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Striving for redemption: the story of Curtis Fry

BY SAM LANE | MAY 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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His father's words haunt him, even today.

"What're you doing? Things can happen when you drink," Jim Fry told his son on a blustery day in February 2008.

But the God-fearing, upstanding young man from Wilton, Iowa — who had never raised a fist to anyone — didn't take his dad's advice.

Instead, he spent the night of his 21st birthday like so many others before him, becoming completely inebriated at a number of downtown Iowa City bars. Two days later, he was arrested for the violent, heinous killing of an innocent elderly man.

Today, however, Curtis Fry is free.

Fewer than five years after Fry's 21st birthday celebration ended in the killing of 75-year-old Jerome "Patrick" McEwen, he is back in the real word. And he's spending his time preaching about the importance of personal choices.

"Because of one choice I made, a 75-year-old man, Patrick McEwen, lost his life," Curtis Fry said last month while standing in the spotlight at the First United Methodist Church in Marion. Wearing a blue plaid button-up with perfectly rolled sleeves, Fry spoke to around 80 high-schoolers, who hung on his every word and gave his speech a rousing applause.

For some, the attention Fry has received in his nearly-triumphal return to society is troubling.

Still, he insists he's trying to make good on a crime no one saw coming — and one he has no recollection committing.

The facts of Fry's case are chilling.

After a night of intense drinking in Iowa City, Fry broke into McEwen's Van Buren Street apartment and brutally beat him. The next day, neighbors found McEwen's frail, blood-soaked, lifeless body lying on the floor of his own bathroom.

A year later, Fry's highly publicized second-degree-murder trial brought several witnesses to the Johnson County Courthouse, including police investigators, alcohol experts, Fry's friends and acquaintances, and those close to McEwen. The proceedings and testimony captured the attention of a city in which officials have battled alcohol issues for more than a decade.

And in a controversial verdict, a 6th District judge ruled that Fry's heavy state of intoxication led him to believe he was in his own apartment in Wilton and killed McEwen, whom he thought was the intruder. Fry received the 10-year maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter, which would later be trimmed because of prison overcrowding, good behavior, and time served. Following prison, Fry moved to a halfway house in Coralville and became a free man on Jan. 18.

So how did Fry — a soft-spoken, chiseled young man of deep faith — end up in McEwen's apartment that night?

He has no idea.

CHAPTER 1

Curtis John Fry has been involved in his share of confusing situations.

The now-25-year-old was born on Feb. 6, 1987, but somehow in the transfer of his birth certificate from the hospital to the state, his recorded date of birth became Feb. 7. On numerous occasions, Fry and his parents have attempted to correct his date of birth, but "for whatever reason," he said, their efforts have been futile.

Until his fateful 21st birthday, the mix-up meant relatively little in Fry's life — one typically filled with hunting, sports, and God.

Religion

Fry doesn't like to use the term "religious" to describe his faith.

"Religious, to me, just seems like you just go through the traditions, and it's definitely more than that," he told The Daily Iowan in one of a number of in-depth interviews. "It's about living your life for God, day in, day out. Not just going to church on Sunday and looking good."

For Fry and his family, Christian beliefs drive all aspects of life — from the walls in Fry's home, which are covered with crosses, to the Bible verses the young man rattles off from memory.

And it's been this way for as long as Fry, who considers himself a non-denominational Christian, can remember.

After a stint working on a ranch for troubled boys in Missouri, Jim and Cathy Fry moved back to Iowa in 1992, when Curtis was 5. Within a year, the Frys opened the Miracles Can Happen Boys' Ranch near Wilton, which houses 14- to 18-year-old boys with difficult home lives who require a more structured environment. The two adult Frys "felt God calling them back to their home area to start up a boys' ranch," they wrote on their website.

Growing up, the Fry family went to church each Sunday and Curtis attended youth group on Wednesdays. Among the family's tributes to the Bible, the children were punished with 10 pushups each time they cussed.

