Posted in My life in pictures

086/365 404b

It’s a borrowed image, but this best represents my day.  I’m exhausted and still searching for peace. THIS rule is what’s keeping me from finding it tonight. I’ll be posting a blog about the trial and the verdict but in the meantime, you can find out a little more here on today’s outcome.

Posted in My life in pictures

085/365 Flooded

image

Today this building was flooded with our tears. Please help me flood it tomorrow with a wave of peace instead. The mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons,  and daughters will struggle with their task as jurors tomorrow. My heart aches for the decisions they will have to make. Please take a moment and say a prayer for them.

Posted in My life in pictures, Uncategorized

084/365 Our Angel

Today was all about this angel who was called home way too soon. After over 5 years, the trial meant to bring justice for Dee is finally underway. It took almost 8 hours to pick a jury and another 90 minutes to hear the State and defense battle over a motion to suppress some of the evidence. It was a really long, hard, and exhausting day and I know tomorrrow is going to be even worse as we begin hearing testimony presented by the State’s witnesses.

Please keep my family in your prayers. We need all you can send our way. Thank you.

Posted in Uncategorized

Justice Will Have to Wait a While Longer

As I headed to bed tonight I found that the voices in my head would just not shut up. Ok, it’s only my voice I hear and it’s not telling me to hurt myself so it’s ok. There was so much inside my head that needed to get ouside my head that I sat down at the computer and began typing. What you see below is the result of about 45 minutes of raw, unedited feelings expressed in words. It’s long and I apologize for that, but I couldn’t stop the words from flowing.

Today was not a good day, not at all the day we so desperately needed it to be. I met Dee’s mom and brother at the courthouse about 8:00 this morning. We climbed the single flight of stairs and headed straight to the District Attorney’s office as we waited for the 8:30 trial start time. We went in this morning with the knowledge that the public defender was going to request a continuance but I can honestly say I never really expected that to happen. I was so sure that today was going to be the day that the judge’s ruling shook me to my core.

I watched Denise, Dee’s mom, and Cole, her brother stoically discuss what we could expect today. We watched as the pool of jurors was reviewed one last time before heading back downstairs to the courtroom. Just before we were to leave, I excused myself to go to the restroom. As I walked down the short hallway I saw HIM and I started to shake. I saw Mitch. I stopped dead in my tracks and felt my body quiver in what I thought must have looked like an epileptic seizure to anyone standing around. However, when I glanced around to see if anyone had noticed I realized what I felt on the inside was not visible to anyone else.

In an instant I was transported back to the parking lot of the church in which we said our final goodbyes to Dee. It was the first and last time I had ever laid eyes on this man and the image of him that day has been burned in my brain and playing on loop for the last five years.  I felt the tears well up. I couldn’t stop them. As I stood and waited for the restroom to free up, I just stared, unable to take my eyes off of him. In my mind I screamed obcenities at him for taking her away from us. In my mind I begged him to tell us what happened in those final minutes of Dee’s life on that desolate road. In my mind I told him it didn’t matter what a judge on earth did to him because God will be his ultimate judge and that punishment will be far greater than any earthly prison.

I kept thinking he looked so normal, so relaxed, as if he was waiting for a takeout order from a local restaurant. Why wasn’t he scared? His life is about to change in the most horrible of ways and he doesn’t seem to care. Why isn’t he crying? Why is he smiling at people as they pass by? I was so angry that I was afraid I would be unable to keep these things in my mind on the inside much longer.

As fast as I went to that horrible place, I was jolted back to reality by the opening restroom door in front of me. I darted in as if the big bad wolf was chasing me. Thank goodness for that small little room. Thank goodness for my ability to escape. I let the tears come for a few minutes, composed myself and slowly opened the door. He was gone. Now standing in front of me was a line of women, all waiting to take care of their business, all wearing “Juror” name tags. In a matter of steps I was back in the safety of the DA’s office and with my family. I didn’t say a word about what had just happened.

We were told it was time to go. We headed back in the same direction I had just come from and my heart started racing. “What if we run into him in the small stairwell? What if Denise comes face to face with her daughter’s accused killer?” By the time I realized it, we were at the bottom of the stairs and surrounded by a crowd of people, mostly potential jurors. We turned to our left to proceed into the courtroom and there he was again, holding the door for us. WHAT? “Someone get him out of here,” I screamed inside my head. An observant friend noticed and placed herself not so discretely between Mitch and Denise and shielded her from him so that we could enter the courtroom. We found out later that even though she had come within inches from his face, she never saw him. I like to think there was a big ol’ angel sitting on the shoulders of that friend, completely blocking Denise’s ability to see beyond her.

