Restitution for Michael Lane

When Michael Lane confessed to his bishop that he had killed a two-year-old, PJ Watts, in 1990, his bishop told him the repentence process requires that he confess to civil authorities and accept the consequences of his actions. However, because Lane also sinned by lying about killing PJ when he was prosecuted for the homicide at the time, civil authorities are now unable to prosecute him, despite his confession, under the Constitution’s “double jeopardy” doctrine. Given that it’s wrong to receive less punishment for two sins than for one, how must Michael Lane pay restitution for his egregious sins — murder and lying to avoid responsibility?

News stories are here, here, here, and here.

56 comments for “Restitution for Michael Lane

  1. Based on D&C 42:18-19, 79, I would say that his prospects look pretty bleak. I will leave this one up to the Lord.

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there remains the possibility of a civil suit, no? Cold comfort, of course, but something.

    The other question I had: is he better or worse off for confessing after the window for restitution is past, than a criminal who is sentenced to severe restitution but nonetheless denies culpability?

    I have to think that he gets some small credit for confessing completely of his own volition (first to his bishop, then to law enforcement authorities).

  3. There is no way that a murderer can make restitution for his sin. Whether he spends the rest of his life in jail, or is put to death, or sheds his own blood, there is no “restitution.” The victim is still dead, and nothing the killer does will restore things to how they were before the killing.

    Which all points us in the direction God wants us to be looking–to the Savior, on whose merits all of us, Michael Lane included, must rely in order to be saved. I don’t know what Michael Lane must do, or what price he must pay, but I do know that his only hope (and ours) is the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.

  4. Costanza,

    Is there nothing Lane can do to mitigate his punishment in the hereafter?


    I believe Lane’s willingness to accept state punishment for his actions is more important for his repentance than his actually receiving it, so if it’s only one or the other, he’s taken the better one.


    There’s probably no perjury charge because he didn’t take the witness stand at his trial. The lies he told would have been to his girlfriend, investigators, and presumably everyone else he spoke with, but they wouldn’t constitute perjury. I don’t know the elements for a charge of obstruction of justice.


    I agree that there’s no possibility for “restitution” in the usual sense of the word, but the reason his bishop told him to tell civil authorities was because accepting civil punishment is in some sense necessary for his repentance, despite (because of?) all Christ did for him (and us). There would be no point telling him to confess and go to prison otherwise. The question I have is how necessary is his civil punishment to his repentance.

  5. Commit the rest of his life to serving others in the memory of the child he killed. Although he can’t fully pay off the debt in this life, the Lord will extract the difference on Judgement Day.

  6. I’d buy him a straight razor, explain where the carotid and jugular are located, and suggest starting at just under the ear and continue to the mid-throat.

  7. I don’t think that his now limited ability to receive civil punishment plays any role in his ability to repent. The damage was done when he lied under oath, but now that the window of opportunity for full civil punishment is closed, I think it plays absolutely no role in the repentance process. We do believe in being subject to the laws of our respective lands, but full enactment of these laws is not necessary for the grace of Christ to take effect.

  8. Anon-

    Controversial response I suppose. But after thinking about it, that’s how Judas repented and according to the scriptures (at least how I read it, he is with Christ in glory now.) So who knows? It’s probably no good for me to make any judgement about how the Lord will handle this case, I’ve been surprised enough at some of his other manueverings. He’s a tricky guy.

  9. A lot of people have caused bad, even tragic, events that can’t be fixed afterwards, though the facts on this one are particularly sad. The guy deserves some credit for stepping up to the plate when most other people would not, especially if (as portrayed in at least the DN article) he wasn’t aware of the impact of the double jeopardy prohibition. He can now speak publicly with some credibility on the unforeseen consequences of illegal drug use (he claims he was on meth at the time of the incident). That may not be “restitution,” but it’s the kind of thing a lot of people do who come to regret bad things they did when younger, and it brings them a measure of redemption. If those efforts could lead to prevention of even a few similar incidents, it seems like something worth encouraging.

  10. Ryan,
    which scriptures are you reading to suggest Judas is with Christ in glory? Serious question. Thanks.

  11. I would think that the punishment by the state (ie incarceration) would pale in comparison to the suffering one would go through in the hereafter so him going without it will make little difference in my opinon. I would think that after having put himself right with the state his best bet would be to repent and ask Heavenly Father directly to mete out whatever punishment he would need. Heavenly Father will deal with him in the most merciful way He can.

  12. I personally think that the DA’s office needs to be thinking of a way to charge him with something. He is protected by double jeopardy on the murder charge but I would hope they can charge him with child abuse or conspiracy. Something.

