Tim Lambesis world exclusive interview: The As I Lay Dyingsinger breaks his year-long silence
By: Ryan J. Downey
Tim Lambesis speaks about his case for the first (and possibly last) time anywhere, in a series of interviews with AP’s West Coast Editor Ryan J. Downey conducted in the final weeks and days leading up to today’s sentencing of six years imprisonment.
“Shock” doesn’t even begin to describe the collective feeling of confusion and bewilderment that reverberated throughout the metalcore community when Tim Lambesis was arrested May 7, 2013. San Diego police alleged the cofounder and frontman for As I Lay Dying had tried to put out a “hit” on his estranged wife, Meggan Murphy Lambesis. Suddenly, a band once cherished as elder statesmen in the New Wave Of American Metalcore (guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso, bassist Josh Gilbert and drummer/cofounder Jordan Mancino) became notorious for all the wrong reasons. A “murder-for-hire” plot involving a “Grammy-nominated Christian metal singer” seemed straight out of a bad TV movie, with everyone from Good Morning America to Nancy Grace weighing in.
Ask someone familiar with the story what happened and the answer will be something like this. At some point after adopting three children from Ethiopia (Biruk, Abikia and Tigist) with his ex-wife, Lambesis got into bodybuilding, dating other women, and eventually asked some guy at his gym if he knew any hitmen. The singer’s gym buddy called the cops, who set up a sting, and Lambesis was busted after giving an undercover cop an envelope with pictures of his wife, her address, alarm codes and a $1000. But these revelations brought more questions than answers. How could Tim do this? Why? Was it money? Custody? A setup? “’Roid Rage”? Did he really just ask a random buddy at his gym, “Do you happen to know a hitman that can murder my wife?” Lambesis offered no answers. He has remained silent in the year since the morning he was surrounded by armed officers in the parking lot of a Barnes & Noble. Until now.
The majority of this conversation was conducted in the tiny recording studio in the home owned by Lambesis’ parents, where the As I Lay Dying frontman wore an ankle monitor while on house arrest after he was released on $2 million bail. Neither Lambesis nor his camp saw the questions beforehand. The one condition Lambesis had was the interview couldn’t run until after his sentencing, to ensure that nothing he said here would influence the court.
Lambesis says a handful of movie producers (both amateur and otherwise) offered him large sums for the rights to his story. Dr. Phil wanted him on his show. The offers, interest and requests were continuous and unrelenting. Ultimately, Tim elected to share his story in a forthcoming, not-for-profit documentary (which will be revealed soon) and in these interviews with Ryan J. Downey.
He does not intend to speak on it again.
How did things get so bad that you would even entertain the idea of her death?
After our separation, I was only allowed to see the kids twice a week. And it had to be somewhere Meggan could sit in the distance and literally watch me watch the kids.
How’d that start? Is that legal?
Well, I realize that a lot of my behavior since then justifies her skepticism. Her attitude was, “He decided to leave me. There’s nothing wrong with me. He must be crazy.” If you’re emotionally defending yourself, that’s a reasonable way to react to a certain degree. But eventually you gotta get to that point where you realize, “Whether it’s my fault or his fault that we’re not together, we’re just not together.”
Had you fallen in love with someone else?
No. When I decided to separate, I had been talking to somebody. We were kind of dating more or less, but it wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m in love.” It wasn’t someone I was trying to run off with and it wasn’t the first infidelity, either. But it was the first one I wasn’t even bothering to try to hide. It was pretty much like we were almost dating.
What was your relationship with the band and crew like at the time?
They were all pretty aware of what was going on. But none of them called me out on it. Looking back, I wish they had been like, “Yo, dude, is this really how you want your life to unfold?” I understand it was awkward. “We know he’s cheating on his wife, we know he’s going to end his marriage, we know he’s on steroids.” They all definitely knew I had [strayed] from my marriage and at least some of them know about the steroids.
Is it true that you ended your marriage by email?
I was on tour and she could tell, over the phone, that something was wrong. I said, “I’m going to be home in three days. I really want to talk about this when I get home.” I didn’t want to talk about it over the phone. And she says, kind of like a Gandhi hunger strike, “I’m not going to go to sleep until I know what’s going on with this.” I didn’t want her to endure any more pain. I didn’t want her to stay up all night. I would have rather told her this in person, but I said, “I don’t love you the way you love me. I want you to be able to go forward in life and be happy. I want you to be with somebody who really loves you.” I had an illusion that I was dong the “noble” thing. I separated from her over the phone. I sent her an email to follow up with my thoughts on everything. As far as the email about no longer being a Christian, that email was actually a considerable time before that.
The perception is you wrote, “I’m cheating on you! I’m an atheist! Bye!”
