Dead Man Walking
I was shot to death at about 12:15 this afternoon in a courtroom in New Britain, Connecticut. I saw both barrels take aim. I felt hatred as the trigger was pulled. I was no more than meat to the killer. She lacked any remorse for my murder. It was pure revenge for her. She shot me, and then she walked away, feeling only satisfaction and cold fury.
At least that is how it felt to me as I left the courtroom. I represent the man accused of shooting a loved one of hers through the head, killing him instantly. The police believe it was gang related.
This morning was a pre-trial, a discussion about the case behind closed doors with the judge and prosecutor about what information the state is obliged to turn over prior to trial. In the course of these discussions, judges tries to broker plea bargains. In this case, there shall be no deals. We have plead not guilty, and we mean it.
I appeared briefly in open court with my client. He was led out from a cell in a prison jump suit, a multi-million dollar bond assuring that he will be behind bars until his case is tried. The law may say that he stands cloaked in the presumption of innocence, but the chains he wore spoke otherwise. He is an inmate now, learning to shuffle the shuffle of a restrained animal. He is younger than my youngest child, and already he looks broken.
We continued the case for several months. We will meet one last time to make sure that the case is ready for trial. My client is led away by men in uniform and put back in a cell hidden in the basement of the courthouse.
The victim's family comes to every court appearance and sits in silent vigil. I try to avoid them out of respect for what they have lost and due to an understanding that I cannot help but look evil to them. I have been retained to defend the man the state thinks killed a son, a brother and a lover. Because the state has charged my client, the victim's family focuses its anger on him, and on me.
This morning, the family and I arrived at the courtroom's exit at the same moment as court adjourned. I paused and gestured for them to go ahead of me. I forced a respectful smile. I had hoped they might see me as something other than the devil's messenger.
But the double barrel violence of the stare with which one woman greeted me told me all I need to know. I am death, and should be dead. I stand instead of the boy they have buried. Murderous rage is at loose.
A courtroom is often a place of sublimated violence. We re-enact the very worst events that occur in dark places. It should not have surprised me to see violence in the eyes of a stranger today. But it did. It is the end of a long week. I had let my guard down and sought simply to float into rest.
But there is no rest for those broken by rage and sorrow. I know that, but I did not want to remember it. I stumbled into an ambush I could have avoided. For a moment, I was a dead man, and it did not feel good.