    A dead murdered child a innocent 2 YEAR OLD is in the ground at this mans hand. I am trying to think of a worse crime and cannot come up with one.

    I am honestly surprised that his Bishop managed to keep his cool after a confession like that. Or allowed him back into the building (if he did).

  13. God knew, before sending his children to earth, that there would be murderers in their midst. He did not write them off, or run them out of the building. He is going to give them a kingdom of glory (after they pay the price).

    Does anyone believe that God would ignore a bishop’s harsh treatment of a repentant soul? Would Jesus dine with such a person?

  14. “that’s how Judas repented and according to the scriptures (at least how I read it, he is with Christ in glory now.)”

    I’m not so sure about that. If you are referring to Christ coming down in glory with the twelve with him, what makes you think this scripture is referring to the original 12?

  15. I think Christ gave us a pretty good idea about what punishment he deserves: said He, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:2)

  16. Mike,

    You go explain to your RS presidency and Primary presidency why you would allow an admitted child murderer entrance to a building full of children. While we are at I would say lets let all the convicted local pedophiles in as well. There is also a liability issue as well.

    I have seen bishops and SP’s take out restraining orders for far far less then this. I think Jesus would dine with these leaders for sure.

  17. I’ve thought a lot about this since the story broke, and it seriously breaks my heart on so many levels. I think about what this guy put PJ through, and it breaks my heart. I look over at the picture of my 2 year old daughter here on my desk, and it breaks my heart. I think about what PJs mom has been going through, and what she will have to carry for the rest of her life, and it breaks my heart.
    But I also think that, 15 years later, this guy went to his bishop and confessed, and went to the police, expecting to be tossed into jail, and in a way my heart breaks for HIM too. By all indications, this is a man who is owning up to an undeniably heinous crime, and crying out for forgiveness. And he will never receive it, at least not in this life. Have you ever had to confess something to your bishop? I can’t imagine what it must have been like to give (and to hear) this confession.
    And if he WAS high on meth at the time, how does that change the complexion of the case? Surely it doesn’t excuse the denial after the fact, but how does that ultimately figure into the Lord’s justice system?
    Don’t misread me; I’m not trying to justify what Lane did at all. But I do think some thought needs to be given to the fact that he has confessed to a crime from which the justice system had excused him.

  18. It’s altogether too easy to judge from the comfort of our armchairs thousands of miles away.

    Consider the facts: this was a crime that happened 15 years ago, while this brother was high on methamphetamine. He reacted violently to the child’s crying, but it seems unlikely that there was a prior intent to kill the child.

    Now he’s free from drugs, and trying to get himself square with the Lord and His Church and the state.

    Is he like the pedophile–prone to want to commit the same crime again? I doubt it. But his bishop, not anybody here, is in the position where he can make that judgment.

  19. Matt,

    I haven’t studied up recently on all the intracacies of double-jeapordy, but couldn’t he be tried by a separate soverign for the same crime See, e.g., U.S. v. Koon, 34 F.3d 1416, 1438 (9th Cir.’94), which, as I understand indicates that the state and federal governments are separate sovereigns and therefore successive prosecutions based on the same underlying conduct do not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause if the prosecutions are brought by the separate sovereign, as long as the separate sovereign wasn’t being used as a “tool” of the previous soverign?

    If so, then I think he could possibly be tried by the federal government for either the same crime (if the government can establish jurisdiction), or for some underlying crime (perhaps they could prosecute him for a related charge under the RICO statute since there were drugs involved).

    Also, any idea what effect, if any, his being a minor at the time of the crime would have on future criminal prosecution? I guess, for that matter, does being a minor in any way mitigate the spiritual seriousness of murder in Gods eyes? It apparently does for other sins, such as sins of immorality (e.g., fornicate before endowment = discipline; fornicate after endowment = severe discipline, possible excommunication).

    (I wonder if he actually did commit murder, legally, or that he has a mitigating defense, such as that he was on drugs, that he might have lacked the malicious intent to kill but was acting recklessly, possibly negligently, or that he was a minor. I think God probably takes into consideration all of these factors, perhaps more so than do the laws of man.)

  20. We read of others gaining blessings for their intentions to do something and not actually doing it due to an inability. For example, King Benjamin states that if we are too poor to give of our substance, but would if we had it, we receive the blessing. There is a glory reserved for those who would have accepted the gospel on this earth, the honest in heart who were kept in ignorance through no fault of their own.

