It was all part of a fight she thought she'd never be involved in. But then, who ever thinks they're going to get involved in a death-penalty case?
We might read a little bit about one in the paper or catch a bit about one on TV, but that's about it. Still, despite knowing neither victims nor killers, it's easy to take one side or the other, to be either for the death penalty or against it.
But maybe you're one of the relative few whose buddy or kin got murdered, and that's hardened your support for capital punishment.
Or maybe, like Yokely, you're one of the relative few who knew someone who got the death penalty. And your friendship with this person whom prosecutors and cops vilified leaves you forever changed - including what had been your unwavering support for the death penalty.
"We form opinions sometimes based on situations where our convictions haven't been tested," said Yokely, who is 73. "This time, it was. It was put to a test, knowing him."
Yokely and several others, including some of her fellow members of Gospel Light Baptist Church in Walkertown, fought in vain for the life of Flippen. He grew up in Gospel Light. It's a conservative church, one in which many, if not most, members support the death penalty.
Some church members didn't join in the fight for Flippen. But those who did, like Yokely, may be changed by that fight.
Make no mistake about it: Flippen committed a horrible crime in 1994. He hit his stepdaughter, Britnie Nichol Hutton, so hard that her liver and pancreas were torn. His lame story was that she was injured falling out of a chair.
Yokely, a former principal of Gospel Light Christian School, heard all that in court, and ached for Britnie and her family. But she didn't see a killer in Flippen. She saw the playful boy she'd watched grow up in the Christian school. She saw the man who'd later write her a letter of thanks for her support.
Others saw a good side to Flippen as well. "There were a lot of people hurt about him being put to death who I think had supported the death penalty," Yokely said. "He'd been such a good kid and this was such a freak thing that happened. And their hearts went out to his parents."
Yokely doesn't say Flippen's not guilty. "I'm just saying that whatever happened was totally out of character for Sammy," she said. And she rightly wonders why this case resulted in the death penalty, and those of people "equally guilty" haven't.
"I've lost a lot of faith in the justice system through this," she said. "It's just the inconsistency ... I won't say I'm anti-death penalty now, but I'll say I'm very cautious. I just want them to make sure that it's a hardened criminal, premeditated."
This may not be her last fight against the death penalty. "If it's somebody I can help or feel like I can be a friend to or know anything about, I'd certainly be willing, if they deserve to be helped," she said.
Agree or disagree with Delores Yokely in her questioning of capital punishment.
But know this: She's had a head-on collision with an issue that most of us have the luxury of considering only in the abstract.
And she'll never be the same.
• John Railey writes local editorials for the Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Right to Life
On Aug. 18, the state of North Carolina killed Samuel Flippen for the murder of Britnie Hutton ("Local man put to death," Aug. 19). Substitute the euphemism "executed;" the net effect is the same. Our founders noted in the Declaration of Independence that every person is endowed with the unalienable God-given right to life, yet the death penalty contradicts this. As a country, we espouse the sanctity of human life, yet demote those on death row to sub-human status by dispassionately killing them with calculation and forethought.
What do we gain as a society? Are we safer now than we were two weeks ago when Flippen was just locked up? Are we nobler for our complicity with the state in this killing? Samuel Flippen is no longer among us - no longer does the potential for the fulfillment of that one unique creation exist. Was he not worthy of our every effort to rehabilitate? Could we not salvage one human being from the tragedy of Britnie Hutton's death?
As long as we empower the state in the enforcement of the death penalty, we are accountable, each and every one of us, for the destruction of human life.