“I truly regret that I took his life,” Lower told Milton Maxwell, a member of the state Prisoner Review Board. “I was an individual who was messed up, screwed up, whatever you want to call it.
“I’m not that same person anymore. Back then, I was a coldhearted, no-good person.”
Lower, 69, abducted 15-year-old Didier on the morning of March 4, 1975. He later told police he couldn’t sleep, so he got dressed and went “driving around looking for a paperboy.”
He found Didier delivering newspapers on Fulton Avenue in Rockford. He coaxed the boy into his car, drove him to a remote cabin in Jo Daviess County and sexually assaulted him. He then put a noose around the boy’s neck, tossed the rope over a rafter, and as the boy pleaded for his life, hanged him.
“At the beginning, I didn’t plan on killing him,” Lower told Maxwell impassively. “I planned on having sex with him.”
Candid but composed
Lower sat woodenly during the roughly 45-minute interview, across a table from Maxwell in a small cinderblock room at Big Muddy Correctional Center.
He was forthright with his answers but did little to support the psychological transformation he claimed to have completed, despite Maxwell’s repeated probing.
Lower said he has been in sex-offender counseling for 14 years but that he had not recently been psychologically evaluated.
At one point, he paused to consider one of Maxwell’s questions: why he killed the boy.
“If I got rid of him, there wouldn’t be nobody to testify,” he said calmly.
Maxwell asked Lower what would have happened if he had gotten away with his crime.
“It probably would have continued,” Lower said.
A repeat offender
At Maxwell’s urging, Lower talked about his history, beginning with his birth in Freeport. He described two similar encounters before killing Didier.
In one case, Lower was arrested for kidnapping a teenage boy while serving in the Air Force and stationed in Nevada. Lower said authorities agreed not to prosecute him as long as his parents retrieved him and returned him to Illinois. In fact, he pleaded guilty to “assault with a deadly weapon,” according to his Prisoner Review Board file.
Seven years later, after returning to Freeport, Lower was arrested for “indecent liberties with a minor” after contact with another boy, according to his file. He denied Tuesday that this encounter was sexual in nature. He said he was only “hugging” the boy to “comfort” him.
Nonetheless, the state labeled him a “sexually dangerous person” and committed him to a state psychiatric ward for treatment.
At about the same time, Lower married, he said.
It was the only time during the interview that his composure seemed to crack. He seemed awkward, confusing some of the facts.
Attempt met with opposition
This is Lower’s 17th shot at parole. He has served 32 years of his 100- to 150-year sentence, On Jan. 31, Maxwell will recommend to the full Prisoner Review Board whether to parole Lower. The board then will vote on that recommendation.
For Lower to win freedom, eight of the board’s 14 members must vote for his parole. No board member has voted in his favor, according to board records.
Didier’s family is circulating petitions and hopes community members will sign them to show their opposition to Lower’s parole.
Diane Didier, one of Joey’s five surviving siblings, said Lower appears to be “very naive.”
“Mr. Lower has not come to terms with the horrific and deeply sadistic element of his own nature,” she said by phone after the hearing. “Because of that, therapy has not been effective. What he had to say, in our (family’s) opinion, is that he is still a very sick man and he needs to be incarcerated.”
Lower said if he won parole he would live with his brother, a retired police officer, in Savannah, Ga., and that his brother would supervise him. He said his brother has money in escrow for him but that he doesn’t know how much.
“He’s my brother,” Lower said. “I trust him.”
Lower twice described his health as “very poor.” He said he suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He said his kidneys are failing and that doctors are preparing him for dialysis. He said he had quadruple bypass surgery in 1999.
“I would definitely want parole,” he said. “I would like to spend the few years I have left out in the world.”
Maxwell asked him what he learned from 32 years in prison.
“I learned that I don’t have the right to violate another person’s body in any way,” Lower said. “I learned, the best way I can explain it, to keep my urges under control.”