( Intermediate Level )
As Allison and her husband, Craig, sat in the courtroom listening to the defendant, the defendant who had recklessly chosen to get behind the wheel of his car while he was intoxicated, she wept.
This man had taken the life of their daughter Anna Marie, who just months prior received her driver’s license. She would have started her junior year in high school and had so much promise in her future.
The judge had asked if the defendant wanted to say something before he was sentenced. Mr. Brown shook his head in affirmation.
“Thank you, Your honor. I can give you all kinds of excuses to say why I got behind the wheel that night but I am not. I should have just stayed home but I didn’t.”
“You see, your honor, I lost my wife and our unborn child while my wife was giving birth a month prior to the accident. Complications set in and the doctors tried to save them or at least my wife but they both died.“
“I blame myself. I insisted we start our family while we were still young. My wife never really wanted children. However, she loved me and knew I came from a large family and she reluctantly agreed.”
“As the months went by, my wife was actually getting excited about having our child. Our little girl. Once she felt her move in her stomach she felt differently.”
“We started to set up the nursery next to our bedroom. Decorating with pink flowers and lots of teddy bears. We must have worked on it for a week or so and my wife started feeling a bit under the weather.”
“She took it easy for a few days. Resting as she felt so tired. I insisted she make an appointment with the doctor as soon as possible, which she did.”
“She was to see the doctor in two days but something happened the night before her appointment. She doubled over in pain and she wanted to go to the hospital.”
Immediately, we headed to the emergency room. Upon arrival, my wife started to bleed and the pain worsened.”
“All I remember is the doctor saying she was in labor with complications. He took her into surgery hoping to save them both.”
An hour or so passed as I waited outside in the waiting area and the doctor came out and told me that he tried his best but they both had died.”
Mr. Brown’s voice began to crack as he held back his tears. “I lost, Your Honor, the love of my life, and my little girl that night. Life has not been the same since.”
“I cannot bring myself to sleep in the bed which I shared with my wife nor can I walk past the empty nursery.”
“I lost my job after a week. My boss understood what I was going through but he had no choice but to let me go.”
“I lost my willpower to continue living and the only thing that made me forget was the whiskey. It dulled my pain until I sobered up. So for me not to feel my pain I drank again. And again and again.”
Allison’s sobs grew louder. She felt his anguish. Craig put his arm around her and drew her in closer to him.
“That night I had to leave the house. The walls were coming down on me as my world did that night in the hospital. I grabbed my keys to get the hell out of there.”
“The next thing I remember, Your Honor, is waking up with a splitting headache with my wrist handcuffed to the hospital bed. It wasn’t until later that day I heard what I had done and I regret it to this day. I was irresponsible.”
He turned slightly in his chair to face Allison and Craig, “I am so sorry for what I took from you. I am not asking for your forgiveness, just understanding. That night was not who I am.”
Allison buried her face deep in her husband’s shoulder trying to hold back her tears. Mr. Brown turned back around to face the judge once again.
“We will take a recess and continue after lunch. Thank you Mr. Brown for sharing your story. When we come back we will hear from the parents before sentencing” The judge slammed his gavel down. Everyone stood as he left the courtroom.
Lunch break was an hour and a half. Both Craig and Allison didn’t feel like eating. Instead they sat at a local café mulling over if they wanted to speak. Craig felt he wouldn’t have anything nice to say so he opted not to.
Allison, on the other hand, felt she had much to say. Ï am going to speak from my heart.” she told her husband. “Ï believe we owe to ourselves and to Anna Marie.”
For the remaining forty-five minutes they sat there without speaking. Allison sipped her coffee and watched the people pass by the café’s window.
The two walked slowly to the courthouse dreading the afternoon session. This will be the most difficult thing for Allison. Face the man who took her daughter from her and speak.
They reached the courthouse and went inside. Allison looked over at the benches by the courtroom where they were to go to see an older couple sitting there. She figures they were about ten years or so older than her and her husband.
They were holding each other’s hands and talking quietly to each other. She doesn’t remember seeing them in the courtroom earlier.
