FAYETTEVILLE — Imagine lying down to sleep at night as darkness gently and rapidly descends around you. The void serves as a blank slate of thoughts as you ponder two questions — what became of my son, and will his killer ever face justice? Now multiply that scenario 2,800 times.

The family of 12-year-old Jeremy Bell was finally able in 2005 to put such nights — filled with endless questions and emptied of answers — to rest with the trial and murder conviction of former Beckwith Elementary principal Edgar Friedrichs in the untimely death of their son.

Victims, their relatives and morbidly curious local residents packed Circuit Judge John Hatcher’s chambers in sweltering July heat as Friedrichs’ murder trial came to belated fruition after an eight-year odyssey toward truth.

The courtroom drama commenced July 25, with the ensuing days revealing ever increasing details of the tragedy that befell the youth at an isolated fishing cabin in Thurmond on Nov. 8, 1997.

While Roy Bell — the victim’s father — lambasted local authorities over the lengthy delay in pursuing justice, defense attorneys argued that the lapse of time had tainted evidence.

A former state medical examiner — who had previously been uncertain about the cause of death — testified that it was indeed a matter of homicide. A coroner also linked the boy’s death to chloroform.

In a penultimate culmination of sorts, Friedrichs himself took the witness stand in his own defense on July 30, telling jurors that Bell voluntarily ingested some chloroform — unbeknownst to him — prior to his passing.

Friedrichs also claimed that Bell had acquired “sparkling marijuana” from his father — a charge that Jeremy’s father denied. Officials added that medical examiners never found any marijuana in Bell’s system.

July — and the trial of the year for Fayette County — wound to a close with Friedrichs’ testimony.

On the first of August, 12 jurors — in only 40 minutes — put the finishing touches on what had taken authorities eight years to accomplish. They found Friedrichs, also serving a lengthy sentence for sex crimes against students, guilty of felony murder and death of a child by a custodian or guardian and sent him to prison for the rest of his life. On this day — in this case — there was no room for mercy.

In a fitting tribute to their long dance with black uncertainty, the dawn of truth and closure shone on the Bell family as they visited Jeremy’s grave following the verdict.

“That’s what it was all about,” Bell said.

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