Adina Parson was in the prime of her life — a successful attorney married three years earlier to a man she cared for deeply. Rachel Harner was just returning from Afghanistan, eager to move on with civilian life and plan for her upcoming wedding.
The man they loved, Sandy Springs pet store manager Michael Parson, would turn their lives upside down through his lies and violence.
On Friday, the 43-year-old was sentenced to the maximum 35 years in prison for the attempted murder of his then-wife, Adina. The sentence capped uncertainty about the future of Parson, a self-described sociopath. It’s also a new start on healing for the injuries inflicted on his ex-wife, who is unable to care for herself; his ex-fiance, who’s reshaping “her trust in humanity,” and the friends and families who support them.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly A. Lee told a gallery packed with Adina’s friends and family that she wishes she could have given Parson more time behind bars.
“It is a rare case, in my opinion, in Georgia that the sentencing range is too low,” Lee said to the shackled defendant. “This case is one.”
Adina Broome, who re-took her maiden name earlier this year after divorcing Parson, did not attend Friday’s hearing. Her best friend, Sondra Reed, said Broome – confined to a wheelchair for life — told her she was “happy but sad” about the verdict.
“She loved Michael,” Reed said. “He meant the world to her.”
Harner said she no longer has feelings for Parson. He’d haunted her for the last 13 months, when she found out virtually everything she knew about him was untrue.
Parson was waiting for the attractive young Marine when she returned from Afghanistan to Camp Lejune, N.C., on April 18, 2012.
“I was under the impression I was returning to a faithful fiancé,” Harner, now 22, said Friday. She had no idea that, back in Georgia, Parson’s wife was turning 40, alone. Adina told her best friend that she celebrated with a cupcake.
Parson returned home the following day prepared to kill his wife, who, testimony revealed, often paid his bills and nurtured him through a disease he lied about having. Parson’s attorney, Robert Booker, acknowledged that his client pretended to have cancer so he could smoke marijuana openly.
“His two worlds were colliding,” said prosecutor Linda Dunikoski in her closing argument Thursday.
On April 20, Parson lured Adina out of their Sandy Springs apartment and shot her eight times. One of the first police officers to arrive on the scene testified he was certain he was watching her die.
As Adina clung to life at Grady Memorial Hospital, Parson returned to his other world. Less than 24 hours after the shooting he had dinner with Harner and her parents, discussing wedding dates.
A few days later Harner was told by Sandy Springs police detectives that her intended was a suspect in the attempted murder of his wife. Through them she learned Parson was 12 years older and did not have spinal cancer, Harner testified Tuesday.
“In one fell swoop, my faith in humanity was destroyed,” said Harner, who delivered one of three victim impact statements prior to sentencing.
The guilt stung even worse. It was alleviated on Tuesday, following opening statements, when Adina sent her a message.
“Adina asked me on Tuesday to tell her she didn’t hold her at fault,” said Reed, the victim’s closest friend. “Knowing Adina forgave her, she felt she could get closure.”
Jurors said they had little doubt about Parson’s guilt, noting overwhelming circumstantial evidence and an alibi derailed by a technological smoking gun.
Signals from nearby cell phone towers placed Parson outside his apartment – and not at the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur, as he told investigators – just minutes before the shooting.
Parson’s own words were nearly as damning. In a letter written just before he was apprehended near the Mexican border in May 2012, he told Harner, “If I wasn’t a sociopath, we would’ve done amazing things together.”
John Broome, the victim’s father, noted that his daughter has forever lost the independence she treasured.
“(Her mother) is now Adina’s primary caregiver, a role Adina hoped to provide for her in the future,” Broome said Friday.
Parson’s mother, the only witness to speak on his behalf at Friday’s sentencing, said she still believes her son is innocent.
“I cannot convince you that Michael is innocent of shooting Adina,” said Margaret Parson, addressing her former in-laws. “But if you feel that he’s guilty, I ask you to forgive him as our Lord and savior forgives us each day.”
Adina, according to her best friend, already has.
“Even after all this she still loves,” Reed said. “Even after all this she still forgives.”