Eric Wrinkles, a father of two, was in the middle of a nasty divorce and custody battle when his estranged wife, Debbie, went to live with her brother and his family. On July 21, 1994, Eric broke into his brother-in-law's home at 2 a.m. wearing camouflage and armed with a .357-caliber Magnum. In a rage, he shot and killed Debbie, her brother Tony and his wife, Natalie. Four children were home at the time of the crime.
In 1995, Eric was sentenced to death for the brutal murders. His final appeal was denied in May 2009.
Update: Eric was executed by lethal injection on December 11, 2009.
Kim and Matt were 9 years old and 3 years old, respectively, the night their parents were shot to death by their uncle Eric. Kim says she wasn't aware of her aunt's struggles with Eric until she and her kids moved in. "There was always kind of a tension there, but not until about two weeks before all this happened did I even realize that something was wrong," she says. "It was never like that before. We were always at their house playing."
Matt says he was too young to remember much from that night, but Kim says she remembers every detail. "I remember waking up, and Eric was actually outside my bedroom door and standing over Debbie's body saying: 'Debbie, please don't die. Please don't die.'"
Kim says she waited for Eric to leave and then set out to find her little brother. "I went through the house looking for him," she says. "On the way to my parents' bedroom, I had to step over Debbie's body and then into my parents' room. My dad was on the floor, and there was Matt in our parents' bed hiding under the covers, so I got my brother and we went back to our room."
Kim says she found Eric's 7-year-old son on the way to her room. The three children huddled on a top bunk until police found them. "They covered my brother's eyes and my cousin Seth's eyes and they told me to cover my eyes," she says. "Thankfully, I did, because it turns out on my front porch was where my mom was at, and I'm really glad that I don't have to live with that picture in my head."
Debbie's niece Tracy was also living with the family at the time of the murders. Then 19, Tracy says she was sleeping on the couch when Eric broke into the house. "Gunfire was coming from the bedroom," she says. "The last thing I know is Natalie's running over to the couch telling me to get up. I couldn't get up off the couch. I was in shock. She said, 'You have to get up.'"
Tracy says she didn't want to leave the house without Natalie. As they heard Eric coming closer, Tracy says Natalie pushed her out the door. "She was protecting me from him because she said: 'There he is. Go, get help,'" she says. "Natalie took the bullet that was meant for me. Natalie saved my life and gave hers up."
Though her life was spared, Tracy says a part of her died that night. "I think about Tony and Natalie, Debbie and that night every day."
In an effort to start healing, Tracy says she recently wrote Eric a letter. "I forgave Eric Wrinkles for killing my family," she says. "It was time to start healing, and that's where I wanted to start from. ... I don't want him to be out of prison, but I don't want him on death row."
Speaking via satellite from the Indiana State Prison, Eric addresses his family for what could be the last time.
Eric says he never intended to kill anyone that night. He says he was high on meth and on his way to a friend's house out of town. Eric says he wore camouflage because he planned to go hunting and fishing and only stopped by to the house to see his children. "I didn't think I would ever see them again," he says. "It wasn't to kill anybody."
Some family members feel Eric uses his drug abuse as an excuse for the murders. Eric says he understands their point. "I take full responsibility for what I did," he says. "But [Natalie and I] never had problems until the drugs. Anyone that's done methamphetamine, it changes you—and not in a good way."
When asked whether he deserves the death penalty, Eric says he doesn't think his opinion matters. Still, he says even the 14 years he's spent in prison could never make up for what he did. "You can't put a price on human life," he says.
Eric says he hopes to provide Kim, Matt, Tracy and his two children with some closure before execution day. He recently sent Kim and Matt an apology. "I owe you both a great debt—a great debt that I can never repay," he writes. "I'm truly sorry about what I did and how I affect both of you. I still hold a lot of love in my heart for you, Kim and Matt, and I pray that this letter eases your pain, at least a little, and that you can move on with your lives and be happy, healthy and at peace with things for the rest of what I hope will be long lives."
Kim says she's not sure she can trust Eric's apology—but seeing him die won't bring her any resolution. "I forgave him a long time ago," Kim says. "I don't want to carry that hate with me for the rest of my life."
Matt agrees. "I just think he should sit in jail for the rest of his life. Taking him is not going to bring my parents back."
Mary, Natalie's mother, says she didn't raise Kim and Matt to hate Eric. "It's because of my faith. Because when you give thanks to God, God carries [you]. And He gave us peace," she says. "[Natalie's] in heaven, so I have a lot to be thankful for."
Mary says she doesn't believe Eric's story, but she still forgives him. "I pray for you that you ask God for forgiveness, because that's where it's all at. And I ask everybody to write the governor to stop the death penalty because we're not here to judge. You deserve to be in jail, but we don't want you to die."
"I think that's very big of Mary," Eric says.
Not everyone in the family can forgive. Debbie and Tony's mother, Mae, raised Debbie and Eric's children after the murders. "Eric was abusive to her from the time they married," she says. "I hate him for what he did. He terrorized my family."
Mae doesn't believe Eric deserves to live. "He has been tried by 12 jurors. He was sentenced to death row, and that's where he should go. He should die," she says. "He killed three beautiful people and left four children orphaned."
"I have gotten over this anger until this came up again," she says. "I don't have [any] sympathy for you, Eric. You've never said to me that you were sorry. Never."