This post is not for the faint-hearted. The remaining two of the three people responsible for Steve’s murder pleaded guilty in court yesterday, on my birthday, as part of a plea agreement. I knew about it in advance, so I was prepared. There will be no jury trial now, and they will be sentenced to many, many years in jail. The legal process is pretty much over. By admitting their guilt, truth was spoken, finally. They said that they did it. Does it make me feel better? Nope.
Several journalists contacted me at the end of the day asking if I felt that justice was served. I tried to answer. For three hours, late into the night, I wrote and rewrote two sentences to encapsulate my thoughts. In the end I arrived at short statement, but how can one answer such a pregnant question in a few words? So, following is my longer answer.
To begin with, what does it mean “was justice served”? In the legal context, yes, I guess justice is being served with the lengthy prison sentences. The three murderers will spend most, if not all their lives in jail. They can no longer harm anyone else. Death sentences were discussed as a possibility and rejected. Now legal justice is being served by putting them away. They can never appeal, and the sentences are final.
But real justice? Steve and Audrey are gone forever. Our hearts are broken, our environment is somehow less safe knowing that what happened to Steve and Audrey could happen to any of us, at any moment. Guns are still being sold to people freely, and stolen from their owners. Dangerous, addictive drugs are readily available to anyone. Violence permeates our culture every single day.
Agreeing to the plea agreement was hard, really hard. It was an agonizing process to get there. I wanted the murderers to fully feel the impact of their actions; the indescribable pain and sorrow. I wanted them to sit on that hard bench in the courtroom every single day for weeks on end during a jury trial, shackled, being constantly confronted with more and more damning testimonies from witnesses. I wanted them to revisit in horror what they did; every single moment of what they did. I wanted them to feel ashamed, mortified, and shaking with fear for their lives, for their future. I wanted them to fall apart completely in front of the world, exposed and ashamed. And the list goes on.
Finally I came to realize that there is nothing, absolutely nothing I can do to change them. Nothing.
The only thing that is possible for me is to take care of myself, and part of that is to make informed decisions that hopefully will help my healing, and the healing of our families, friends and community.
Deciding to proceed with the plea agreement was such an informed decision. The legal process will be over, forever. We don’t have to read about it in the media any more, and the killers will be behind bars. Period. We don’t have to fret about what a jury might decide, or be sickened by how the cold-blooded killers will be presented by their defense attorneys in the best possible light in attempts to ease or shorten their prison sentences.
We can complete this part of our lives, but whatever their punishment is or could have been, it is never going to bring Steve and Audrey back. We have to live with the excruciating and traumatizing ramifications of their crimes until our very last breath.
So can true justice ever really be served? I don’t think so.