    That being said, I think Michael is in a far better standing with the Lord, having confessed than prior to the confession. Yes, his crime was heinous and appalling. As far as the Bishop letting him in the building, an opportunity for restitution, repentance, salvation must exist, right? In Old Testament times, when a leper was ready for cleansing, the priest would leave the camp and go to him and help him to be clean through the ordinances of the law. The leper, with the priests backing would then be presented clean before the congregation.

    As a new father, I am deeply hurt whenever I hear about the innocent slaying of a little one. But I am deeply moved that I have a Savior who was willing to suffer so much that even that wrong could be made right and I think we all ought to pray that one day, we will see this leper presented before us clean, through the same miracle that overcomes each of our sins.

  21. One minor quibble, Dan S. Lane is now 41, the crime occurred 15 years ago. He wasn’t a minor when the crime occurred.

    The other mitigating factors you mentioned would be considered if he were to be tried here, and I’m confident that an omniscient, perfectly just Judge will take all those things into account.

  22. Dan,

    Not a bad idea, but I don’t know that there’s a federal crime here. There’s no general-jurisdiction federal murder statute. The RICO isn’t a bad idea, but would require showing other elements. And unlike Koon itself, this isn’t state action, so a civil rights suit (as was used in the Koon case) won’t help.

    Also, it seems quite possible that any federal prosecution would run into serious statute of limitations problems. This is fifteen years after the fact.

  23. Mark, good call. I glossed over the dates in the articles and thought I read that Lane was 17 at the time of the murder, but it actually said that the child he killed would now be 17.

    I suppose we could still consider the “mental” or “spritual” age of a person, for God’s consideration anyway. For example, a 25 year old man (Lane’s “actual’ age at the time of the killing), could have a very immature spirit, perhaps even like the spirit of a mature youth. I suppose that his spiritual maturity at the time of the killing must have been taken into consideration by his Bishop and any subsequent Church leaders who will possibly interview him for re-baptism. They probably will also be asking the same question as Matt has “what have you done, Michael Lane, to make restitution.”

    Perhaps he could actually do more good, and make more restitution outside of jail than if he were in jail? After all, there are many forms of restitution. Are we more concerned as a society, at this point, that he make restitution to society in general, by our social contract, and serve jail time, or that he make direct restitution to the family, by civil suit, or that he contribute time and effort to volunteer programs that can help wayward youth or drug addicts?

  24. I hadn’t heard of (or don’t remember) the original story, but it makes me feel like crying. We all have our weaknesses and strengths, and mercy is not one of my strengths. I can’t really tell how I would feel about him if he were attempting to re-enter activity in my ward. I have a 5 year old daughter and a two year old son. The image of someone preying upon them exposes just how far from Christ I really am.

    I’m not so convinced that the fellowship of the saints is more noble a gift than protection of our own children.

  25. I think that Kaimi is probably right that there’s not a federal crime here. The comment in #3 is interesting in its observation that Lane has probably committed other crimes for which he could prosecuted without double jeopardy problems.

    In terms of holding Lane criminally liable, another thought that crosses my mind is to get a waiver of his constitutional right to be free from double jeopardy. Constitutional rights can typically be waived as long as the waiver is not coerced, and I see no reason why this right would be any different. Constitutional rights are typically not self-enforcing, so the state could initiate a prosecution, and as long as he does not object (or better yet waives his right to object), I see no reason why the prosecution could not go forward.

    Let me raise another question, though, that has been on my mind lately: What role does civil justice play in the plan of salvation? Perhaps more specifically, does God require that we suffer some political/social/criminal consequence as part of repentance while in mortality?

  26. Hey Mighty Richard,

    There was a situation in our mission that you may be aware off. One of my comps Elder F from Nev. interviewed a guy in PE for baptism who had thrown a guy off a train or a bridge into a river and the man had died. Elder F passed the guy off to Pres and Pres said no to baptism. Just a side note now that rebaptism was mentioned.

    I am having a really hard time working up sympathy for an admitted child murderer. I also do think that he belongs in prison and constitutes a threat to society. Essentially all murderers have demonstrated that they are dangerous. I generally feel this way about child murderers.

  27. b bell: Given that murders are the least recidivist of criminals, why do you think that all murderers constitute a threat to society? The facts don’t seem to bear out your assumption. But that is not to say I know what should be done. Having had my life saved by a man convicted of first degree murder, I remain in a state of confusion about what to think about murderers.

  28. b bell –

    I don’t recall that incident. Could possibly have happened after I came home?

