FRENCH SETTLEMENT, LA (WAFB) - Crime victims are getting the opportunity to confront the person locked away in prison for hurting them and their loved ones. Louisiana is one of dozens of states offering a program that helps get victims ready to meet face-to-face with convicted felons.
Danette Aydell, the mother of a 13-year-old girl murdered in French Settlement, is one of them. She recently sat down with the man behind bars for murdering her daughter.
There is a sense of peace surrounding her family property in the Village of French Settlement. An angel welcomes visitors to the Aydell family estate. But a storm of memories still hangs over the house where Kaitlin Aydell, 13, went missing more than nine years ago. Inside of the house, a black and white photo takes her mother back to a happier time.
"That was one of our favorite pictures we took and she did end up getting first place in the pageant," Aydell said.
Danette no longer lives there. Her relatives have since moved into the house. While relics of her angel, Kaitlin, are no longer present, Danette is still overcome with emotion when she steps inside.
"I come over, visit and have holidays here and stuff but it's not like it was before. It's different, but I know in my heart this is where she went missing from," Aydell said.
On February 1, 2007, Kaitlin disappeared not long after she got home from school. Danette recalled the massive search for her daughter.
"It's like you can't thank these people enough. People you didn't even know that came up and gave you their support," Aydell said.
Two days later, Kaitlin was found strangled to death in a body of water 11 miles from her home. A few days later, Mark Lewis, who lived next door, was arrested in connection with her murder. Lewis was more than just a neighbor. He was married to Danette's niece.
Lewis went to trial and was found guilty in 2008. He was sentenced to life in prison. Two years later, he confessed to murdering another woman in the early 90's. Livingston Parish detectives said the victim was Janet Parker Benoit.
"My baby is in heaven, but she put a serial killer away," Aydell said.
It was not until recently that Lewis confessed to killing Kaitlin. It happened during a face-to-face meeting Danette had with Lewis at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
The opportunity came through a program called Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD). Danette said counselors at the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections helped her prepare to meet with Lewis, but it was not easy. Lewis had to agree to the meeting. That required a lot of time and patience, courage and strength.
"It's not easy. It brings up everything all over again, from day one, from the time she went missing to the time we went to trial," Aydell said.
Danette said after four years of reliving the nightmare, she was ready to confront Kaitlin's killer.
"We were in one of the judge's chambers at Angola," Aydell said. "I was really mad. I know I was shaking, but I just went in thinking 'I've got to do this for her, for me,'" Aydell said.
Aydell said she had a long list of questions. She recalled sitting down for what would be a four to five-hour meeting.
"The first thing he said to me was, how are you? I was thinking to myself, why is he asking how I am? Can we just get started," Aydell said.
Danette was ready.
"The first thing I asked him was, 'How did you get her to go over to your house?' And his answer was, 'I called and asked her if she wanted a snack.' I said, 'What kind of snack?' and he said 'Peanut butter and jelly,' and I am thinking to myself, Kaitlin doesn't eat peanut butter and jelly," Aydell said.
Danette said she kept pressing for the truth. She said Lewis finally told her he had called Kaitlin over to get her to try drugs, and that is when things went horribly wrong.
"She refused and said, 'I'm going home to tell my mom' and before she could make it to the door he had strangled her from behind," Aydell said.
Danette said many of the other questions she had, such as how he really got Kaitlin to go to his house and where might she find her daughter's missing cell phone, went unanswered. However, she said he did finally come clean about the murder.
"His words were to me, 'I need to do this to help you move on and to help my family understand that yes I did do this,'" Aydell said.
Danette said she told Lewis she could not forgive him. When she walked away from the prison, she left her questions behind knowing she may never get those answers, and she said she is okay with that. She has no intentions of returning.
"I really don't think that he would give me those answers that I would want so when I said I'm done, I'm done," Aydell said.
Aydell said while it has been tough, she has moved on. She is getting married in a couple of weeks on Kaitlin's birthday.
More than 30 states have the VOD program. For more information on the process, call the Crime Victims Services Bureau at 225-342-1056 or 888-342-6110.