Throughout the young man's life — from his upbringing in Wilton to his time in prison — people, he claims, have expressed confusion about his faith, belittling his devotion to God or asking why he doesn't swear. But Fry, with a cross dangling from his neck and a purity ring around his finger, said he doesn't care what people think.

"Everyone's entitled to their opinion."

Wilton life

Fry's childhood was seemingly idyllic — a far cry from his fateful night in Iowa City.

Cathy Fry home-schooled Curtis until eighth grade. He dual-enrolled with the Wilton School District during that time, which allowed him to play football and baseball with the kids who became his closest friends.

Fry said those friendships made his eventual transition to public school easier, adding he's a "self-learner," which initially made academics a breeze, too.

Active from an early age, he enjoyed helping his father around the family's property, which numbers around 50 acres. At the end of a narrow gravel driveway sits a large wooden cross. Cars, machinery, and sheds dot the landscape around Fry's house, which faces a small, rippling, man-made pond.

It would be an understatement to say Fry basks in the seclusion of the area.

"I just love sittin' in God's creation," he said in a silky country accent, gesturing to his wooded backyard, where he's hunted nearly 30 deer.

High school came naturally for Fry, who accumulated a 3.45 GPA. In his favorite class, called "building trades," Fry and others built two houses, one in Wilton and one in nearby Durant.

"I love starting with nothing, then finishing with something," said Fry, who was also a server at a local restaurant and performed a variety of odd jobs throughout high school. "I love that sense of ownership, that sense of accomplishment."

In addition to his work ethic, Fry maintains he was completely non-violent while growing up in Wilton, a fact that, in retrospect, might surprise some.

Fry remembers an instance when, after working on one of the houses for class, another student wiped his dirty boots on Fry's pant leg. Fry said he flipped off the student's hat, prompting him to pummel Fry with his fists. After absorbing the beating, Fry said to the bully, "Do you feel better now?"

The incident was the only one Fry could recall when asked if he'd ever gotten in trouble. But Fry said he was never punished because he never retaliated. And in a statement that's now part of Fry's court record, Cathy Fry recounted a number of other instances when her son was the victim of bullying or violence. Each time, she wrote, he did not retaliate. Jim Fry's statement described his son with the words "loyal," "gentleman," "polite," and "God-fearing."

Others in Fry's life agreed.

Keith Nester, the 37-year-old youth pastor at First United Methodist Church in Marion, said Fry was a "model kid."

"He's a kid you want yours to be best friends with," Nester said.

Kenneth Crawford, the principal at Wilton High, said Fry was "just like his parents — a high-quality individual."

"He was a leader in the classroom … He was the kid you went to with issues," Crawford said. "He was not a kid you worried about one iota. You knew he going to be just fine."

Sports

Throughout school, sports reigned supreme for Fry.

In a workout room in the basement of the boys' ranch home, a shelf holds dozens of sparkling trophies and medals marking his athletic accomplishments.

He wrestled, but back problems led to an injury in seventh grade that made the sport more difficult. He also played golf and baseball, starting in right field for Wilton's undefeated 2005 state-championship team.

But his favorite sport remains football.

He played quarterback, running back, and linebacker for the Beavers. He enjoyed quarterback the most, he said, because he liked being in control. Other coaches often told Fry he was the player they spent the most time trying to defend. During his senior year, when the team's starting running back went down with an injury, Fry filled in, playing the rest of the season alongside his friend and future Hawkeye wrestler Chad Beatty.

Fry won all-district honors his junior and senior years and was named to the All-Eastern Iowa team.

His play at linebacker piqued the interest of coaches from around 20 area colleges, and he eventually decided to attend St. Ambrose College in Davenport.

The rock solid, 6-foot, 200-pound Fry played on the St. Ambrose football team for just one semester. Of 60 freshmen on the team, he was one of four to see the field. He spent most of his playing time on special teams and said his most memorable moment came on a kickoff, when he broke the wedge, did a half-bear crawl, and tackled the ball carrier at the 5-yard line.

