Saturday, February 1, 2014

Wallowing in the Hate

We hate you!
Those were the first words from the first victim impact statement at my client's sentencing.  He'd killed a guy who was dearly loved by his family and friends (including, I should add, my client, who was one of his friends).  And though the victim was, or at least was described as, almost saintly in his kindness, in his generosity in fact and spirit, his friends and family were unforgiving. 
You should be killed.
There's no place in hell too hot for you.
I hope you suffer forever
We don't forgive you. We'll never forgive you.
Throw the book at him.
Those of us who've been there in those courtrooms, standing beside the reviled, have learned to endure these outpourings of venom, these spectacles of vituperation.  We've come to expect them.  We pay little attention, listening just enough to make note if someone says something that needs to be responded to or (less likely but it happens) embraced when we give our sentencing spiel to the judge.

As I've said before, though, not everyone is out for blood.  There are those who do forgive, who offer love and compassion, or who just figure that there's no need for one more dead body, one more grieving family.  I write about them from time to time here.  People like Allen and Jeanne Howe.  People like Anthony Colón.  Like Pierce O'Farrill and the family of Curtis Jackson and Rais Bhuiyan and, hell search the archives for yourself.

I tell those stories because they inspire, because they show a glimmer of what can be.  And so while Bob and Lola Autobee are litigating their right to talk to the jury at the death penalty trial of their son's killer (the prosecutor says they're only allowed to speak if they want to talk about how much they think he should be executed and since they want his life spared they should be silenced), 

While that's going on, I just naturally wanted to write about Irene Allain. She's the daughter of John McGrath, murdered in East Cleveland 28 years ago by, at least according to the jury, Gregory Lott who sits on death row, scheduled to be executed by the good people of Ohio on March 19.  Allain, and the rest of her family, want to stop it.  

Via John Caniglia in the Plain Dealer.
"Although it has been difficult for me to come to terms with how my father died, I do not agree with executing Gregory Lott,'' Allain wrote in an affidavit that Lott's attorneys are using to seek clemency for him. "I am a devout Catholic, as is my family.
"I believe that life in prison is a just punishment for Gregory Lott. I believe his death sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment.''
And then,
"I don't want to put my imprimatur on a man's execution,'' said Jack McGrath, a grandson. "Much of this is because of my Roman Catholic faith. When I first learned of this in 1986, I almost thought of taking matters into my own hands. But time has healed our wounds. I don't believe in the death penalty because of my faith.
"I wouldn't want to be the person who prevents someone from changing -- from finding God, understanding the depth of what he has done and helping him prepare for the afterlife,'' Jack McGrath said. "If a man's put to death, any preparation for that is pretty much ended.''
The thing is, as I was getting set to write this post about Allain and her family and Gregory Lott and. . . . Well, I kept thinking about that woman who stood up in court and said to my client
We hate you!
I wasn't there. I didn't get to hear it.  I don't know if she screamed or spoke with cold malevolence or even in a voice tinged with sorrow (though I doubt the latter).  I didn't represent the man then.  And unlike Lott, he never faced the death penalty.   Anyway, I was thinking about that woman and about my client's family who spoke too.  And they spoke lovingly and with deep pain and regret of my client, but also of his victim's family.

And then I read Stig Dagerman's brilliant short short story, "To Kill a Child."  Steven Hartman, who translated the story, calls it
perhaps the greatest short short story in the history of Swedish letters.
Which may or may not be true, but is also beside the point.

Here's the thing.  As a lawyer, it's my job to do the best I can for my client.  When I represent, as I commonly do, someone who caused or is said to have caused harm to another by homicide, robbery, assault, what have you, my focus is and must be on my client.  The harm caused, the pain, those are things to be dealt with insofar as dealing with them helps my client.  I'm a lawyer, not a social worker. And that's how it should be.

But it's also true that we on this side of the aisle too often pay insufficient attention to those who suffered at our client's hands.  We see our clients suffer (really, they do) and then when the voices of vengeance cry 
We hate you!
We turn away.  And don't really have an answer.  Though if we're being honest, we might say, 
I'd hate him, too, if I were you.
But here's the thing.  That young man who was killed, that paragon of generosity in fact, in deed, and in spirit, that young man who friend and relative after friend and relative said would always return meanness with love, would give freely to those who wronged him.  That young man who one after the other said was incapable of hate, would never hate, was better than that.  On his behalf, in his memory, they hate.

Which isn't hard to understand, and really, there's little wondering about the wallowing.  But the real wonder is the turning away from the hatred.  And that does everyone, including our clients, a world of good.

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