That’s because when the D.A. brings it up in court, she just says it without putting dates on anything, so it comes across that way. I can’t say for sure, but it was definitely about six months prior. Anyway, so I told her all of that, I get home and she tells me I can see the kids twice a week for two hours at a time. “I talked to somebody and they said that’s reasonable.” I don’t blame her for [how she felt]. But after a couple of weeks, it’s like, “We’re separated. You’re going to have to learn how to make this work. You can’t limit my time and observe me.” In all of her time observing me, I might not have handled things exactly how she wanted, but I was a good father. I mean, that’s for sure. She’d say, “Well, remember that one time you fell asleep by the pool,” and I was like, “Yes, because we were both there, and I told you I was feeling nauseous.” So yes, I nodded my head, fell asleep for a nanosecond in my chair, then shook my head, stood up and wouldn’t sit down anymore because I was afraid of falling asleep. I was like, “You can bring these things that happened one time up for so long, but eventually, you’re going to have to learn how to just let me be a dad.” It was frustrating to have my time with the kids limited and controlled. But I figured we’d get through it eventually. But it went on so long, by the time we had a judge make a ruling on custody, the kids viewed me as an outsider. It was like I was somebody that just visited them.
What did you two tell the kids about the separation?
We told them together. We let them know they could ask any questions. The next day, one of my daughters had some questions. I thought she seemed to be doing well, given the traumatic situation. But once I became like an outsider, like, this visitor, I was… They called me “Dad.” But they weren’t really sure the role I was supposed to play in their lives. Not because I didn’t want to play a greater role, but because they thought that Mom took care of them and Dad was just some random guy at that point, and this was after awhile of me having this really controlled schedule. I told the social worker that was preparing us for the courts how frustrating that was, that I really needed more time with the kids, immediately. The social worker seemed to reassure me that I would get more time with them, eventually.
Meggan wanted 100 percent custody. She was really honest about that. If it were up to her, I’d have nothing to do with them. She told me a few times she wished I was dead. Those are not unique thoughts for me to have. She felt those things toward me, too. Not that she would have ever taken it to the level that I did. But when she said those things, I thought, “She’s going to try to push me out of their lives. I need to get more time with the kids.”
It doesn’t sound like she wanted you dead; she’d just be happy if you were gone.
She actually said, “We’d be better off if you were…” So when she realized I was working toward getting more custody, I think her next play was to win them over emotionally, to completely make me the outsider. Certain things started happening. One afternoon, my daughter asked my mom, “Why didn’t Daddy want to adopt me?” My mom calls me over and we all start talking further. My daughter says, “Why do you go on tour? Is it because you don’t want to spend time with us?” I told myself, “Well, these are natural questions, she’s just feeling some doubts.” Later, that turned into, “Daddy goes on tour because he doesn’t want to spend time with us, and he doesn’t love us like Mommy does.” It went from a question to a statement. I knew something [was up].
I was giving the kids a snack one afternoon. I wasn’t religious, but I knew they prayed with Mommy. So I said, “Hey, are we supposed to pray before your snack?” I wanted to keep their routines. It’s one of the healthiest things you can do in a divorce situation. They said, “No, we only pray with Mommy.” There was a sense of exclusivity about it. The prideful part of me, and the curious part wanted to pry a little bit. So I go, “What do you guys pray with Mommy about?” I asked in a way, like, “Why is it so exclusive?” And my daughter goes, “Mommy prays with us at night that we don’t have to go to Daddy’s house anymore.” I turned around, walked into the kitchen… I like, pretended… I think I had some apples that I was putting on a plate or something. I pretended like slicing those apples was the hardest thing I had ever done, because it felt like the hardest thing I’d ever done… It probably was only two or three minutes, but it took me what seemed like an eternity to be able to put those apples on that plate, take a deep breath, turn around and bring the rest of the snacks to the kids.
She told the kids that they weren’t safe with my parents. They had a great relationship with my parents. They would help Meggan when it was an overwhelming night and I was gone and she needed that extra hand. But eventually it wasn’t just her and I, it became our two families feuding. My daughter said, “We’re not allowed to be alone with Grandma.” I said, “Why not?” She said, “We’re not safe with Grandma.” That was when I realized there were no boundaries to this family feud. I was trying to be the best father I could be.
Were you saying negative things about her to the kids?
To confess, I did fall into that trap a little bit. Here’s an example. I was supposed to drop off the kids, but she wasn’t home. Since she would only communicate by email or text, I couldn’t get her to answer the phone. I said, “Well, Mommy doesn’t know how to work her cell phone.” She would let them eat things I wouldn’t normally allow them to eat. I’d say, “Well, Mommy doesn’t know anything about nutrition.” The kids don’t need to hear that. These were minor things, but I shouldn’t have said them. It’s not fair to the kids.
But the thing about your parents crossed a line?
That was the moment where I realized that if I’m not going to be physically gone from my kids’ lives, I was going to be emotionally gone, unless something happens. I talked to my lawyer. I told that story. It’s all documented with the social worker, the whole thing, the praying… I asked my lawyer, “How soon can we get in front of a judge? Because I need something to happen.” She said, just being realistic, it would be at least a couple of months, at the soonest. And I remember, just being like, if, you know… [Sighs.]
