Monday, December 27, 2010

Wish I'd Said That

Here's the lede from the story in the LA Times last week.
After two hours of wrenching, tear-filled pleas for both maximum justice and mercy, the man convicted of murder in the drunk-driving crash that killed Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two friends was sentenced Wednesday to 51 years to life in prison.
Three dead.  One was prominent.  A horrible thing.  No excuses.  Andrew Gallo, the young man who drove that car while drunk shouldn't have been behind the wheel.  Period.  We all know that.  
Perhaps we don't all know the rest, or just haven't had it in us.  
I've been preaching sermons on the danger of truth for some time now.  (See, for recent examples, here and here.)  I've never shared Holmes's conviction that
the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.
That's the naive fantasy of those who believe the value of free speech to be instrumental.  I'm not one of them.  I don't have sufficient faith/trust/belief in the wisdom or openness of the crowd.  If the power of a good idea expressed were enough, this would be a very different world.  Free speech is valuable not because better ideas will prevail over worse, not for instrumental reasons.  Free speech is valuable in itself.  Because the ability to speak freely, to write freely, to think freely is (at least in our system, and I share this faith) a good in itself.  Words matter.
Back in July 2009, I wrote this.
I professed English, taught literature and writing to college students for fifteen years before I went to law school. Then and since (and before, but that's a quibble) I've spent more hours than I care to count considering the power and importance of language, of the word, logos.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
Speak the name and call forth the thing. Name it, and it is. No small thing this.
As I said in July of this year,
for god the word, logos (λόγος), calls forth the thing.
Again.  Words matter.  And so they are dangerous.  Not because truths will prevail, but because expressed they will not be ignored.  And, of course, sometimes they matter.
When in the course of human events.
Not guilty.
With this ring.
And so we speak truth because it matters.  Even if nobody listens.  
From Lee Stonum, to Scott Greenfield, to Mark Bennett, here's Jaqueline Goodman's punishment argument on behalf of Andrew Gallo.
Everyone is pretending. Pretending that Andrew isn’t a good person, not an ordinary young man. Pretending that three sets of parents who held their babies in their arms and dreamed about their futures are any different from parents who, at that same time 23 years ago, on those very same days, held their first baby boy, Andrew, bounced him on their knee, and dreamed of his future, full of love and promise.
Pretending those innocent parents are not victims themselves. Pretending their pain is less relevant here.

Pretending that the victims were not themselves human– beautiful and yes, flawed. Pretending that Courtney Stewart’s mistakes did not exist, and that Andrew Gallo’s mistakes were intent to kill. We’re pretending that Andrew is on par with those depraved killers who look into the eyes of their victims and determine wilfully to take their lives. We’re pretending that 51 years to life will have any impact on whether a different young man or woman drinks, and then foolishly gets behind the wheel, believing, as they do, in their omnipotence, their immortality. We’re pretending that here, today, that we are somehow not taking another life with cold intention, in response to the loss of lives in a tragic accident. 

Well I will not pretend. 

Andrew Gallo is a good and gentle soul who never set out to harm another person, and who does not deserve to lose his life.

He comes from a good family– a military family, his own brother a marine. A family who, in deference to the pain of the parents of the victims, and without thought of their own sorrow, every day gave up the front seats in their son’s own trial to the parents of the decedents here. They quietly sat in the back, entered and exited last, even as their son’s taking was on display in slow motion.

And it is absurd to think that we can summarize in a few sentences the infinite value of any of these lives or the depths of sorrow at these losses. But the only way we might spare a life or several lives from a similar fate is to allow Andrew the opportunity to share the lessons he’s learned at such great a cost. 

That would be a far greater and more fitting legacy to Henry Pearson, Courtney Stewart, Nick Adenhart, and Jonathan Wilhite. That in their names was dealt mercy and temperance and understanding instead of vengeance and blame. That in their names, others were spared their own lives. This would be the most fitting tribute to these extraordinary people. They would stand for forgiveness over blame. 

My own father is dying. He saw me in court one time, and that was here, in closing arguments. My father is a recovering alcoholic. He had about 30 years of life-affirming sobriety. But it took him about 40 years to reach it. Fate denied Andrew as much of a chance. 

Today Andrew and I know that we come into this battle to lose. The victory, sometimes, is in showing up. The victory is speaking truth to power. It is in speaking love to hate. 

At this moment, my father is dying. Because I am in this hearing today, I may not be by his side when he passes out of this life and into the next. But know this: That I am profoundly privileged to stand next to Andrew Gallo. And in my father’s name, I proudly stand on the side of honesty.  Of hope and redemption over blame.
It didn't work.  Gallo got 51 years.  He's 23.  He'll be eligible for release in 49 years, when he's 71.  
But what she said.
Nobody won.  Generally, nobody does.
A horrible thing.  No excuses.  Andrew Gallo, the young man who drove that car while drunk shouldn't have been behind the wheel.  Period.  We all know that.  
And yet.


  1. Thanks Jeff. And thanks for all your writing this year, happy holidays.

  2. And to you Lee. Thanks for reading. And may the new year shine bright.