Despite Fry's love for the sport, class was a different story. He worked hard and got good grades, but he said he had no idea what he wanted to do academically.

The real world

Fry eventually decided he wasn't getting anything out of his education and didn't want to simply pay to play football.

So he left St. Ambrose in December 2005, and, in his first job after dropping out, began working in a warehouse at the HNI Corp. in Muscatine, loading furniture into trailers. The work was tedious and mundane.

"It wasn't the worst job, but I like being a problem-solver," he said. "I don't like things that are repetitive. I like a variety."

After nine months at HNI, Fry moved to Bryan, Texas, to live with his sister and worked at Still Creek Children's home, a place that sought single males to be father figures for younger boys.

"I was always drawn to the kid who doesn't get treated right," Fry said about his work with places like Still Creek and his parents' ranch. "Seeing boys come in here, hearing about their family life — some kids don't get a chance."

In Texas, Fry worked as a farmhand and a relief parent, taking kids to school, making dinner each night, acting more like an older brother than a parent. He was only 19.

Three months later, when Fry learned his father was beginning a dairy operation on the ranch, he moved back to Wilton to help.

Then, in July 2007, Fry led a group of nine high-schoolers on a trip to Colorado through a group called Young Life, an eye-opening spiritual journey he calls the best week of his life.

But upon his return, Fry, then 20, said he "allowed Satan to get small footholds" in his life. He went to parties and was the designated driver. Later, he decided it wouldn't hurt to have an occasional beer. It was a period, he said, in which he was around a big crowd without another strong Christian.

Fry's parents decided they taught their son everything they could and didn't chastise or punish him when he told them he drank from time to time.

He later began working at Gerdau Ameristeel in Wilton. He was trying to save enough money to open a Christian recreation center in Wilton that would serve as a weekend alternative to farm parties.

Fry began renting his own apartment in January 2008, a month from his 21st birthday.

21

To celebrate the 21 milestone, Fry began making plans with his older brother.

They decided to take a road trip to Iowa City, where Fry would sleep in the bed of a friend at the University of Iowa who was headed home for the weekend. He said the decision to celebrate in Iowa City was virtually automatic, something he now believes is a problem.

"It's crazy how that is the staple point of a 21-year-old — to go and get hammered drunk at a bunch of different bars and not remember the night," he said. "Looking back now, it is kind of a sad thing to think that's what people think of when you say, '21st birthday.' "

But beyond making sure no one in his group would drive back to Wilton that night, Fry didn't have much of a plan. He knew he would hang out with his friends from high school before heading to the bars of downtown Iowa City.

"I thought I was taking precautions," he said.

The night before the trip, a winter storm blasted the area, and Fry said the group had "lots of reasons not to go."

But he said he had his decision "locked in his head."

CHAPTER 2

Sourcing note: With the exception of quotes from Fry, Jeff Portman, and Lonny Pulkrabek, information in this chapter comes from a Daily Iowan analysis of court documents and DI stories from Fry's trial. Most description of what Fry and his group did on Feb. 6 and 7, 2008, came from the case's verdict, search warrants, and police complaints. Information and quotes from Ryan Theis and Kyle Gayman came from a combination of a DI story from his trial and the judge's verdict. Some description of Patrick McEwen's condition before the killing and all information about his condition after came from court documents.

The blizzard that pummeled eastern Iowa on Feb. 5 and 6, 2008, blanketed the streets and sidewalks of Iowa City in a way that would have kept even the most ardent of college-age partiers indoors.

But Curtis Fry was on a mission.

"I made a choice the night of my 21st," he told the DI. "I was going to live like the world would want you to live."

When Fry arrived at his friends' house at 513 Bowery St. on Feb. 6, one of the roommates, Kyle Marks, was shoveling the driveway.

Fry and his high-school friends began playing beer pong quickly after his arrival. He had never played the game before, but he said he thinks he probably drained Ping-Pong balls with relative ease, thanks to his athletic talent and hand-eye coordination. He downed numerous beers.