You felt like you didn’t have a couple of months?
Yeah. I felt like the courts weren’t able to do anything for me. I wasn’t an angry or vengeful person, I was just hurting. In trying to describe the emotions that eventually led to the conversations I had prior to my arrest, it definitely wasn’t like… I mean, I wasn’t like screaming her name, or like swearing… I wasn’t angry.
This guy at my gym, my workout partner, I just expressed to him how sad I was. I asked the guy I had been buying steroids from, the steroid dealer, if we could meet. I’m talking to him in the parking lot one afternoon and I go, “Hey, how’s it going?” He goes, “Pretty good, unless you maybe need me to kill somebody for you.” Like that, right off the bat.
I’m kind of like, “Whoa, what are you talking about?” He goes, “Well I’ve heard you’ve been pretty frustrated with your wife…” He just kind of had—I mean, he’s a steroid dealer. He has a sketchy background, you know what I mean? So I’m thinking, “Geez, where’s this guy going with this?” He starts asking me these seemingly rhetorical questions. “Have you tried working things out with your lawyer?” I said yeah, but it was going to be a couple of months before I saw the judge. “Have you tried taking them to a social worker? Like a counselor?” I said yes and the social worker had met with the kids.
He goes, “Well, you know your other option is I can hook you up with somebody that could do this.” And he goes, “Can you think of a better option?” He’s asking it like it’s a rhetorical question. I remember thinking at the time, “This doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t feel like my best option.” But my thinking at that time… As much as I wished there was a better option, this is my best option. Obviously, right now, I can think of a dozen things and I understand the legal system much better. Legally speaking, there are emergency type things where you can get a judge to see you earlier, which I didn’t know. There are dozens of things I can think of now. But I just started to develop this mindset of, “Alright… I guess this seems like the path I’m going to have to go down.”
The guy you’re talking about is Brett Kimball. In court, he said, “He began by asking me if I knew why I was there. I made the comment that I was hoping it wasn’t to kill anybody. He said that was funny, because that was exactly why I was there. We went back in and had a conversation and started talking about the situation at hand…” Brett claims he offered you alternatives. “Go to a counselor, talk to somebody…”
It’s not like he presented alternatives like he was trying to talk me into one. He presented the alternatives as a means to talk me out of them. “You want to try this stupid thing? You want to try that stupid thing?” It was like the steroid [pitch]. “You’re going to GNC to buy the testosterone booster? You don’t want to take the real deal?” Granted, I know it’s a matter of perspective, but that’s how he presented it.
He said you wouldn’t be dissuaded.
Here’s what’s interesting: His testimony was thrown out. When we cross-examined him, my lawyer says, “I’m sorry I have to ask you these questions, but, are you a steroid dealer?” And Brett says, “Uh… no.” And then my lawyer asks, “Have you ever distributed a list of steroids to people at the gym?” We had the list of steroids he would pass out, his solicitation list. He’s like, “No.” The judge goes, “Jurors, hold on. We’re taking a recess. This guy needs to realize what he’s saying on the stands.”
Was he under oath?
He was under oath. The judge takes a recess and assigns Brett a public defender. They go and talk in the hallway. He comes back and the public defender says, on the record, “Brett Kimble, would you like to plead the fifth?” And he says, “Yes.” And he says, because he went into this unadvised, “Would you like your testimony to be stricken from the record?” And his testimony was struck from the record. There were cameras in the courtroom and they were broadcasting live. The judge says, “Can you delete that from the tapes?” They said, “Yeah, but, we already broadcasted it live.” He goes, “Well, as long as that’s the only broadcast, just make sure they never broadcast that part again.”
Clearly, he didn’t want to talk about his crimes, just yours.
It was very quickly shown that he was an illegitimate witness. The testimony against me at my sentencing will be the testimony of the actual undercover officer.
You and Brett agree about the “unless you need me to kill somebody” comment.
Yes. His version of the story starts out the same as mine.
If he wasn’t somebody who could make that happen, why make that joke?
Everybody who knows him, including his friends, have said Brett making this connection and turning this whole thing over to the police was not altruism. He wasn’t trying to make the world a better place. Everybody knows he did something that helped him in some way. But nobody knows what that is. It’s not even up for debate with people that know him. It’s not like, “Oh, Brett’s just such a good guy. He just wanted to make the world a better place.” I mean, this is the guy that, if he came up to you and was like, “Oh yeah, dude, I can totally have somebody killed for you.” You wouldn’t doubt it for a second. I’m not saying all steroid dealers are potential murderers. But this was a guy who was in massive amounts of debt to other dealers. Other dealers had been in the gym looking for him, looking to rough him up. I never personally saw this, but people at the gym said the Hells Angels were looking for him and that plainclothes police officers had come in looking for him, too. All of these things happened within two weeks of when this happened. The chances of him doing something to help himself are very high; the chances of him doing something to make the world a better place are very low. Something in the story just doesn’t add up.
