Forgiving and Living

August 18, 2002 By Associated Press

RAWLINS, Wyo. (AP) – Mark Farnham is serving a 55-to-75-year prison sentence for shooting and maiming a highway patrolman.

His prison time has been reduced twice by two different governors, but his best hope for getting out earlier lies with Stephen Watt, the man he shot five times and nearly killed 20 years ago.

Watt, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in Tuesday’s primary, calls Farnham his best friend.

Blinded in one eye from the shooting and still carrying a painful bullet near his spine, Watt said that if he is elected governor, releasing his assailant would be among his first acts.

“Yeah, I’m going to pardon him,” said Watt, now a deputy sheriff and state legislator who is considered a long shot in the GOP race because he is one of the lesser known and poorly financed of the five candidates.

Watt visits Farnham regularly at the Wyoming State Penitentiary, even taking time from a busy campaign schedule being conducted primarily on his own free time after work and on his days off.

During a recent meeting at the prison, the atmosphere was relaxed, the friendship genuine.

Watt, a very large man, groaned as Farnham gave him a warm embrace.

“You’d better not hug me as hard as you did last time. I still haven’t recovered,” Watt, 46, warned. “Man, when he hugs you, it’s like a grizzly bear.”

They joke and kid each other. Watt shares stories from the campaign trail. Farnham, 45, offers election tidbits he has heard on the radio or read about in newspapers. They seem oblivious to the prison walls and that first awkward meeting that nearly killed them both.

Steve Watt had wanted to be a highway patrolman as long as he can remember, ever since he was a young boy helping on the family ranch near Upton in northeastern Wyoming.

In 1979, at age 23, he donned the uniform of the Wyoming Highway Patrol in Rock Springs.

On March 18, 1982, he was enjoying lunch at a restaurant when a call came over his radio that a bank had been robbed in Craig, Colo., just south of the Wyoming state line.

He jumped in his cruiser and headed south on lonely Wyoming Highway 430.

Mark Farnham is the son of a policeman. His father spent 16 years in the Sioux Falls, S.D., Police Department. When Mark was 5, his parents divorced, and he and his two siblings moved with his mother from South Dakota to the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park.

After high school, he joined the Army, became a good marksman and served as a military policeman stationed in Germany.

He returned to Minnesota two years later, and on his 22nd birthday a friend, who knew that Mark didn’t like alcohol or marijuana, offered him cocaine. He was immediately hooked.

Farnham started selling, then started snorting more than he was selling and fell into debt. He moved to Wyoming, hoping oil field work would straighten him out.

He quit the oil patch after six weeks and drifted to Jackson, where he waited tables and dabbled with a tourism coupon book business that put him deeper in debt – $25,000 in all.

Lacking close friends to lean on and too embarrassed to ask family for help, he decided to rob a bank.

He boughtd a .32-caliber Saturday Night Special at a pawn shop and headed to Craig, a random, but seemingly isolated place.

The robbery went easily enough, but on his way back to Jackson he passed Watt, who turned around and signaled Farnham to pull over.

Charged with adrenaline and fearing that he was about to get caught, Farnham jammed on the brakes and jumped out, handgun ready.

He fired a shot through Watt’s windshield, sunglasses and left eye. The bullet stopped the width of a piece of paper from his brain.

A second shot glanced off the windshield.

Watt somehow grabbed his microphone and radioed, “Help! I’ve been shot!”

Farnham opened the driver’s door and pumped four more shots into the severely wounded trooper’s side.

“I wanted to kill him,” Farnham recalled. “That was my goal, to keep him from bringing me in. I didn’t see him as a person. I saw him as an obstacle, something in my way. I didn’t see him as a father, as a brother, a son or a husband.”

Two shots struck Watt in the hip. Another hit him in the spine and the fourth split his liver.

Farnham got back in his car, unaware that Watt had somehow mustered the will to sit up and fire back.

“If I’m going to hell, I’m not going by myself,” Watt thought.

The patrolman unloaded his .357-caliber Smith and Wesson into Farnham’s headrest – all six shots hit within a 6-inch diameter – but the first glanced off a metal headrest post, struck Farnham near the shoulder and knocked him out of the way of the other five shots.

Watt collapsed and started praying.

Farnham drove off, only slightly wounded. He ran into a road block a few miles farther, got out and started running through the sagebrush, then gave up with shots zinging over his head.

Because of his injury, he was taken to the emergency room at Rock Springs’ Memorial Hospital where doctors were frantically trying to save Watt’s life.

The two men were less than 12 feet apart.