An hour or two later, the group made its way through the snow to the Vine Tavern & Eatery, 330 E. Prentiss St., where Fry ate the restaurant's award-winning wings and drank more beer. He said he remembers taking around seven birthday shots back-to-back.

"I was feeling fine, I guess; then, so, I don't know," he said, trailing off. He reached a level of intoxication he had never experienced but said he didn't really think about it and wasn't concerned.

After the Vine, Fry went to Brothers Bar & Grill, 125 S. Dubuque St. The group walked into the bar, where a doorman questioned Fry's ID, which said he wasn't quite 21. Fry pleaded, saying it was it was less than an hour until his birthday. The doorman let him through.

"I remember going in and seeing the inside of [Brothers] and, after that, I don't remember being in there, doing anything, talking to anyone, drinking anything," he said. "Right there is kind of the last thing I remember."

But Fry did drink at Brothers. And after roughly an hour, he went to Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St., where he had another beer. The group went to the now-defunct bar One-Eyed Jakes, 18-20 S. Clinton St., shortly before midnight on Feb. 7.

Approximately an hour after an intoxicated Fry arrived, he was asked to leave the bar because he was on the brink of vomiting. Despite Fry's drunkenness, Ryan Theis, a Jakes employee, said he was "100 percent cooperative."

But when Fry tried to re-enter Jakes, the doorman at the time, Kyle Gayman, stopped him. Fry's level of intoxication was an 8 or a 9 on a 10-point scale, Gayman said.

Fry became aggressive, calling the situation "bulls***" and pointing to his arm muscles. At that point, Fry's brother and friends pulled him out of Jakes and the group went back to Brothers, where Fry's binge continued.

Fry stumbled out of Brothers, one arm around his brother and the other draped over the shoulders of his friend, Kevin Anson. At the intersection of Burlington and Gilbert Streets, Fry let go of his human crutches and staggered off into the cold Iowa City night, leaving his brother and friends chasing him through the snow before they stopped, thinking they'd meet him back at the house.

Blacked out

The group returned to the Bowery Street house, expecting to find a heavily intoxicated, newly minted 21-year-old waiting for them.

But he wasn't.

Fry's companions roamed the streets of Iowa City. They walked up and down the snow-covered roads near the house.

Anson tried to call Fry on his cell phone several times, but he only answered once, making shivering noises.

Fry had stumbled to 513 S. Van Buren St., an apartment building roughly one block north of his friends' house. Fry recognized the "513" on the outside of the building because it was the same number on his friends' Bowery Street house. He staggered through a hallway, fell down, and pounded on doors.

Eventually, he maneuvered down a half flight of stairs and turned right, as he would in his own apartment building in Wilton.

Without a key to the apartment he thought was his own, he kicked open the door of unit No. 1, at once leaving a shoe mark, hurting his foot, and bursting the deadbolt.

Fry made his way back to the bedroom, where he set his wallet on the nightstand and undressed before going to bed.

Pat

Jerome "Patrick" McEwen converted to Judaism based, like many other things in his life, on something he read.

McEwen — who had one half-sister with whom he had limited contact — was an avid reader and decided to give Judaism a chance around age 50.

Jeff Portman, the rabbi at Agudas Achim, the Iowa City synagogue McEwen attended, performed McEwen's conversion and described the man whom he knew for nearly 25 years as "a little different."

McEwen, an Iowa native with a thick, white, scraggily beard was frail and hampered by physical and psychological issues. He wore a back brace and thanks to a cane, he had limited mobility, but suffered from Parkinson-type symptoms, a schizophrenic-type personality disorder, asthma, and high blood pressure. He also experienced anxiety and depression.

"He was a frightened individual," Portman said. "The synagogue was his oasis."

Portman said he was never concerned about McEwen's living situation, noting his neighbors were all very friendly and supportive. They knew about his health problems and "watched over him."

