Friday, August 30, 2013

Watching It Play Out

I've had senseless tragedies on my mind today, as the Aurora shooter asserts an affirmative defense, thus requiring a trial. His sanity will be examined, the details will be hashed and rehashed and diced and sliced and it will last for a very long time.  Eighty-two theater-goers were shot that night.  Eighty-two stories are waiting to be heard. The judge said that the trial will center on the testimony of mental health experts weighing in on the shooter's mental state at the time of the rampage, and not on that of the victims.

Victims....oh, I don't like that word at all.  It's accurate and it's necessary and it has legal ramifications but I still don't like it.

The number of people who have a vested interest in the case comes close to 700, as the judge considers those in the adjoining theaters to have been at risk, too. All those people may not testify, but they'll have a chance to see every bit of the legal proceedings.  It's their right. It's going to be a very large courtroom.

Not everyone will want to go. Some won't want to give him another moment of their lives. Some will be too fearful. Some will not want to see him, to have his visage in their heads. Some will think that it is ghoulish, that it is unnecessary to relive the worst moments of their lives. Some will be afraid of their reactions; will they be able to stay on their side of the bar, resisting the urge to jump over the low railing and wreak their own havoc on the perpetrator. They won't have to worry about assaulting the wrong man; his defense acknowledges his actions while saying he is not culpable. Somehow, that makes pounding the life out of him a bit more palatable.

I know all of that is true, because I felt it, sometimes all of it in one day.

No matter how thoughtful the prosecutors, no matter how kind the judge, sitting in the courtroom with the person who was, not long ago, on the business end of the weapon that sent bullets through the theater, sitting there watching him, shackled or not, is unsettling. There's no way to find comfort, no place to ease the pain. Your own feet brought you to the courtroom. No one dragged you.  You came to watch, to listen, to soak it in. I was shaking and crying and making a spectacle of myself... the first time.

After a while, and our while was very short, it became less frightening. I knew what to expect, I recognized the players, I knew the routine. The setting was familiar. It didn't remove the knot in my stomach that grew pointier and pokier every time I looked at the defense table, but that knot became more of an old friend as time went on.  As with all old friends, I knew just what to do with it. I snuggled closer to TBG or Mavy or Dory or whoever was on my side.  I grabbed a hand, I sand into a shoulder. I drew strength and then I sat upright.

Knowing that I was going to walk out into the sunshine while the shooter was going back to his cell was a two edged sword. I would be safe, while he was incarcerated. I would be free. He would be living in a box, with the lights never turned off so that he couldn't hurt himself under cover of darkness.  A guard sat outside his cell, all day, every day, while no one cared whether I drove to the grocery store or lay on my bed all day.

I tried to stay away from acknowledging that a person younger than my own children had this as his fate. I didn't want to feel pity, or sorrow, but they were there anyway, peeking around the edges of my rage and my grief. This was a systems failure as much as anything else; watching the system work well was scant comfort.  Scant, but something.

We were lucky. The facts were not in dispute. The defendant did not want a fight. His attorney kept him off Death Row, which isn't where we wanted him anyway. Still, the courtroom pieces of this drama lasted for more than a year. That was without testimony or depositions or cross-examinations. The only evidence presented were mental health records and testimony by the treating psychologist. Even that one day bordered on more than I can handle.  

I don't know how they'll do it, those Coloradans who are choosing to sit in the courtroom as their story plays out. Even when court is not in session, the fact of it looms. It can't be set aside, because it's always there. When the prosecutor calls, you have to answer the phone. When they set a date for trial, you have to be there.  No matter if your daughter is getting married in six days, you have to spend the Monday before then in a room with a man writing a sentencing report, revisiting the events, the feelings, the tears, the loss, and knowing that your words are contributing to the imprisonment of a young man who never had a chance.

I feel lucky that we avoided so much. I feel empathy for those who are just beginning down the path. There's no way to make it okay. All I can do is send caring thoughts and prayers.

It's not enough, but it's something.


  1. I was relieved when you and others didn't have to sit through a trial. I'm saddened that over 700 people were affected by Holmes' horrific act. This trial will go on for a while and a lot of questions are going to be asked on why people didn't heed the warning signs. Apparently, there were many. Now 12 people are dead because people didn't care enough before it happened to pay attention or to act on their suspicions. I keep thinking of the Homeland Security Signs we see at the airport, "If you see something, say something".™-campaign

    It's important for people to feel like they can come forward when they suspect that someone is a danger to themselves or society.

    The fact that he was able to buy rounds and rounds of ammunition on the Web is another issue I have.

    I hope something good comes of this trial, but I suspect it will open wounds that haven't fully healed and could be extremely painful for so many. I do believe in our justice system and everyone has a right to a fair trial, but it hurts to think that the people that ultimately pay are the victims or their loved ones.

    Have a wonderful weekend.

    Megan xxx

    1. What you said... twice.... it's necessary and awful at the same time. So much has to be changed, and there is so little will in the legislatures..... sigh....


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