That’s why my plea was not guilty. Well, my initial plea was not guilty, just because that’s how the system is set up. The system is not set up to deal with a guilty plea initially. But the second time, I pled not guilty, because I was convinced this was a textbook case of entrapment. I admit, in my heart, as a human being, I was guilty, because my heart was capable of going there. But in the court of law, I firmly believed I was innocent. What I found is that there’s really no such thing as an entrapment defense. It’s a myth, like a unicorn. Let’s say there are 10 things that would necessitate an entrapment defense, the government is like, “We’ll just do nine of those 10 things.”
What happened after that conversation? Was Brett going to look for somebody?
No, he had someone in mind. He didn’t say the guy’s name right then. I left the conversation thinking somewhere in the distant future, he would have me talk to some guy. No crime had been committed; the wheels were in motion for some sort of potential meeting. Brett calls me right before I leave for the Asian tour. He says, “Hey man, I really need to talk to you.” So I go and meet him. He says, “Hey, I’ve got this guy, we’ve got it all set up. His name is Red. He’s from Texas. So when you’re on tour, sometime when you’re in Texas, I’ll have him come meet you.” My curiosity got the best of me. “This sounds interesting. This Red dude sounds gnarly.” At that point, whether a crime was going to happen or not, I was just super-interested to meet this dude. I mean, you meet a lot of bizarre characters on tour. I was curious.
At the end of that conversation, Brett goes, “Oh, by the way, I need to borrow $8,000.” I’m like, “Dude, I’m leaving for Asia first thing tomorrow morning. The banks are closed. What do you need it for, anyway?” He says, “Oh, I’m managing this guitar player kid, and he’s going to be playing this TV show thing and I need to get some merchandise because…” He’s talking in circles. He needs $8,000. Nothing else he’s saying makes sense.
I said, “Dude, I’m really sorry, but there’s no way I can get you $8,000 by tomorrow.” I wonder: if I had let him borrow the money, would he have set me up like that? How irrelevant is $8,000 in the scheme of destroying a whole person’s life? But maybe that was enough to piss him off to be like, “Well, screw that guy! I need to get out of some trouble I’m in with the cops, and I’m going to put it on this guy.”
There are so many nights where I just stayed up in my cell just staring at the ceiling, in an isolation booth, thinking, “Why did this guy do this?” I’d actually feel better if I found out he got off some really gnarly charges, like he was going to serve 15 years in prison but he got off. That would at least provide an explanation. That’s some sort of satisfactory answer, as much as it would still make me bummed and frustrated.
I found out shortly before my sentencing that Brett has been arrested six times—three of them for theft. The records list a conviction or a reason for [each] arrest—except one. His sixth arrest was two months before my arrest. The official record says that arrest was for “undisclosed reasons.” This doesn’t help my court case at all, unfortunately. My lawyer said that my best defense, in terms of logic, would get me the worst sentence.
Where is Brett now?
They moved him to Texas. I don’t think he’s in Witness Protection, but they did move him from California to Texas, so clearly, there’s some sort of protection going on. He needed to start a new life. He had Hells Angels looking for him, cops looking for him, other steroid dealers he owed money to. He definitely needed a fresh life.
So I get back from Asia late at night on May 6. I’m woken up May 7 by a phone call from Brett. It was probably only 10 or 11, but with jetlag, I was still asleep. He’s like, “Remember that guy Red I was telling you about? He’s in town. He’s going to leave soon. You have to meet with him today.”
A guy calls me, says he’s Red. He goes, “We’re not going to talk about anything until we meet in person, but, I need you to bring me these things in order for the meeting to happen.” He specifically says, “I need you to bring me pictures, an address and $1,000 for expenses. So, I’m thinking, “He’s going to be doing some research. We’re not committing a crime right now. It’s just research.”
Having just gone through the separation, I actually didn’t have any pictures of her saved. I literally went online and printed black and white pictures of her. I didn’t have any pictures of her ready because I hadn’t been thinking about this whole thing. So I bring him exactly what he asked for and we meet –
He asked for the alarm codes, too?
No. That works against me, if I’m being honest. I printed her address and the pictures and all that. Right before I got out of the car to meet him, I’m thinking, “I should probably write a couple more things down here.” I didn’t want him to be snooping around the house, seeing what was going on, when my kids were there. So I wrote down when I’d have the kids. Then I was like, “I don’t know this dude. He’s probably a big thuggy dude. He’s going to look really obvious. I should probably write down the gate code so he’s not hopping fences and stuff.” So I write these things down, and those are very clearly handwritten later. I printed up exactly what he asked me to bring, and at the last minute I wrote those things down, because I kind of panicked.
It’s like your rational mind was trying to get back in control.
