Nebraska Parole Board member Rosalyn Cotton had a question for Timothy Haverkamp.
After coming out of Wednesday's closed session - in which the board discussed whether to parole him after nearly 24 years in prison - Cotton said she would allow him one sentence for his answer to her question:
"How can you measure change?"
"By your actions, beliefs, moral values," responded Haverkamp, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1985 for his role in the torture death of James Thimm, 26, a fellow survivalist at the Rulo encampment.
As the five-member board prepared to vote, Board Chairwoman Esther Casmer said laws are created to protect society from those "we are afraid of, not for those we are angry with."
Board members then voted unanimously to grant a lifetime parole to Haverkamp.
As conditions of his parole, Haverkamp will have intensive parole supervision and must continue with his mental health counseling.
Michael Ryan, who led the group hunkered down in the rural compound in the name of Yahweh, was convicted of first-degree murder in Thimm's death and the second-degree murder of Luke Stice, the 5-year-old son of cult member Rick Stice.
Ryan received a death sentence for killing Thimm and a life sentence for Luke's death.
Haverkamp has been reviewed yearly since he became eligible for parole in 1992, but the board had not granted him a hearing until now.
Others convicted in the Rulo crimes - Jim Haverkamp, a cousin; David Andreas; and Dennis Ryan, the son of Michael Ryan - were released more than 10 years ago.
At the hearing, Karen Schmidt, whose parents Carl and Hilda Schmidt raised James Thimm from a young age, and Daneda Heppner, a cousin to Thimm, talked about the young man, the horror he endured and their feelings about Haverkamp's parole.
Schmidt said she didn't want anyone to forget Thimm, who was a "delightful child" and a peacemaker.
Then she detailed his torture for board members in which she said Haverkamp participated.
She would not stand in the way of the possibility of parole, she said, but she had concerns - whether he can show compassion for others who may be weaker, have less intelligence or belong to a different race.
And she questioned his values, given his participation 24 years ago in a hate group.
"Does he still hold these values, or has he learned from the errors of that?" she asked.
If he is granted parole, she said, "it is our family's fervent desire, prayer and hope that he be a productive citizen in our society, that he be a good person, and never hurt anyone again for the remainder of his life."
Heppner said family and friends of Thimm bear the scars of his torture and death, "in a dark place where we dare not linger long in our thoughts."
Sam Keyzer is the pastor at Northern Lighthouse Church, where Haverkamp has attended and participated in the Lincoln Reintegration Program. In the five or six years he's known Haverkamp, he said, he watched him connect with people in gentle and kind ways.
He is a Christian now, Keyzer said.
Parole Board members praised Haverkamp for the progress he has made. Several have served on the board for years and have seen Haverkamp many times, asking him every conceivable question, they said.
"I've seen the change through the years," said Miguel Gomez, who first presided over a Haverkamp review 10 years ago. "You have passed every question we have thrown at you."
He behaved in an exemplary way throughout his incarceration, board members said.
His eight years at the governor's mansion, where he led tours and worked around the house and yard, were outstanding, Casmer said.
Still, she said, it was hard to understand how something like the Rulo tragedy could occur.
"Two lives were lost," she said. "What is a fair price?"
At the hearing, Haverkamp said he did not have those values exhibited at Rulo before going there, and has not had them since.
"I have distanced myself from hatred and violence toward people," he said.
He has tried to treat everyone respectfully, as he would like to be treated, he said, and with kindness and compassion.
And he was sorry for what happened in Rulo, he said, and for his role in it.
Schmidt has criticized Haverkamp for never having apologized to her family. But Haverkamp said he was told it was not appropriate to contact victims' families directly unless they initiated contact.
Thimm's biological sister, Miriam Thimm Kelle, lives in Beatrice and met with Haverkamp last year. She has written letters in support of his release.
It took her a long time to get past her anger, to stop raging at Ryan in letters she then tore up, and to find forgiveness, she has said.
But she is now a member of Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty and talks to groups around the state about her experience.
Board member James Pearson advised Haverkamp to be a leader on the outside, not a follower as he was at Rulo, to keep his faith strong and to make up his mind to follow the rules of his parole.
"I can't stress enough you are on parole the rest of your life," he said.
A few minutes after the vote, Haverkamp was loading his belongings at the Community Corrections Center of Lincoln into a car, with plans to spend the rest of the day with his parents, Janet and Aloisius Haverkamp, and with friends.
He will remain in Lincoln for now, at his job with Capital Contractors, where he has been a welder since March. He will live with the Keyzer family.
"I plan on living a normal life, like anyone else," he said.
Rulo will always be in his memory, he said, but he has to make amends and move on.
"I don't think anybody (at Rulo) could have foreseen what was going to happen," he said.