I Tried to Convince the Judge He Wasn’t a Monster, But He Really Was
September 21, 2022
My new client was visibly shaking as the Judge stood in front of me. I could see that his hands were trembling, and he looked terrified. I had been appointed to defend him against a murder charge, but even without the legal background, it was clear that something about this case didn’t add up. My client looked just like the other men on death row, except Judge was incredibly young — no more than twenty-one years old — and he didn’t seem to have much of an education.
How Did This Happen?
He didn’t seem like a criminal when I met him in my office. The judge was wearing jeans and a hoodie. We sat down together and his story came spilling out: Judge had been raped by two young men at 18 years old while he was sleeping, but refused to file charges because he didn’t want to go through the ordeal of testifying against them. All these years later,
Judge has suffered depression and anxiety from the assault. The judge’s therapist diagnosed him with PTSD from an intense episode of military service during which the Judge was tortured for days by insurgents who broke his fingers with pliers and beat him with cables. The signs were all there – but no one else recognized them for what they were. It’s just that this man looked like an everyday Joe
The Real Story
I represented someone who seemed like a monster on paper: A man who brutally raped and killed his victim. She was 23 years old, a woman in the prime of her life. Her obituary said she had two children, a man waiting for her at home, and an affectionate pup that always greeted her at the door.
Her body was found naked in an alley one morning just before sunrise by the mailman who knew to call it in because the Judge recognized she lived nearby. Hours later I learned she could have been saved if only her brother had reached out when she texted him saying He’s going to kill me. Despite this case being so black-and-white from day one my job as a defense attorney wasn’t easy.
What Happened Next?
The guy pled out and was sentenced two days later. It turned out he had raped three girls that year, including the one I was assigned to represent. For the sentencing hearing, I got up there and told the judge how amazing this guy was and how much of a mistake it would be to send him away for life.
I believed in him wholeheartedly, like I think he believed in himself for doing what he did. We went back and forth about his impressive military record–when we first started this defense it had been almost 10 years since he left active duty with an honorable discharge–and what good work he’s done since then as both a husband and father.
The story ends for me when he was sentenced. It ends with him returning home, back to his family and his community. Back where I come from it’s still easy to run into someone who knows him. I know people in my town who have been sexually assaulted; they might see that guy in their town or stores every day and they don’t even know it because he’s married now and has kids of his own.
When he walks down the street holding hands with his children some mothers will see him and look away out of fear of catching even a glimpse of that man who is a monster but not one whose face should be plastered all over social media so all their friends can find out just how terrible our justice system is.
Reflections on My Role
The whole experience was surreal. I had done my best to make him seem as harmless as possible with my speech and actions in court. I tried not to make any sudden movements or get in his way, but what I said was so far from what I truly felt it had turned into more of an act than anything else.
The evidence hand-painted him as a monster through and through and he knew it too well. At one point he looked right at me when we were on the stand together and smiled. At that moment there felt like nothing else mattered anymore because if he could act that way while knowing all the evidence against him then all hope seemed lost anyways.
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