It’s all such last-minute insanity. Granted, here I haven’t slept more than five or six hours in a week at this point, in one night. In the last week, I maybe slept 30 hours. I’m just like, “I’m going to go meet this guy” and he’s asking me all these really weird questions.
Wait, back up: So you meet him in person.
He tells me to meet him at Barnes & Noble. I walk in, and there’s this biker-looking dude. Clearly, it was Red. He gives me the “what’s up?” and I gave him the “what’s up?” and then we’re just walking in one of the aisles, just talking. He’s asking me these really direct questions. “What is it you want me to help you with? What is it you want?” I was just like, “Man, I want my ex-wife gone.”
I’m thinking at this point we’re still doing research. He asked me for money for “expenses.” As the conversation goes on, he’s trying to get me to be more direct. He’s like, “I don’t want to do a job where I thought I was just supposed to beat somebody up and I was really supposed to do something else. I need you to be really specific.”
I was like, “Man, I just want her gone.” I wanted to make the hurt stop. That’s what I was focused on. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s like a big bear defending its cubs. Whatever I had to do, you know what I mean? It’s not in my nature to be growly and gnashing my teeth. I’m a pretty calm guy. I’m kind of passively saying, “I want her gone.” It’s just too much for me to handle. I don’t know how to handle any of it.
He’s pushing. “I want you to specifically say exactly what you want.” I’m thinking, “Is this dude stupid?” Obviously, I’m the one who is stupid. But in my mind, at the time, I’m thinking, “Man, I’m making it pretty clear here.” He says, “Just to be clear: You want your wife dead?” So right before I leave, I walk over to him and I say, “Yeah, just so you understand.” I don’t know why I didn’t realize I was the stupid one. There I was thinking he was the stupid one. But I’m really the stupidest dude in the world. That’s when I said, “Yes, to answer your question specifically, that’s what I want.” He’s got that recorded.
He asks me if I brought the stuff he asked me to bring. I said yes and that it was in the car. We go to the car, I hand him the envelope with everything in it through the window, I kick my car into reverse, look over my shoulder to back up, turn around and kick the car into drive and as soon as I turned my head back around, there was a gun at my head.
Tim Lambesis before & after steroids
Was it Red or someone else pointing the gun?
It was a female officer. “Freeze!” I put the car in park and put my hands up. “Freeze! Get out of the car! Show me your hands!” I’m like, “I have my hands up. How do I get out of the car?” None of it seemed real. I don’t know who opened the door. I guess she must’ve. All I know is I was facedown on the concrete and all of these people were looking, wondering what the hell was going on. It was just like in the movies where five cop cars all pull up at the exact same time. You hear one split-second siren and then they all pull up to block a car from multiple angles. No exaggeration, there were somewhere between 10 and 15 [police officers], some undercover, some in uniforms. I’m thinking, “This is an absurd amount of officers. I’m not some super-well-known criminal.”
So, they stuff me in the back of the cop car and I’m going down to the station. All I can think of at the time, because my mind is just so… I’m like, “Hey, how long is it until we get to the station?” They’re like, “I don’t know, maybe 20 minutes.” I’m 6’3”. I don’t fit in the little grooves where your head is supposed to go. My knees are hitting, my shoulders… I’m thinking, “Man, 20 minutes is a long time to be sitting like this.” That’s how insane my mind was.
I start to process it all. I’m thinking, “He said that $1,000 was for expenses. I was just doing research on a crime, I wasn’t actually doing a crime.” So I’m thinking, “Okay, this isn’t that bad.” That’s the insanity of my mindset. “I wonder how long till I get my phone call?” “These cuffs are really uncomfortable.” These are the things on my mind. They throw me in the holding cell. I’m so jet-lagged and exhausted. I’m so out of my mind from everything that’s going on. I’m in this super-cold cell, in a sleeveless shirt and gym shorts, and within 15 minutes, I fall asleep on the concrete.
On Law & Order, they say innocent people flip out when put in a holding cell. But if you’re guilty, you go right to sleep. You know you’ll be there a while.
I was just thinking, “How long till I get my phone call? I can’t wait to get out of here. I’m so exhausted.” I had flown home from China. My body probably needed an entire day to adjust. While we were in Asia, we were flying from city to city and having to be at the airport at, like, 5 a.m. every morning. I was just totally shot. Then they bring me into the interrogation room, and I’m asking them bizarre questions. My mom says she watched the video and that I just seemed out of my mind. I’ve just been arrested for a very serious crime, and yet I just keep asking really stupid questions, like, “How long until I get transported to the next facility?” I couldn’t fathom what was going on. You know in movies when they have those trippy dream sequences? I was experiencing life like that.
When did you first have contact with someone outside of law enforcement?
My first phone call to anyone was about eight hours later, which, not that I’m complaining, but my lawyer said was really abnormal. I called my family. It had been all over the news, but I didn’t know that. I didn’t know how to explain this to my family.