“Wait,” I thought to myself.  “This isn’t a courtroom.” It was more like a room used for council meetings. Where will the judge sit? Where will the jurors sit? Why are we being told to sit on the front row of chairs? Where will Mitch be seated? “Please Dear Lord, do not put him directly behind the defendant’s table, right beside me.” The tears started again. The uneasiness in my stomach was almost too much for me. The butterflies that had flown around inside my belly minutes before were now vicious pterodactyls tearing away at my insides. I took a few deep breaths and tried to redirect my brain to some happier place.

Minutes later, the judge entered the room and sat where I assume city or county council members normally preside over their meetings. The DA’s assistant took his seat at the table directly in front of us. The air in the room was thick but uncannily relaxed, except in that front row of seats we occupied. The judge and DA’s assistant began to talk football. I mean, what else would people talk about while making chitchat in the heart of the SEC. This banter went on for five minutes or so before the DA arrived and took his chair next to his assistant. The judge very casually called the court to order. He nodded toward the lone man sitting at the defendant’s table. “Mr. So and So, I understand you have an issue to address.” This man stood for a moment and began to fill the court in on his partner’s last few days.

He told how the public defender assigned to this case had been struggling with a tooth ache since Friday of last week. There had been an extraction, then a root canal, then an ER visit in the early morning hours on Sunday. As we sat in that courtroom we were informed his partner was with an oral surgeon trying to locate the source of whatever infection was causing the pain and swelling he was suffering. He asked that the case be continued to a later date as they weren’t sure what the prognosis will be.

The judge turned to the DA and asked for his thoughts. The DA made it clear he wasn’t happy with any of this and that both the victim and accused’s families had waited long enough. He could certainly agree to a day or two delay but didn’t feel there would be a need for any longer. He felt that whatever tooth problems the defendant’s attorney currently had, should be treated and cleared up by Wednesday.

There was more back and forth. There was some discussion about how the expert witness for the defense who had to travel had been told on Sunday night that he didn’t need to be in court on Monday morning. The judge remained calm but you could see he was not happy with the current circumstances. He was clearly in a bad situation. He reminded the attorney representing the defendant’s attorney of record that he had 2 weeks earlier denied a requested continuance. He had personally called this special session, summoned 150 potential jurors, brought in a special court reporter and now he was going to have to send them all home. The witnesses, the families, and the attorneys would all be sent home to wait.

The judge ultimately granted a continuance until Wednesday and requested a letter from the oral surgeon as to the prognosis for starting on that day. It was apparent the judge wanted to get this going but had no choice and I believe had no faith we would get our justice this week. He pulled in the court clerk and reviewed future docket times. November 28 would be the next availability. Another special session would need to be called. He asked the court clerk if that would be enough time to collect another jury pool. She confirmed it would be, but barely.

All the while these conversations are occurring around me I’m slowing falling apart on the inside. The tears kept coming and I couldn’t do anything to stop them. I closed my eyes and prayed but the tears kept falling. I opened my eyes and looked toward heaven and the tears simply spilled out of my eyelids. It seemed the more I prayed, the more I cried. The shaking started again. I was sure the whole row of seats must have been vibrating from my trembling. Again, I looked around and no one was staring at me. The earthquake that I felt was happening was only on the inside.

I needed to be here for my family today. I was terrified for Denise and how she was going to make it. For years I’ve felt that I needed to be there for her, to be the strong one she can lean on when it all becomes too much. I’m a strong person. I’ve dealt with my own personal tragedies and each time I came out stronger, wiser and a better person because of the trials of my soul. I had no doubt I could be that person for my family.

I was so wrong.

We walked out of that makeshift courtroom and exited out of the building only to come within feet of Mitch again. And again, that same friend guided Denise, Cole and I around a corner and out of sight of him. As we stood there recapping what had just happened, I lost it. The tears came, the trembling started again, and this time I couldn’t hide it. In an instant, there were arms surrounding me. They were those of the very woman I wanted to be there to support. The woman I wanted to be the rock for was holding me up, supporting me. She grabbed me and we held each other and we sobbed. In that moment, I feel we both became stronger, solid as a rock. I felt her energy enter my body and the trembling stopped and I felt a sense of comfort I had not felt all morning. I felt all the things I wanted so much to be able to give to her.

I don’t know how she does it. She was visibly shaken several times today, but when she saw my pain, she did not hesitate to put her anguish aside and console me. In a way I feel like I failed her today. However, I don’t think she would say that at all. She was so strong and I’m so proud of her. I wonder if she became strong because she didn’t feel alone. Maybe she found strength just in being surrounded by love. I can tell you that I may not have brought the strength I wanted today but there was no shortage of the love I brought with me. Where ever she found the ability to stay strong, I’m just so happy she did. I’m sure on the inside she was as big a mess as I was but she just didn’t show it. She held it together and I think she made Dee proud today. I also think she presented an image to the court that no matter what they throw in her direction, that no matter how strong the devil may be, she will not give up this fight.