    I don’t know that rebaptism is really an option in Lane’s case anyway, because baptism = forgiveness, which can’t happen for him in this life anyway, right? I’m not suggesting we rebaptize him and call him to the nursery – clearly there are extemely strong arguements against that (we are comanded for forgive, not necessarily to forgive and forget) – but I am suggesting that the event of his confession represents a mighty change of heart, not to mention an act of extreme courage, and we can’t disregard that; I can’t imagine that the Lord does.

    Jim F. –

    Sounds like you have an interesting story to tell…

  29. busraser,

    That is true. Double jeopardy is a personal constitutional right that can be waived.

  30. Jim,

    Lets say that 1-10% pecent of released murderers are convicted of murder again. I do not know the exact numbers but that adds up to some more dead people. Not a good thing in my view. I would wager that a released murderer is far far more likely to commit murder again then for Jim F at BYU to commit a murder whatever the rec rates

    Mighty Richard. You were there whan it happened but the details of this were kept under wraps. Properly of course.

  31. I wonder if there would be so many to pronounce quick judgment upon this man if they were the ones who had to put the black cap on over their wigs, tell the man that he was sentenced to be taken into the custody until a date certain and then hanged by the neck until dead, closing with “May God have mercy on your soul.”

    Yeah, I know we’re not in England anymore

    But, try sitting in judgment where a man’s membership in the church is at issue, and where all the responsibility for a decision rests on you, before making quick judgments about what the laws of the church require. (And don’t bring up counselors or high council–they counsel and sustain, but they don’t make the decision.)

  32. I’d like to recant comment #7. I made the comment before reading the news articles. Being high on meth is not an excuse, but if true, it may be a mitigating circumstance, because we don’t know what led him to being high on meth. Remember that the Apostle Paul also was responsible for, or participated in, the shedding of innocent blood, but his escape clause was that he did not knowingly shed innocent blood. As I understand it, the knowingly part is what makes it unforgiveable in this life and consigns someone to the TK.

    The “with what measure ye mete” scripture also came to mind and prompts my recantation.

  33. Mark B.: But there are lots of different kinds of murderers–some for whom the recidivisim rate is, effectively, zero; some for whom the rate is high enough to be certain we don’t want to release them. For example, men who have killed someone caught having an affair with their wife almost never commit murder again. The chances that they will murder again are no different than the chances that some other person, not convicted of murder, will. Those people aren’t the same as, at the other end, serial killers. Though their crime in each case is, indeed, heinous, it is hardly the same.

    gst: the question isn’t whether I should like murderers. Surprisingly I suspect, I have known several. Some of them I like reasonably well; most I’m afraid of. But the real question is what to do with them regardless of whether I like them. That’s a lot harder.

    Anon (#36): You comment is an important one: knowledge, both of what one is doing and of the gospel, make huge differences in the outcomes, and we are seldom able to judge that ourselves, especially not from a distance. I’ll leave the judgement to the man’s bishop and to the Lord. Murderers in the Book of Mormon were sometimes baptized; I assume that, under the right circumstances, which may be rare, they can also be baptized today. By analogy, whether an already baptized person can be forgiven must, it seems, also depend.

  34. Jim F.,

    I appreciate your observation that murderers in the Book of Mormon were baptized. This suggests to me that forgiveness is possible for murderers in this life.

    Costanza (#35),

    Why do you say that the Lord said forgiveness can’t happen in this life? This seems inconsistent with the possibility of murderers being baptized.

  35. D&C 29: 12
    12 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, and it hath gone forth in a firm decree, by the will of the Father, that mine aapostles, the Twelve which were with me in my ministry at Jerusalem, shall stand at my right hand at the day of my coming in a pillar of fire, being clothed with robes of righteousness, with crowns upon their heads, in glory even as I am, to judge the whole house of Israel, even as many as have loved me and kept my commandments, and none else.

    Judas was one of the twelve that were with him in his ministry

    I know I know, there is a valid argument that subsequent apostles were also hanging around during his ministry and were witnesses of His works. I just don’t happen to believe that is what the scripture implies.

  36. Jim F, busraser –

    How do you square those incidents with Costanza’s original cite (D&C 42:18-19, 79)? Not trying to be confrontational, just interested. To be completely honest, I’m basing my ‘not in this life’ comments on old seminary lore more than anything else…

  37. Busraser,
    I get that from the scripture I cited in coment #1: D&C 42:18 “And now behold, I speak unto the church, Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come.” I think perhaps the situation Jim F. raises (murderers being baptized) might be covered by the fact that the Lord is specifically addressing the Church here rather than the world at large, but I am not sure.