It was all over the news fast.
I never viewed myself as a true “public figure.” People in our genre of music know who I am, but nobody else knows or cares. I can go to the grocery store without getting recognized, so in my mind, I was just another chump who’d been arrested.
When I called my parents, they told me what a huge story it was. That’s when it hit me that it was a very serious crime. And then the guilt of what’s going on in my heart starts to settle in. I started to see things from the perspective of what things were really like rather than the insane thinking I’d been living under. We had begun a process of research that could potentially cause someone to die. I was thinking, “Well, I’d have to pay him the remaining $20,000 before he does anything, so I haven’t”—that was how I justified it. But I started to realize that while I still owed the guy $20,000 and the crime wasn’t going to happen that day, the crime was set in motion to eventually happen. Once I realized that, I didn’t even recognize myself.
Because of my status as a public figure, I’m a liability for the jail. So they put me in isolation. The first place they put me was on the murder block, which is for all the dudes who’ve murdered someone and they’re in isolated separate cells because the nature of their crime. They can yell at each other through the walls and vents and stuff. So the first night I spend, it’s just dudes yelling, “Yo, who’s the new guy? Did he hurt kids? Did he rape anyone? Did he do anything he should get beat up for?” I just stayed quiet. The next night, they moved me into medical isolation, which is for people on suicide watch or who just broke an arm or something. That’s where I stayed for the remainder of the month. There are three white walls, it has a piece of glass on it where you can see into a hallway. They would put food through the hole in the door.
So you’re in isolation for several weeks, coming off that testosterone.
Because my estrogen levels were skyrocketing, the feelings I had weren’t heightened aggression. It was the opposite. It was depression. It was desperate thinking. I actually thought if I didn’t do something right then and there, my whole life would fall apart.
The perception is that you were trying to hang onto your money. You had gotten all ’roided out, vain and into yourself, and your ex-wife had become a nuisance.
I just felt extreme sadness. I was heartbroken. I was hurting. I wanted my kids. The steroids did create an imbalance. I was still having negative effects from the non-testosterone, but then the testosterone system in my body was completely crashed. When a woman is PMS-ing—I’m not a doctor, but imagine whatever that woman is feeling from that imbalance, but multiplied times 100. In my blood tests, my hormone levels were measurably ridiculous. I’m not saying I blame that. But I can 100 percent tell you I was making a lot of decisions I never would have made before or since.
The doctor I was talking about, he loves this example. I’m at a four- way stop. I inched into this guy’s lane and he starts honking at me and causing a scene. Normally, I would say, “Whatever, sorry, go ahead.” Instead, I get out of my car, and I start chasing him. That was when my testosterone levels were really high. Getting out of my car and running after a car like a grizzly bear is something I never would have done before. My priorities really changed. I used to be someone who thought who you are on the inside matters more. Everyone cares about the exterior, but I once had a balanced perspective.
Some of the infidelities stemmed from my insecurities and both got to a level I couldn’t possibly foresee ever happening again. It’s hard to pinpoint the examples because it’s just in everyday decisions. I would wake up and feel like life was meaningless, life was hopeless. I know a lot of people struggle with depression. You wake up and it’s just like… Nothing moves you. Nothing makes you feel anything.
I remember emailing a friend and writing, “Hey dude, I feel like nothing in life has any value, or any meaning whatsoever, except for my kids. The devastation they’ve come from is so much more powerful than any sort of minor heartache I have ever felt. They’re the only thing that gives me any hope, because they’re the only thing that’s truly meaningful in my life.” I wrote long emails to this friend about how all I really want to do is someday make a documentary about the orphanage where my kids came from. That’s how I could overcome my depression, if I could help other people. They could see these devastating circumstances and yet how joyful these kids are. I wrote him this long email and told him I wanted to do this big documentary.
Yes, my kids still mattered to me. Doing a documentary and showing what’s really going on in places like Ethiopia, I would love to do those things. But to actually wake up every day and feel like nothing in life has any value or meaning besides my children? By contrast, I’m facing a jail sentence right now, but I wake up every day feeling positive.
When we were in China, I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to do anything. I wasn’t anti-social to the point where it made it awkward for other people, but everyone would be all about sightseeing, and I’d ask how much longer it would be before we got back to the hotel. I had a good source of income. I had a new relationship that I was really happy with. That was a source of positivity in my life. I got to travel the world. If I didn’t feel good enough about myself, I got up onstage and had the admiration of a thousand people. “Well, at least if I don’t feel good about me, I can raise my fist in the air and everyone is going to cheer for me.” But despite all that, I was still in this extreme depression.
I can’t blame any of the hormones on why I chose to do what I did. But I can say there were a lot of things I felt at the time that I definitely would not have felt otherwise.
Tim Lambesis with his 3 adopted kids
I was getting text messages from all sorts of people asking whether the news was true. I remember the first link I clicked on. I thought it was some sort of joke website.
