Yesterday I selected a jury in a Capital Sexual Battery trial. It's a case that's been going on for two years. I managed to get my client a bond and he has spent a lot of time with me during the course of his case. You come to know the sum of a man when you spend time with him. The parts of him that make him a monster and the redeeming parts of him, that nobody else seems to see, that make him a gentle human being.
My client, C, was the latter. While he was accused of horrendous crimes, all I could see was the gentle human being.
After breaking for lunch yesterday, I walked to my car and told C that I was going to eat. As he always does, he followed me to the car where we normally chat for longer than I'd really like. Loneliness would radiate off him and I knew a few extra minutes of my time was worth satisfying the human interaction C desperately yearned for; even if only for a little while.
However, this time, and for the first time, instead of taking his position of leaning up against my car and chatting, C jumped in the passenger seat. As I took my place behind the wheel, he gleefully asked where we were going. I briefly digested the moment and with the slightest undertone of confusion said, "I guess WE are going for pizza!"
We ate lunch together and returned to court to finish picking a jury. Upon the swearing in of the jury, the court recessed for the day.
C and I walked to the car, took our positions and chatted. We discussed how summer was coming and the temperature was surely rising. We discussed how Mike Tyson will never be as good as Mohammed Ali. We also took a moment to discuss his case and rejoice that, despite our initial concerns, the jury we selected actually seemed to be pretty good.
We chatted until I made my foreordained move towards the driver's door and went our separate ways for the evening.
C faced serious accusations coupled with some seriously damning facts. But C entered a plea of Not Guilty and, while I'll never truly know the answer, a solid part of me believed he would ultimately be exonerated of these horrible allegations. I only saw a gentleman and was burning on all cylinders to fight for him. He had as mighty of a defensive weapon that exists, steadfast at his side. He knew that. He thanked me for that. The remainder of the week would be brutal, but we were saddled in and ready to make a stand!
I skipped seeing a sold out Chris Rock performance I long ago secured tickets for and gave them to a colleague in my office and another ticket to a friend. Missing the chance to see my favorite comedian live twice in a row was a feeling tantamount to watching your waiter drop your sizzling medium rare Ribeye on the floor only inches from your table. But opening statements were in the morning and I was in for a long night.
I awoke on 2 hours sleep feeling as if had taken a severe amount of caffeine and hadn't even needed that nap. I showered, touched up my hair just right and located that godforsaken cufflink that always finds it way into a clandestine corner. I was ready to roll into that courtroom and fury was coming with me.
That's when I checked my texts. The prosecutor informed me that he had received information from the police and trial was to be no more. Last night C was stopped by a police officer for a broken tag light. As the officer approached the car, C reached for a gun and blew his brains out.
C had always been frantic that the judge would revoke his bond. Jailhouse lawyers and neighborhood lawyers convinced him that it was unusual for a man with his accusations to be out on bond. They convinced C that at any moment the judge would revoke his bond and law enforcement would execute a warrant on him. And they were right. It was unusual for a man, faced with such allegations, to be out on bond. However, no matter how many times I assured him it would be equally unusual for a judge to revoke a bond and we would know in advance if the judge sought to do so, C remained nervous.
As C didn't know why he was stopped by the officer, one can only imagine the fear that rushed through his mind. C hadn't been speeding. C hadn't run a red light. He was stopped for a tag light being out; something behind him he couldn't see or know. His fear that the judge must have finally revoked his bond, compounded with the jury being seated and his palpable realization that his day of Trial had begun, must have been excruciating.
Sitting before six jurors is the realist moment a man will ever know. All your past troubles were able to be solved or managed. But the courtroom is where futures potentially come to die. Six men and women will decide if you've reached your day of exoneration or your day of reckoning; a decision made regardless of which one was ultimately the truth and deserved.
A man faced with a mandatory life sentence and being prosecuted under the facts as they were, even if unequivocally innocent, stands to undertake what seems a despairing task.
C chose to end his life.
I appeared before the judge and the prosecutor formally dismissed the case. Some family members of the alleged victim along with C's very longtime girlfriend, who had long since cut ties with him upon the bringing of the charges, silently, appearing saddened and almost humbled, slowly made their way out of the courtroom. The doors lightly 'swooshed' closed behind them, and the monster C was supposed to be was discarded in place of the next case on the docket and left to ultimately vanish from the prosecutor's mind.
Monsters exist. But not all monsters were always monsters and not all remain monsters. Even more, some perceived monsters have never actually been monsters at all and some monsters are simply hidden in disguise.
Almost all men are redeemable. Whether C never needed redeeming or he had simply redeemed himself to me alone, I saw a gentle man.
The interesting part of C's death is that he chose it over life. In the midst of heated debates about the use of the death penalty, in spite of the fact that it's proponents demand that it is the only sentence intimidating enough to deter crime and thus it's risk of irreversible finality are outweighed by its deterrent effect, it was the fear of life in prison that caused C to impose the death penalty upon himself.
What I saw in C, was either the gentle man he was or at least the redeemable gentle man that was somewhere inside of him. We'll never know what the jury would have seen because when faced with a mandatory life sentence, C chose death today.
~ in memoriam of C