Kerry Weyant’s son Erik is living the nightmare that is Florida’s 10-20-Life mandatory minimum. Erik was sentenced to 20 years for firing a gun into the air to ward off attackers, even though no one was hurt. In 2016, Florida changed the aggravated assault law under which Erik was charged, amending the statute to remove the mandatory minimum. If that were made it retroactive, Erik would be released. Instead, he is looking at almost a decade more behind bars. His dad remains one of his strongest advocates, reaching out to lawmakers and the media for help.
My son Erik and I are great friends. We both have a good sense of humor, and he is still one of the only people who can make me laugh — hard and often. We would take hiking and backpacking trips together to the Smoky Mountains, and explore any high country we could find. After the hike, I was lucky to drink a couple of cold beers with one of my best friends, my son. They were truly great times, and I had discovered a great new hiking partner. Then … it all changed for my whole family, and yesterday, I hiked for six miles along the canyon rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park without my son.
Erik was at a bar by himself one night. He left the bar at closing time and ended up being in a situation where he found himself having to fire warning shots over the heads of angry attackers in the parking lot. No one was hurt, no damage was done. He just fired a few shots into the air, and made a quick escape from the danger. Erik was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, without intent to kill. This was a 10-20-Life mandatory offense in Florida, and the state went after him with a vengeance. He had no police record prior to this incident. (Read more about Erik’s case here.)
Erik was summarily tried and convicted. I remember the moment he was convicted like it was yesterday. At the sound of the verdict, “guilty,” the moment became surreal. It simultaneously sucked the air right out of your lungs, left you dazed and confused. It immediately crushed your spirits beyond belief. That was the worst that I have ever been laid low.
Short of his death, it’s the worst thing that could have happened. Even in the case of death, you have complete closure. As his parents, my wife and I had to endure the daily horror he was handed. That horror still goes on to this day.
Erik was convicted in 2007, sentenced to a mandatory 20 years in prison. In July 2019, he will have done 12 years in Florida prisons. The toll on the family is extensive, the wounds deep. Anxiety and depression from Erik’s incident slowly dissolved our marriage, we fell out of love, and finally we divorced after 35 years of marriage. For Erik to be sentenced so severely on first conviction, with no prior record, is incomprehensible to average hard working people like us. Despite our own problems, we immediately moved to the positive attitude position with Erik. It was the only sensible, logical thing to do. It can’t get any worse, so hope for the best.
But Erik had found another way. He started a spiritual life for himself. It kept his life in prison from reeling out of control with depression. Thank God he found a way, I was so glad that he did. He does not have a bitter attitude, he just wants out of prison to get his life going again, and to put this all behind him. His family has visited him, and encouraged him. We still want him to feel like he was still part of the family. He most certainly appreciates that.
As a matter of fact, Erik has jump-started my spiritual life also. Good friends will try to do that for each other. One day, it happened, out of the total blue. I saw an article in Tampa Bay Online concerning harsh sentencing laws in Florida. I responded to the editorial, and in no time I was conversing by email with the writer. She told me about a local TV station that was looking for a true story to cover, concerning harsh sentences, and she made the contact between the station and myself. I could not wait to tell Erik that things had been resurrected from the dead, and his story was going to be on TV, in the Tampa Bay Area. I think he was caught between disbelief and excitement, and so were we.
The station interviewed Erik, his family, and even the judge who reluctantly sentenced him to 20 years. I immediately became the liaison for this whole thing, and was thrilled to have the job. Don’t ever underestimate the power of prayer, and a good positive attitude. It has done amazing things for our chances to get Erik released – in 2016 the Florida legislature revised the gun law. There is now more hope than ever for relief, but I won’t ever rest until Erik is free. I told him a long, long time ago that I would always be there for him; now it’s more vital than ever.
I really admire Erik for how he is handling this nightmare. I’m not sure I could do so well if I was in his shoes. To have someone on the outside of prison, working hard to keep his spirits up, and keep him informed of the latest news of his case, and get him out of there—those are my goals. I’m his father, and his friend, and it’s the least I can do besides offering human love. Time will tell, but I’m hoping and praying that we will be hiking together again soon.
By Kerry Weyant
Are you troubled by the injustice in Erik Weyant’s story? Join us in calling for retroactivity of the 2016 gun law sentencing reform so that Erik — and many others suffering like him — can get some relief. Become a FAMM Advocate today.