I was in denial. But once I was in isolation, all I could do was think, constantly think. At first it was, “Why would Brett do this to me? What was his motivation?” Nobody had explained to me what a long sentence I was looking at. It wasn’t until three days after my arrest that I even found out the potential length of my sentence, the maximum. It was just me in a cell. It was a recipe for insanity. I was thinking, “Man, the first thing I can get my hands on to read, I don’t care if it’s a brochure about vacuum cleaners.” Then the chaplain comes around and I’m thinking, “That’s the only thing in the world I don’t want to read about right now.” I spent 30 years believing in something I decided was a fairy tale. I grabbed a few books, and I recognized, early on, that I was in a very susceptible place emotionally. I read this one guy’s autobiography, his testimony so to speak, and I was really inspired. But then I thought to myself, “No, I’m not gonna be that foxhole atheist who faces something traumatic and wants God. It’s still a big myth.”
But I read more. Some of the stuff wouldn’t have an emotional sway to it. It’d just be matter-of-fact statements and all of a sudden this thing would be tugging at my heart; it would make me feel like I wanted… kind of wanted to cry, kind of wanted to throw up. This weird thing, what is tugging at my heart? But I was convinced I was too rational for this. “I’ve researched this too much. This can’t be God. It has to be the bad food in jail.”
Eventually, my family got some books to me; one of them was by William Lane Craig. If you remember guys like [Christian apologist] Josh McDowell or [Calvinist theologian] R.C. Sproul, he’s like the new generation of that. He’s a double Ph.D, one in historical theology and one in philosophy. He starts with these philosophical arguments about why he’s [adopted] the Christian worldview. He starts really simply—how there potentially could be a God. He’ll successfully make his point, then he’ll argue why he thinks there is a God. Then he’ll get into Jesus’ claims about who he is and go through all of these points. He’s a true philosopher. He doesn’t write books in the “popular” sense. He’s writing thick volumes. I read 1,000 pages of that dude, just to pass the time. I remember thinking, “This dude has some really good arguments here.” Granted, I feel like some of them he could have developed a little bit quicker because philosophers tend to write a certain way. But I had all the time in the world. That kind of opened up my mind to where my heart was a little bit. Even still, I didn’t come out of that situation saying “Oh, just because I’m in isolation I believe in God.” I was actually almost too proud. I didn’t want to let a traumatic event convert me. I’m going to formulate my beliefs because of what’s truly rational. This coming from a guy who just—
Did the most irrational thing of his life.
Exactly. Once I came to grips with the fact that I really am being charged with this crime. It doesn’t matter if I wasn’t certain whether or not to actually go through with the murder part of it or not. I’m potentially looking at a decade here in prison. I remember thinking, “Easy solution. Next chance I get, I’m going to get out on bail. I’m going to go home and soak up as much time as I can with people I love. And I’m going to kill myself.”
There’s no way I’m going to spend a decade in jail. There’s no way a dude that just got done traveling the whole world and having financial freedom, having the opportunities to absorb multiple cultures and have multiple incredible experiences is going to just become this big wide-winged bird crammed into this tiny cage. Life is just the result of natural events, and lots of people are born and lots of people die every day. I’ll just soak up as much time that’s worth living and then just kill myself. That was it.
Even if you’ve been accused of murder, usually the bail is about a million bucks or something and you pay your eight to 10 percent of that, get out and then stand trial. I didn’t commit murder, so I figured my bail would be reasonable. At my arraignment, I was thinking bail would be $1 million at most. All of my money had been set aside in an attorney trust fund during the divorce. But I figured I could pull together $80,000, borrowing money here and there, blah, blah.
I was literally convinced, as soon as I get out of here I’m just going to soak up as much time as I can and then kill myself. It was super-black and white. Life is full of pain. If this is the way life is going to be forever, this is no way to live. No one should live like this.
So then at my arraignment, I plead not guilty. My attorney makes his case before the judge of why my bail should only be $250,000, which is the normal scheduled amount for my crime. When I say scheduled amount, that means that’s the suggested thing for anyone who commits this crime. He was a retired judge who had taken this seat because the normal judge was sick that day. So he’s really happy with his retirement seat, he gets paid double because he’s retired. He goes, “I’m going to set the bail at $3 million.” That’s 12 times the normal amount! The emotional part of me thought maybe God was trying to keep me alive, because I was going to kill myself. But I didn’t believe in God! So it had to be a fluke! That’s crap. We’ll just do a bail review in a week, the bail will be lowered, then I’ll get out of jail and go kill myself.
We do the bail review and it’s a new judge, but he’s more recently appointed to the seat. So he’s kind of scared to rock the boat. So he reduces the bail to $2 million. I don’t think God intervenes and does mysterious magical things. He’s not this character that people depict in movies. But I do think, selectively, that there are certain situations that happen in life where even a rational person can be like, “Maybe God was at work here.” Maybe this was one of them.