  38. A few of the comments on this thread strike me as somewhat rash. Dallin H. Oaks, in a 1998 devotional spoke of “Final Judgments� saying: “Latter-day Saints understand the final judgment as the time when all mankind will receive their personal dominions in the mansions prepared for them in the various kingdoms of glory. I believe that the scriptural command to ‘judge not’ refers most clearly to this final judgment, as in the Book of Mormon declaration that ‘man shall not . . . judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord.’�

    I would suggest that we are simply not in a position to speak to Michael’s final fate. Even D&C 42 is not completely clear if you compare it to other scriptural sources. In preaching to his son, Alma said that “whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness; yea, I say unto you, my son, that it is not easy for him to obtain a forgiveness.� This seems to allow for the possibility of forgiveness. Moreover, only God fully understands whatever mitigating factors there may be in Michael’s situation.

    To answer Matt’s original question, Michael needs to do whatever is in his power to make amends in this life. While it clearly will not restore what he took, his efforts may serve to show a true change of heart. In the end he must rely, as Mark B. has pointed out, on the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. Only God can say whether it will be sufficient.

  39. BTW, does anyone know what the requirements are for re-baptism, and more specifically for re-baptism after serious sins, such as murder?

  40. I’ve heard it requires First Presidency approval. Just a rumor I heard from the ole’ baptismal interview days in the mission.

  41. The Might Richard: How do you square those incidents with Costanza’s original cite (D&C 42:18-19, 79)?

    By saying “I don’t know.”

  42. If he can’t be prosecuted for anything, then I think he should go to Africa and work with AIDS orphans until the day he dies.

  43. Ryan (#39): Ah, but… the 1st replacement Apostle, Matthias, was also with the Lord throughout his entire ministry, beginning with the baptism of John, Acts 1:22-26. So he meets both criteria, one of “the twelve’ and with him throughout his ministry.

  44. 42.
    Marc, I fully agree with your comments. Thanks.

    It strikes me that your last paragraph’s message is general, not specifically for Bro. Lane. Paraphrasing:

    we need to do whatever is in our power to make amends in this life. While it clearly will not restore what we took, our efforts may serve to show [and develop] a true change of heart. In the end we must rely, as Mark B. has pointed out, on the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. Only God can say whether it will be sufficient.

  45. To continue my #50 (ADD isn’t as much fun as you may have been told), regarding only God can say whether it will be sufficient, there’s an interesting promise tucked into the end of D&C 121. Following the exposition on using priesthood power to serve others humbly and selflessly instead of selfishly exalting oneself, we have,

    Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God (D&C 121:45).

    I suppose that if we have strong confidence in God’s presence, that He will have said that our repentance and Christ’s atonement had been sufficient.

  46. Jim F.: It was b bell, not I, who raised the issue of the recidivism rate for murderers. I don’t know the statistics, but suspect that drug-besotted reckless killers of infants are not likely to kill again, especially if they have stopped abusing drugs.

    annegb: Interesting suggestion. Maybe his bishop should require him to read Les Miserables and they can discuss the implications for his life.

    This could lead to a general discussion about the “utility” (any economists reading?) of locking people up in cages as punishment for crime. Other than protecting the public from those who would commit new crimes, is there any reason we should do it? Does it make any sense at all, in light of the comments here about restitution by Bro. Lane, in his case?

  47. Re: 39

    And, what of the reference to Judas as “the son of perdition” in John 17:12?

    D&C 76 describes their fate:

    32 They are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born;
    33 For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity;
    34 Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come—
    35 Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame.
    36 These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels—
    37 And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power;
    38 Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath.

  48. If I had been charged with killing a child I would hope that my jury would exhibit a strong sense of non-judgmentalism and compassion for those accused of murdering toddlers.

  49. When God commands me not to make final judgments on people and to have compassion for all men, who am I to argue?

  50. Re: #53
    I am not familiar enough with the original language of the scriptures to argue that “Son of Perdition” was translated incorrectly. BUt I do have this:

    Judas did not kill Christ nor did he understand that the son of the Living God would suffer himself to be beaten and crucified by a group of miscreants.
    Additionally, Judas did not deny the Holy Ghost as far as we are informed by the gospels.
    So on what grounds does he qualify as a son of perdition? (This is why I suspect that the translation was incorrect)
    Furthermore, under the Law of Moses, which was not fulfilled every whit when Judas killed himself. The appropriate punishment, after he realized what he had done, was an eye for an eye.
    I’m not married to this theory. I just think it definitely has merit.

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