Curtis Fry's nightmare becomes message of hope

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KALONA, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Several times a month different student groups, church groups, and others hear a young man tell how important it is to make the right choices in life.

Curtis Fry speaks to students at the Iowa Mennonite School near Kalona about the night he made a bad choice and beat a man to death in February 2008.

Curtis Fry grew up in a strong Christian family in Wilton. But one night in February 2008 he made a bad choice. It was a night that ended with him beating a man to death in Iowa City.

"I wish I could take back that night," Fry told students at the Iowa Mennonite School near Kalona. "I made a choice on my 21st birthday where I decided to do exactly what the world expects you to do. And what is that? Drink, get drunk, kind of that passage into manhood."

But that passage into manhood turned Fry's life upside down - a sudden arrest by Iowa City police.

"They stand me up, turn me around, put handcuffs on me, and say, 'Curtis Fry, we're charging you with second degree murder; for the murder of Mr. Patrick McEwen,'" Fry said.

Fry told the students the choices they make every day can have serious consequences in their lives. His choices that night led to a drunken stupor.

He broke into an Iowa City apartment where 75-year-old Patrick McEwen lived. He has no memory of it and can only guess what happened.

"Mr. McEwen came, trying to wake me up, let me know I was in the wrong place. I, thinking I was being intruded on, grabbed him, punched him multiple times, and then I ended up leaving," Fry said.

Police were able to track him down because, in his stupor, he left his pants and shirt and wallet in the apartment. Patrick McEwen died, choking on his own blood, a reality that hit the students hard.

"The most shocking thing was him saying it could be any one of you; like anyone of you sitting in this room," said junior Adria Ebersole

"You might do something that affects someone else for the rest of their life, if you get into drugs or alcohol," said senior Isaac Miller.

A judge found Fry guilty of voluntary manslaughter, and he spent about four years in custody. But today he feels he's actually benefited from that experience.

"Because through that I realized how much I screwed up and how much I needed God. And while I was in jail is when God completely broke me. And instead of just being a Christian, I started following Christ," Fry said.

So why is it important for him to share his story?

"It's important to me because it's not my story. It's God's story through my life. A person who did something as bad as I did and yet God is still there saying, 'I love you, and I now want you to use this experience in your life, to go and share with others.'"

And his words have an effect.

"It's kind of scary that maybe that could happen to me if I made the wrong decisions eventually. But I think after this talk, it's definitely nailed down in there that I'm not going to… I'm going to try to stay on the right path," said senior Rachel Hovde.

Principal Stephen Schrag said, "Maybe an opportunity comes this weekend and a choice needs to be made and hopefully someone will go, oh yeah, let me take a step back and evaluate the circumstances."

The kids listened, and Curtis Fry hopes they also learned.

"They heard it. They understand it, I feel like. But it's up to them what they do with it," he said.

Fry is now married with two young children and runs a construction business in the Des Moines area.

The man he killed, Patrick McEwen, was a member of a Jewish synagogue in Iowa City.

In 2012, after Fry got out of prison, the rabbi of that synagogue told TV9, "The only thing that Curtis can do is to work, which he is doing, to make sure that this can't happen to him again, and that other people won't find themselves in the same situation, and then it's for God to forgive."

Today Curtis Fry believes he has that forgiveness.