The bailiff opened the double doors and nodded to both couples. It was the signal that the court session was about to resume. Allison and her husband entered and sat in the seats they had earlier.
The other couple sat behind the defense side of the room. At this moment Alison realized they must be either Mr. Brown’s parents or his deceased wife’s.
Mr. Brown was led into the courtroom. He saw his parents sitting as he entered. His mother looked like she hadn’t slept in days. As he sat his handcuffs were removed.
He turned to his mother and mouthed, “It will be ok Mom. I love you.” He then glanced at his dad. They locked eyes for a moment before he turned back around. This did not go unnoticed by Allison.
Within moments the bailiff was echoing “All rise. The court will now go into session. Please rise as the honorable Judge Smith enters the courtroom.” The judge entered carrying a stack of papers never looking towards the occupants of the room.
As he sat the bailiff was heard again. “Please be seated.” The judge seemed to organize the papers into stacks then he looked up towards the room.
This case was a difficult one for him. He too is a father of two teenage girls and he could feel the pain of both sides in this case before him.
The judge quickly summarized the morning session and then asked,” We will take a few moments to hear from the parents of the victim. After this, I will make a decision in this case..”
Allison took a deep breath and stood to address both the judge and Mr. Brown. She glanced over at his parents who were looking with great sadness in their eyes.
Allison looked down for a moment to compose herself and her thoughts then looked directly at the judge.
“Your Honor, If I was to speak this morning I may have had different things to say to you. My husband and I took this break to do some deep soul searching after what Mr. Brown told the courtroom this morning.”
“We realize, I realize he lost not one but two that were precious to him. Yes, He was irresponsible in getting behind the wheel of his car that night. Sure, he could have sought counseling to deal with his grief, but he didn’t.”
She turned towards Mr. Brown, “I can stand here before you and be angry at you for what you did but I am not. I hurt for you. I know the pain and sorrow you are feeling.“
“My husband and I feel the same. I see your parents in the courtroom and I do not want to give them more pain than they feel now.” She glanced back at them and saw his mother’s tears.
“I forgive you, Mr. Brown. Nothing will bring back my daughter, your wife, or your little girl and I am sorry. We are entitled to make a mistake here and there. I hope this is one mistake you never make again”
She looked down again and rubbed the top of one hand then she looked up to the judge. “Your Honor, My husband and I lost our little girl. Our only child but Mr. Brown lost also.”
“I can ask you for the maximum sentence allowed by the laws but I will not. It won’t bring back those who we’ve lost. Instead, I would like to see Mr. Brown begin to heal as we will.”
“His parents have suffered enough too. So I stand here before you asking that he be released with mandatory counseling to help him deal with his loss. My husband agrees with this. We forgive him.”
She sat next to her husband and felt like a huge burden had been lifted. It was time for their journey to healing. Allison and Craig had taken the first step. Forgiveness. Now it was time for Mr. Brown to forgive himself.
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intoxicated – adjective: drunk
wept – verb: shed tears
complications – noun: a circumstance that complicates something; a difficulty
reluctantly – adverb: unwilling and hesitant
under the weather – idiom: ill, not feeling well
sobered up – phrasal verb: to become less drunk
irresponsible – adjective: not showing responsibility
recess – noun: a period of time when the proceedings of a court of law are temporarily suspended
gavel – noun: a small mallet with which a judge hits a surface to call for attention or order
mulling – verb: to think about
opted – verb: to make a choice
speak from my (one’s) heart – idiom: to speak or say something with deep emotional sincerity
bailiff – noun: an official in a court of law who keeps order, looks after prisoners
locked eyes – idiom: to stare into the eyes of someone who is staring back into your eyes
decision – noun: a conclusion or resolution reached after consideration
soul searching – noun: deep and anxious consideration of one’s emotions and motives or of the correctness of a course of action
counseling – noun: assistance and guidance in resolving personal, social, or psychological problems and difficulties, especially by a professional.
entitled – adjective: having a right to something
Question ( s ):
Which is more important to you? Justice or forgiveness?
Would it make a difference if it involved a family member?
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