I heard someone gave you the money in exchange for the rights to your story.
No. There was a guy who said he’d give me $60,000 for the rights to my life story. I’ve since learned from movie producers that $60,000 would have been taking advantage. I don’t have any ambitions about selling my life story. But this person knew it was an opportunistic moment. He says he’ll get it to me right away. My family worked out a deal to get me out, and I wanted to pay them back. When I got home on house arrest, this guy said he’d wire me the money right away so I could give it to the bail bonds people. I considered using that money to get out on bail, but I never ended up doing it because my dad struck his own deal, so I was able to do that through the family. He became hard to get a hold of, which gave me a moment to reevaluate. I’m convinced he wanted to tell his story, not mine. If I sold my story to him, it would become his twisted version. I thought he cared about me as a person and was helping me get out of a tough situation. But as it turns out, he said he had to get more advice from his attorney. He referenced things like full and total control, all editing rights and the whole bit. Two more people approached me later, with bigger offers. But at that point, I had accepted that I was comfortable being in debt to my parents because they see the big picture and they want true healing to happen, not for me to have to sold my soul living the rest of my life with some bizarre version of me being told out there. I was so ready to sign over. I wanted that $60,000 so bad. That was the magic number I needed. I had all the money except for $60,000. It would have been the right amount at that time.
What was your last contact with Meggan and the kids before your arrest?
After our separation there were a couple of weeks where Meggan and I tried to be helpful and interactive with the kids so that their questions could be answered and they could be a little more comfortable. When I started getting time with the kids solely by myself, she didn’t want to talk to me anymore. It frustrated her that things weren’t exactly how she wanted them. She would only speak to me over text or email. That’s one of those things, when people only communicate on that level, things get worse.
It’s easy for someone to become an abstraction to you then and not a person.
Yes. She started to become an “idea” to me, which is super-weird. Here’s a good example of how bad the communication became: She was picking up the kids, and I was helping them into the minivan, giving them kisses. One of the kids buckled up but hadn’t shut the door yet, and Meggan started driving away with the door open without realizing it. So I start running after the minivan, “Whoa! Wait!” She kept driving. I don’t know if the momentum of the car closed the door or what. Maybe my daughter closed it?
But Meggan gets home and starts this big family drama. I’m not blaming her. I’m saying this is an example of a simple miscommunication. I could see why she saw it that way. But I could have seen it like, “You’re a terrible mother! I can’t believe you drove away with the door open!” She gets home and sends this big thing to both of our parents saying, “I can’t believe Tim was running after the car like a madman today. We’re going to have to figure out a new way to exchange the kids, it’s unsafe at this point. I remember thinking, “You’re calling me unsafe? You just drove away with the door open!”
If I in fact, was a madman running after the car, then she should want to keep the kids safe from that madman. And if she in fact, was driving away with the door open, then I should be running after the van telling her to stop. That’s definitely not a story told to blame anyone. It’s just to show when communication gets so poor between people, those types of things happen. They heighten things, where both parents have good intentions. She had great intentions as a mother. My arrest shows I obviously was a little bit of a madman. We both had good intentions. We’re both actually trying to be the best parents we can be, but we’re making it way worse on our kids.
The reason I make my own confession even about the small stuff, I can see even how that stuff develops. It feels good for a brief moment to be like, “I’m the better parent here!” As strange as this is, it’s heartbreaking when I look back on those situations. I can’t believe she told the kids those things. The social worker called it “alienating behaviors.” I have been able over time to let go of the anger I’ve had about it. I’d be lying by saying I didn’t have any. I can see how she might take an instance and really try to push it, in the moment. Maybe even she regrets the things that she said. Because there was no interaction between her and I, I’ll never get an apology nor do I expect one given the pain that I’ve caused. My relationship with the kids was destroyed a little bit because of her alienating behaviors. But now it’s entirely destroyed because of my arrest. If that is just the little bit that was beginning the process and made me feel desperate, the total destruction of that relationship and not being able to see my kids for this last year is entirely my own fault. I’m trying to keep that in perspective. The last thing I want to come across is that I’m still bitter about these comments.
When was the last time you saw your kids?
Right before I left for Asia. Right now there’s a restraining order against me, which I understand. I have a lot to figure out there. Given the, I call them alienating behaviors, because that’s what the social worker calls them, and those will be documented in the sentencing, so obviously from my side I’ve used stronger words like brainwashing, manipulating or poisoning. Knowing those alienating behaviors started prior to my arrest, I can only imagine the extent I’ve fueled them at this point. The kids are old enough to know what’s going on. I’m sure some kid at school has said something. The prison sentence I’m facing is one thing. But the real lifelong sentence is that I may never get to see my kids again. Or if I do get to see them, the relationship is so damaged where I’m not even sure it’s best for them, for me to try to pry my way into their lives.
Go read the FULL INTERVIEW at Alternative Press
As I Lay Sludging