Learning to let go of the pain
10 years after son's lethal attack on parents, mom holds to new life
By BETH WARREN
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Judy Mize is terrified of her own son.
When he sent a letter to her Gwinnett home, her hands trembled as she held the envelope. It took a while before she found the courage to open it. Her son, Chip Mize, 33, mailed the letter from Scott State Prison. He is serving a life sentence there for slashing his father to death and stabbing his mother 16 times.
Ten years have passed since the crime, which destroyed a seemingly loving family that May 7. It also stunned much of Gwinnett. Chip Mize's sister, who was 19 at the time, still can't talk about the crime or the father she lost, her mother said. "It was just a shock to everyone and still is," Judy Mize said during a recent interview. Her husband, Chuck Mize, was one of metro Atlanta's best known high school football coaches. He was 44 years old when he was killed.
Thousands attended the funeral of the popular Parkview High coach. Two statues were erected in his honor on campus. Letters to his widow poured in from students, players, graduates and sympathetic strangers. Judy Mize, 54, said that community support, coupled with extensive therapy, helped her piece her life back together. She since has remarried and moved to a different area of Gwinnett. She said the ordeal no longer is the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up. But when she does think about her only son, it is with mixed emotions. There is love, anger, confusion and fear.
(Called the "Chipster," Chip Mize was a part-time karate instructor.
Chip Mize declined an interview for this story and has never talked publicly about his crimes -- not even to his mother, who is desperate for answers.)
"My psychiatrist told me I'll probably never know why and to quit trying or it could drive me crazy," she said. Instead, she focuses on time with her daughter, 4-year-old granddaughter and new husband. She is glad to hear her son still has ongoing support from friends he met through karate. "I don't have it in me to give him comfort, but I'm glad he has that. I would feel guilty if he was out there alone," she said. "I love the Chip prior to May 7, 1993, but to me, it's like he died that day. I think about the good times more than about that night." A month after the crime, she went to see her son behind bars at the Gwinnett Detention Center. "He said: 'Mom, I can't talk about this. I don't know why,' " she said. Cecil Flowe, the slain coach's best friend and coaching assistant, took over the reins of the Parkview team after Mize's death.
"It would have been less piercing if Chuck had a heart attack," Flowe said. "But to be killed in the manner that he was and by his own son was pretty tough."
That 24-year-old Chip Mize would do such a thing also startled local karate enthusiasts. The "Chipster," as he was called, was a second-degree black belt and a part-time karate instructor at Tucker Recreation Center. He also worked out and taught classes at Mike Donaldson's Kick for Life Karate School in Lawrenceville.
Chip Mize, who confessed to police, pleaded guilty to murder charges Feb. 21, 1994, and was sentenced to serve life plus five years. His mother initially wanted prosecutors to seek the death penalty against her son, but she agreed to the plea to avoid the turmoil of a lengthy trial, said Chief Assistant District Attorney Phil Wiley, the lead prosecutor in the case. Chip Mize was denied parole in 2000 and won't be eligible for reconsideration until 2008.
Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter said that he still thinks Chip Mize is dangerous and that he will continue fighting his release.
Lies and a red Jeep
There was no fight or argument to explain Chip Mize's rampage. But prosecutors believe they know part of the reason for the attack. He had told a stream of lies that flowed for six years. A flood of truth was coming. Growing up, he and his mother loved to face off on the tennis court. He cheered just as loud as anyone when his father shepherded the school's fledgling football team to a victory.
Chip Mize also had a reclusive side, however, and spent a lot of time in his room, his mother said. He was difficult to motivate until his parents urged him to try martial arts in fifth grade. He discovered a passion for karate and stayed clear of drugs and other trappings, his mother said.
But he never excelled in school. He dropped out of Georgia State University without telling his parents. His 19-year-old sister had gone off to college, but Chip Mize never left home. Judy Mize said she and her husband thought Chip enjoyed being close to home, so they gladly let him live in their 1,200-square-foot basement, which had a kitchen, a large bathroom and a bedroom. With an above-average SAT score of 1040, he was admitted to Georgia State, where he listed his major as physical education. "That first quarter he told us he made two B's," his mother said. "But then he ran away. He stayed at a friend's house for four days, and we told him to tell us what the problem was and come home. That's when he told us he had made F's and D's."
