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.