be allowed, not the public or news media.

Lance Lynch, owner of the Estes-Leadley Funeral Home in downtown Lansing, volunteered his services, and St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Lansing offered free interment.

The first funeral

The first service was for Tim's side, at 10 a.m. May 7, 2007. Tim's mother, Arcie Holland, asked the Rev. William Lawson, pastor of Willow Community Wesleyan Church in Lansing, to preside. Perhaps 35 people came.

Lawson began by reading the 23rd Psalm.

Tim's nephew, Rodney Weston, read a poem about a child murdered by his mother and spoke about how Ricky loved music, especially jingles from television commercials. Then Weston told the group that it would hear Ricky's favorite song.

"Through the PA system came the song, and you could hear giggles coming from people," Lawson recalled. The song, part of a commercial for Dannon yogurt, has this unforgettable refrain:

"It was an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini that she wore for the first time today."

Lawson then spoke in a serious vein about forgiveness.

"Be very careful to guard your hearts and don't let the anger settle in, because you will not be able to give the surviving children your best if your anger overcomes you," he said.

Ricky's siblings -- boys 5 and 3 and girls 4 and nearly 3 -- were there, being kids.

"One of the aunts had brought them all Hot Wheels cars and they were playing with the cars during the music and going back and forth between grandparents, aunts and uncles and people they love," Lawson said. "It wasn't a distraction. It was really nice."

At the end, the kids were each encouraged to place a flower on top of the casket and tell Ricky they loved him.

"That was a very nice moment," Lawson said.

The second funeral

The service for Lisa's family -- her parents, Tom and Betty Taylor, and her siblings and their children -- was at 6 p.m. May 25 at the funeral home. The Rev. Wesley Emerson, pastor of the nondenominational Freedom Community Church in Leslie, officiated.

Emerson also began with Psalm 23.

"My goal for that service was really not to talk about what happened to Ricky, but to remember that little boy for who he was," Emerson said. "So I made the service more or less a tribute to Ricky."

Using information that came mostly from Betty Taylor, Emerson eulogized Ricky as a boy who "found pleasure in the simple things that 7-year-olds treasure."

Rubber balls, swings on the playground, Matchbox cars.

"He was very fond of animals. He enjoyed his dogs. He liked going to the zoo. He liked going for pony rides. He liked to go fishing, helping his aunt make cookies, swimming at the YMCA," Emerson said.

The picture of Ricky seen in most of the news coverage was framed and displayed on top of the donated casket for both services: Ricky, about age 5, with a chipped front tooth.

Biological mother's regrets

On May 26, sheriff's deputies escorted the hearse to the cemetery. No family members were present. A priest offered a prayer before the casket was placed in the vault.

The cemetery is about a mile from where Ricky's biological mother, Casey Caswell, and her husband, Matt, live. In the months after Ricky's disappearance, Casey followed the news closely but kept away from the search on the advice of police.

After Ricky's burial, she no longer had to keep her distance.

"I told Matt I don't care how we get there, if we got to walk, ride bikes, take the bus, whatever, I want to go there," Casey said.

As she and Matt walked into the mausoleum the day after Ricky's interment, she saw her son's name etched in granite: "Richard Paul Holland."

It took her breath away, but she understood.

"With him already being adopted, that's the way his name had to be," Caswell said.

If she could do it over again, she said, "I would've kept him with me, instead of asking the state for help."

Contact JACK KRESNAK at 313-223-4544 or jkresnak@freepress.com.

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