McEwen loved science-fiction movies and, if the rabbi would let him, McEwen would "talk my head off about some movie," Portman said.

Portman said McEwen also said he didn't know what he would do if he didn't have the synagogue.

But as much as McEwen needed Agudas Achim, the synagogue needed him. He gave every Bar and Bat Mitzvah child a simple drawing he made on the computer — sometimes of a landscape, a pasture, or the sky. And McEwen always was present to make sure the synagogue had enough people to conduct a service.

McEwen wasn't necessarily the most religious member of Agudas Achim, but he was one of the most dependable.

'A horrific death'

Curtis Fry didn't expect to find anyone in the bedroom he apparently thought was his own.

He especially didn't expect to find 75-year-old Pat McEwen.

But a dangerous mix of confusion and alcohol lead to a minutes-long period in which "one man's life was tragically taken and another man's life was irrevocably altered," 6th Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner later wrote.

Fry grabbed McEwen by the neck with one hand and punched him several times in the face.

McEwen didn't die immediately. He suffered two fractured cheek bones, cuts on both sides of a broken nose, lacerations in his mouth, and one broken rib. The amount of force applied to McEwen's neck caused both thyroid horns in his voice box to shatter. Eventually, McEwen did die — from a combination of blunt force trauma to the face, head and neck.

"He must have been frightened out of his mind," Portman said. "It must have been a horrific death."
Johnson County prosecutor Janet Lyness shudders when she thinks about the killing.

"He was badly beaten," she said. "There were so many blows to the head. It's not a one-punch deal. It was a bad assault, and he was left to die … it had to have been terrifying."

Turner's ruling said a blood stain in the snow outside the building proved McEwen left his apartment with the use of his cane, perhaps trying to see which direction his assailant had gone. Fry, meanwhile, had received a call from friend Simon Maurer, during which he told his friend he thought he'd been in a fight with a kid and was freaked out because the person was "gurgling." Testimony also indicated Fry mentioned he thought the person may be dying.

Roughly half an hour later, Fry made his way down Van Buren Street wearing two coats that didn't belong to him. He wore one regularly and the other was wrapped around his legs as pants. When Fry's friends saw him, they called to him, eventually getting him to pass out in the bed where he planned to sleep. He had a cut under his left eye, a mark near his left wrist, a small nick above his ear, and a bruise on the right side of his forehead.

The next morning, Fry joked with his friends about his lack of recollection of the previous night.

They shared a laugh after informing Fry he reunited with the group wearing the two different coats.

"I don't remember anything until that next morning waking up, and they're just telling me all that stuff — I had no idea," Fry said. "I'd lost my wallet; I was disappointed about that. I don't know. I had no idea what to think."

After grabbing a change of clothes from his truck, Fry started on the half-hour ride back to Wilton.

'A bomb went off'

Fry awoke on the morning of Feb. 8, 2008, to a thumping on the door of his Wilton apartment.

He opened the door to find a 6- 8 Iowa State Patrol officer standing in his doorway.

Following some innocent questioning, the officer asked Fry to accompany him to the Iowa City police station. Confused, he complied.

"I had no reason to be worried," Fry said. "I had no idea what to expect."

An hour and a half after he arrived at the Iowa City police station, officers told Fry they found his clothes and wallet in a man's apartment, and the man was dead in the bathroom.

"For me, it was like a bomb went off inside me," Fry said, his voice shaking slightly. "My whole world was shaken up, and I didn't know what to think, what to feel … How could I have done this? This isn't in me. I walk away from fights. No. What's going on?"

Immediately, Fry, who had zero memory of the ordeal, did what he was accustomed to: He turned to God and prayed.

Trial

Curtis Fry was charged with second-degree murder within two hours of arriving in Iowa City. He was taken to the Johnson County Jail, where he spent roughly a year before his trial.