In spring 1988, Mize was suspended from the university because of failing grades. He never returned. For years, he pretended to go to school. His parents even took him to dinner to celebrate a graduation that never occurred. As a graduation present, his father helped his son buy a red Jeep. The dealership offered a $500 discount to college graduates. Chip Mize told the salesman he had just graduated, and he took the Jeep home. But when the dealership asked for proof of graduation, the pressure was on. "If it wasn't for that, I probably would have never asked to see the diploma," Judy Mize said. "I was just after him to go to the Jeep place and get it taken care of."
For two weeks, Chip Mize stalled. First, he told his mother the diploma had probably gotten lost in the mail. Then he claimed the diploma was being framed. Finally, on May 6, his mother demanded to see the diploma the next day. Realizing his deception was about to be exposed, Chip Mize "just snapped," Porter said. Chuck and Judy Mize each worked long hours on May 7, 1993, and came home exhausted. They hadn't seen their son all day but noticed he had mowed the lawn. About 3 a.m., Chip Mize walked into his parents' bedroom with a penlight, hovered over his mother, raised a steak knife and stabbed her in the neck.
"I thought it was a stranger, but Chuck woke up and immediately knew it was Chip," she said. "He jumped up and started yelling, 'Wake up, Chip, you're having a nightmare! You're having a nightmare!'" Chuck Mize leapt to his wife's defense and tried to calm his son. But Chip Mize turned the blade on his father. The two wrestled in the dark from the bedroom to a hallway and into the bathroom, leaving a bloody trail. Judy Mize said she initially didn't know her son was stabbing her husband. She saw shadows and heard her son making karate yells. Then she heard her husband say, "Oh my God, Chip, you don't know what you're doing! Call 911."
That's when Judy Mize turned on the lights. "There was so much blood. I couldn't stand it," she said. "Chuck was still standing, but I knew there was nothing I could do for him." She flipped the lights off and darted to a small back room of the bathroom. "I heard Chuck fall." Then there was silence. "Mom, I think I killed Dad," Chip Mize said.
'Like a wild animal'
Judy Mize planted her feet against the toilet and leaned her weight into the door, which didn't lock. Chip repeatedly tried to pry the door open. He started kicking the door, shouting, "You're ruining my plan." Continuing karate yells, he left for a few minutes, returned with an ax and hacked through the door. The blade of the ax barely missed Judy Mize's head. She thought he next blow would be fatal, so she decided to make a run for it. "I opened the door and yelled, 'You're not going to kill me with an ax!' " Judy Mize said. Her son came at her with the knife. "Just let me sit here and bleed to death," she pleaded. "You don't need to stab me anymore."
He paused, but then kept stabbing her as she tried to run. She was cut on the back, arms and on the top of her head. "He was like a wild animal when it was happening," Judy Mize said. The two ran through the bedroom and into the foyer, she said. "He tried to cut my thumb off, but the worst part was my face," she said. "He stabbed me from my lip down to my throat and then all the way around my throat and my neck." While Judy Mize was in the bathroom, she had grabbed a towel and kept it pressed to her neck through the ordeal. She is convinced that saved her life. She kept begging her son to call 911 in an attempt to save her husband's life. Initially, she was screaming, but then she used a calm voice.
"I think whatever rage he was in, when I got calm in my voice, that calmed him down. He sort of came to," she said. "He went right over and called 911, and when the police came, he let them in. He got me a towel for my neck and turned back into Chip."
Judy Mize knew her husband was badly hurt but didn't learn of his death until she was in the hospital. She was about to undergo five hours of surgery. She remained hospitalized for a week and was released in time for her husband's funeral. She had to undergo vocal cord therapy to repair damage from the knife wound to her throat. She could barely speak above a raspy whisper. The emotional healing would take longer. She said she leaned on friends for support and buried herself in her work. She quickly returned to her job reviewing defaulted student loans. She said getting through the first year was rough.
"I had a friend say: 'I can't believe you just don't pull the covers over your head and not get out of bed,' " she recalled. "I couldn't. I had a daughter who was 19. She needed me. "And I'm not that kind of person. That's not what Chuck would have wanted."