“Only a curtain between us,” Watt said. “He heard everything that they were doing to me, and they were doing some horrible things to me.”

A doctor broke Watt’s nose to insert a stomach pump. Watt was still conscious as the doctor discussed how he would have to “open him up” and carve away half his liver to remove a bullet. That was the last he remembered.

Farnham looked up only once, to a line of officers’ faces that exhibited “unadulterated loathing.”

He heard one glowering officer ask, “Does he have to be in here?”

He felt like the lowest scumbag on earth.

Watt was back on the streets in two months, but he was not the same officer, physically or mentally.

He almost shot an innocent motorist, thinking his billfold was a revolver. Every person he pulled over was Mark Farnham, ready to gun him down. Counseling didn’t work. He left the Highway Patrol and drifted from one security job to another.

His anger mounted, at times overwhelming him, until his wife, Marian, a policewoman, confronted him.

She told him he would have to forgive Mark if he was ever going to be a true Christian, which he had proclaimed to have become after the shooting.

“I don’t know how much longer I can live with your hatred,” she told him.

In 1986, Watt attended a revival service at the prison, and the gathered crowd watched nervously as Watt strode toward Farnham.

For a brief moment, Watt, well-trained in self-defense, thought about killing the man who had brought him so much pain and torment.

The thought quickly passed, and he hugged Farnham and said, “God, I’m glad I didn’t kill you.” Farnham had the same response.

“It was just so intense,” Watt said of the meeting. “We just talked about everything. It was just like God just picked up a semi-truck right off me and I actually started living. I had basically been dead from the time I got shot until 1986.”

Watt’s forgiveness has been difficult for Farnham to accept. He hasn’t forgiven himself yet.

He knows his actions hurt a lot of people, especially police officers and their families. Some of Watt’s friends also are struggling with the idea that he could forgive a would-be cop-killer.

“Steve makes it sound so easy,” Farnham said. “He became estranged from a lot of people who were very, very close to him.

“It took a lot of courage to do what he did. He lost a career. He just didn’t lose an eye. He took a bullet in the back. For him to forgive me took a lot of courage.”

Watt said he would not change a thing that happened that day.

“Everyone thinks Mark is the only one who’s benefiting from this relationship,” he said. “I’ve benefited more from this relationship probably than Mark. …

“I couldn’t stand being a victim the rest of my life. Because Mark allowed me to become part of his life, I ceased to be a victim.”

The shooting dealt a crushing blow to Farnham’s cop father, Gene Corbett, who was much less forgiving than Watt.

Farnham said the relationship has never been better because Watt intervened and asked Corbett, “If I can forgive him, why can’t you?”

Corbett, who runs a security service in Sioux Falls, said, “Steve, I think, is an incredible man, an incredible man, to have gone through what he has gone through and still see the bright side of things.”

Farnham was not a model prisoner early on. He bent the bars of his cell, losing any chance for parole, and got into one or two scrapes with other inmates.

But then he decided to turn his life around.

“Everybody needs a purpose,” he said. “You need to get up in the morning and feel you have a purpose. I didn’t want to waste this time … to be stagnant.”

Farnham became the first inmate in Wyoming to earn a college degree. He put together a newsletter for prisoners to write about the pain they caused their victims. He worked to bring in private industry, including a fly-tying company, and sought exercise equipment for the inmates.

While housed for a period at the Wyoming Honor Farm, a lower-security prison in Riverton, Farnham gentled a horse for Watt, and took extra care because he knew Watt’s four children would be riding it.

He also talks to as many young offenders as he can about his mistakes.

Prison guards, court officials and others who have observed Farnham believe he is no longer a threat to society and that he can help others by sharing his story.

“Most people don’t set out to be criminals,” Farnham said. “It happens through a series of bad choices. There are real consequences for your actions. People can get hurt.”

Watt wants to join Farnham on speaking tours. But only a governor can make it happen.

In 1992, then-Gov. Mike Sullivan reduced Farnham’s life sentence to 75 to 85 years. Last year, Gov. Jim Geringer shortened it to 55 to 75 years, which means Farnham could get out in 2037 – at age 80.

Geringer has not been swayed by Parole Board recommendations or Watt’s pleas for a reduction to time served.

In one letter, Watt wrote, “As the victim of this crime, I need to bring this to a closure and move on to two friends leading a normal life.”

Watt is certain that Farnham poses no harm to anyone.

“I’d trust my children with him. I’d trust my wife with him. God I’d die for him,” he said during the prison meeting.

Added Farnham, “And I for him.”

  1. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  2. Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

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