"It was an eye-opener, big time," he said. "My vision was: I'm going to be around all these hardened criminals that want to beat me up for everything I say. I was just so worried about that, but then you get in there, and you start talking to guys, and they're people just like we are … The thing that got to me the most was how much they almost didn't have a chance, a lot of the guys because of the environment they grew up in."

And Fry said some of his time was spent thinking about Patrick McEwen.

"I guess it was just wondering just how it all came about. All the different correlations in the numbers, and the apartment number, and all that and I just wondered why it was his apartment," Fry said. "I didn't know him at all — just what people at the depositions had said, and it seemed like he was a very nice man. I was just extremely sorry for what happened. I had no idea what happened, but I knew I was there."

In jail, Fry read Christian suspense novels, played cards, and even started drawing. He exercised in spurts — he'd do pushups, pull-ups — "at least do something to use my muscles." He also ministered to other inmates.

Fry recalls an instance where an inmate took another smaller inmate's dessert at every meal. The night Fry received word about the bullying, he decided he'd give the larger inmate every one of his meals. For breakfast, Fry got his tray, walked to the guy who'd been taking the dessert, and handed him his meal. At lunch, Fry got his tray again, handed it to the man, and said, "Here, I don't need it."
At supper, the bully stopped Fry from setting down his tray.

"He goes, 'Hold on, no — I know why you're doing this. I don't want it. I don't want it,' " Fry recalled. "So I said, 'Well, then, you go give it to the guy whose food you've been taking.' And he did. So that was kind of the end of that. Just seeing the guys who think they're better than other people and watching them tear down other people — that was the hardest part on me."

Fry said he felt like God gave him a personality that allows people to get along with him easily.

"[In jail], I just acted like myself and didn't try to be someone else, and I got along with everyone," he said. "There were very few people that I had a confrontation with."

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said he never had direct contact with Fry while he was in jail, but he said jail officials never had a problem with him.

"What he's saying is what staff said also. They didn't hear much out of him. He went about his business; he did what he had to do," Pulkrabek said. "If there's such a thing as a model inmate, he'd be in that category. He made the best of that situation, from what I recall."

Leading up to the trial, Fry and his lawyers — local public defenders Peter Persaud and Quint Meyerdirk — decided to waive his rights to a jury and let a judge decide his fate. A judge, Fry said, knew the law better than a person on a jury.

"The truth would come out," Fry said about his thoughts in the days before the trial. "I felt that, obviously, I was there. I don't know what happened or how it came about, but I felt like if my body did something even though I may not know what it was, that I should serve consequences … I was willing to accept the punishment that they gave me."

For five days, Fry stared straight forward as he heard friends testify about his character and the events of Feb. 6 and 7, 2008. He listened to McEwen's friends, alcohol experts, police detectives, coroners, and his lawyers, who used Fry's heavy state of intoxication to argue he thought he was in his own home and McEwen was the intruder.

Fry said he cried during the trial and the hardest parts were when McEwen's friends and people from the synagogue spoke about what kind of person he was.

"I was nervous, but I don't know about worried, really," Fry said. "I knew that whatever happened, I was going to be OK. I just kept that positive attitude through the whole thing."

A little less than a month after the end of Fry's trial, the judge issued his ruling, convicting the then-22-year-old of voluntary manslaughter, a charge to which Fry's attorneys tried to negotiate "from the beginning." The charge held a 10-year maximum sentence, 40 years less than the maximum sentence for second-degree murder.

"I didn't [think I would receive a 50-year sentence] just because I knew that I didn't intend anything, so there's no reason it could be 50 years," Fry said. "I don't know — maybe that was something that helped me get through it, continually not even thinking about it. I didn't really dwell on it a whole lot, I guess."

While there was subdued happiness from Fry and his supporters after the verdict — and the issuance of the sentence — McEwen's friends and the prosecution blasted the ruling.

"I'll try to put this in words that are printable. The ruling was a shock to everyone," Lindsay Eaves-Johnson, a friend of McEwen's from the synagogue, told The Daily Iowan following the sentencing, noting that she wouldn't vote for the judge's retention.