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s Time for Justice

Five years ago today, October 17, at 2:00 A.M., Gil and I awoke to a phone call that no family ever wants to receive. It was my mother, sobbing and trying to tell me that my sister had been trying to call me. Gil and I had slept right through the quietly ringing cell phone. I couldn’t understand much of what my mother was saying but what I was able to understand sent a shockwave through my system. It went something like this, “Dee was in an accident and she’s been killed.” My mother tried to relay the details to me but she was just so upset. I hung up and called my sister to get more information.

Dee was my 20 year old cousin.  She was the only daughter of my first cousin, Denise. She had a brother, Cole, who was less than a year her junior and I can tell you that very few brothers and sisters were as close as these two children.  Dee and I had never really had a chance to foster a close relationship due to the 16 year age difference, and the fact that we never really lived very close to each other. However, even though Dee and I weren’t extremely close, our family in general was. Her mom, Denise, was as much a sister to me as my own flesh and blood sister has been.

The phone call with my sister left me reeling and in complete disbelief. Dee and her boyfriend were on a dark and desolate country road, around midnight, when a physical fight broke out between them. At some point, she ended up in the road and was hit by a car. She was killed almost instantly.

The family had gathered at the hospital but none of them were able to say goodbye. Dee was already gone. My sister passed the phone to Dee’s mother but I had no idea what to say. I’m sure I said I’m sorry. I’m sure I told her I loved her. I’m sure I told her I would be home as soon as I could make arrangements. She was very clearly shaken and probably still in shock, and to be honest, so was I.

In the hours, days and weeks after the accident, there were all kinds of stories, misinformation, and rumors floating around my small home town. It was so hard to hear the rumors and even harder to figure out what to believe, since only two people were on that road that night, and one of them will never be able to tell her story. For years my family has waited for answers. For justice.

Three years after the accident, in June 2009,  a grand jury returned an indictment for manslaughter against the boyfriend. The driver of the car never saw her and to our knowledge, was never suspected of any wrong doing. He was as much a victim as Dee, wrong place, wrong time. I remember the exact date I found out we had gotten the indictment. I remember it because I was in Mexico when I got the news, and it was the morning of my wedding day.  

For months after we waited for a court date. That date came and went, as did many others, as continuances were granted time and time again. For two years we’ve waited. We’ve gotten our hopes up and been devastated over and over as the man accused of taking our beloved Dee continued to live his life as if nothing had ever happened. Then, a few months ago, the judge granted the defense a final continuance. However, this was granted with conditions. He would call a special session and this case would be tried, no matter what.  Dee’s mom was told the date.

October 17.

Our family would face the man accused of taking her from us on the anniversary of her death. I asked Dee’s mom and brother how they felt upon hearing that news and they both gave me the same answer. “We feel hopeful it’s a sign that we’ll finally get some justice for her and that we’ll finally be able to let her rest in peace.” They actually both thought it was the perfect date. I shared their thoughts except that I felt this stifling sense of empathy for what they will both be dealing with on that day.  My heart ached so much for them and the idea of what they’ll be feeling as we enter the courtroom.

As I sit here typing this post, I can’t help but be apprehensive. I’m terrified we’ll get to court tomorrow and there’ll be another ploy to delay. I’m terrified there won’t be any delays and a jury will be selected and we’ll begin to hear testimony. I’m terrified for what we’ll hear and see. I’m terrified for my family and how we’ll handle the stress of waiting for a verdict. I’m terrified of that verdict. Guilty. Not guilty. Either way, we’ll finally have our closure. We’ll never have our Dee back, but her mom and brother will know that they have fought the hardest fight they could for her. They have given her everything for the last five years. Even if the jury returns with a not guilty verdict, I think Dee’s mom and brother will have no regrets in how they’ve lived their lives with the sole purpose of finding justice for their Dee.

When asked to explain how all of this has affected her life, Denise wrote the following passage and shared it with me.

What life? It has been a living hell since that night, but how do you explain having your soul ripped from your body? There is the physical pain from not eating like I should, but you don’t have an appetite so what do you do? Your body aches from not resting properly, not sleeping because you close your eyes and all you see is your beautiful daughter – the first time giving birth, or you picture her sitting under the Christmas tree tearing into her presents or as she graduates from high school.

I have been blessed with a wonderful family, without them I could not have gotten this far. My parents have stood by my side every step I have taken, without them who knows where I would be today.

And then there is my son, Cole. He has truly been my strength, the force that has kept me grounded and pushing through each day. I know he has and continues to make sacrifices for me, without hesitation. And my friends, I have learned who is truly my friend. Their words of encouragement is something I need every day. Some days though even with all of this support, I simply want to pull the covers over my head and just say to heck with it all. It is at this time I pray for justice to be done and with any luck it will be.

For more information, here’s an article from today’s local paper written by reporter Matt Elofson.