Portman also said he "disagreed totally with the judge's conclusion," calling the assertion that McEwen left his apartment in pursuit of Fry before crumbling on the floor of his own bathroom to die "ludicrous."

"He couldn't have staggered outside," Portman said. "[The judge] tried to make the facts fit the ruling."

But after the ruling, Turner was defiant.

"I do not apologize for my decision," he said, according to The Daily Iowan. "You have a right to believe if the system functioned properly or if it has gone awry."

As for Fry, the response to critics is familiar.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion."

CHAPTER 3

As surprised as Keith Nester was when he heard Curtis Fry killed Patrick McEwen, the Marion youth pastor said he was equally proud when he heard Fry was speaking to groups about the importance of personal choices.

"Would you do what he's doing or would you run and hide?" Nester asked the youth group at First United Methodist Church before Fry took the stage. "Listen for the voice of Jesus. You're going to hear about someone who refused to stop listening to Jesus."

Then Fry told his story.

"How many of you guys have made a bad choice?" Fry began, eliciting a rush of hands into the air.

For the next hour, he carefully wove a narrative about his decision to make a trip to Iowa City for his 21st birthday. He described what he remembered of the night — the beer pong, the wings and drinks at the Vine, walking to Brothers — before recounting his interaction with state police in the doorway of his Wilton apartment. An eerie silence fell upon the room when Fry said he was charged with second-degree murder for killing an elderly man on the night of his 21st birthday.

"So you guys see how big of an impact one choice can make?" he concluded.

'It's not me'

After his sentencing, Fry returned to the Johnson County Jail for five weeks. Then, he spent 47 days at the Iowa Medical & Classification Center, in Oakdale, before being sent to the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, where he spent year and three months, the longest period he stayed at one location during his sentence. Finally, he spent a year in the North Central Correctional Facility in Rockwell City.

Fry was denied parole in April 2011, but he was granted work release that August and moved to the halfway house, where he spent the remainder of his prison sentence, just under five months.

During that time, Fry landed a job with a piping group that installs steam lines for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

On Jan. 18, Fry became a free man. He returned to Wilton to live with his parents and remains on parole until August. Now, he commutes to Iowa City four days a week to work and pray. After his release, Fry began dating an old friend who sent him letters of encouragement when he was in prison. He helps his parents on the boys' ranch, and he has spoken to more than a dozen groups about his experiences.

Fry's hope is to eventually give up his job with the piping company and become a full-time speaker.

For now, he's requesting groups pay for his travel expenses and reimburse him if he misses any time from work. Additionally, some groups who listen to his speech collect a small amount of money from audience members. The speeches — even the one he gave not so many blocks from the site of the killing earlier this year at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St. — aren't difficult, Fry said.

"I guess I don't think into things too much," he said. "I'm not a deep thinker."

So are Fry's actions enough?

Rabbi Portman, McEwen's personal contact, said no matter what Fry does, "he can't erase the fact he killed someone" and "it wasn't an accident."

When asked if he would be open to allowing Fry to speak to a youth group at the synagogue, Portman was firm.

"I don't want him anywhere near here," he said, adding, "I don't ever want to see him again."

And when prosecutor Lyness heard of Fry's release and saw coverage of his speeches, she said she was concerned Fry would be made to look like a "hero."

"I wish they would talk more about Mr. McEwen," she said. "It's very good he's talking, giving words, saying, 'Don't let this happen to you.' That's a positive message. But I think focusing on Curtis Fry instead of Mr. McEwen is disconcerting. If you ignore what he did, you're not getting the full picture. I feel bad there was nothing in [the coverage of Fry's release and speeches] that says a man was beaten in his own home."

Still, Curtis Fry, who said he won't drink ever again, believes his story is an important one.

"I know there's going to be critics out there of everything that we do," Fry said softly, adding, "I know that, in my heart, I would never intentionally do that to someone. It's not me."


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