Monday, June 18, 2007

Justice

I started writing this last week, but my illness got the better of me. I've been down for the count for a bit and with the initial passion and confusion gone, I've been hesitant to revisit the events of the 1st of June.

On March 31st, I was ordered to Homerville, Georgia, to represent the ship at the trial of a First Class Petty Officer who had just reported to my department. He was charged with one count of murder, two counts of aggravated assault and one count of illegal possession of a firearm during a crime almost three years ago. His previous command had tried to prevent his transfer so he could resolve the issue (which happened right after he reported to them), but he was cut orders and sent to us in March.

This is a terrific petty officer, and I was really happy when he got here because there hadn't been any senior leadership outside of the Chief in that division for nine months. The first I had heard about the incident was that he had been driving his truck with three other people and the bonehead in the passenger's seat found his concealed weapon (which he had a Mississippi permit for and hadn't yet obtained a Florida permit for; but he was in Georgia, anyway) under the seat and fired it out the window three times.

The blanks began filling in when I heard that he wasn't on leave for just another hearing, but on trial for murder and I was going to the trial. I left work, had dinner at home and drove directly to Homerville.

There are two motels in Homerville and the new one was full, so I got a room at the old one. There were probably vacancies in Waycross, but I didn't know that it was only 30 miles away. It was crappy, plenty of bugs (no avoiding them on the edge of the Okeefenokee) but quiet and the bed was OK. I went for some snacks, but everything closed at ten besides the one gas station. The lady at the counter got to talking to me and I found that every person in this town not only knew about the trial, but but knew at least one of the men involved, including the victim.

The basic story was accurate, but my sailor (EN1) had never come straight out and said he was charged with murder. He had been in town for his wife's family reunion and out drinking with some of the guys, one being his borther-in-law, TJ. They had gone to a party; when they arrived, one of TJ's buddies had just gotten the crap beaten out of him and put in the hospital. None of the guys in EN1's truck knew who had done it, but TJ was angry and tried to get into the party to start kicking some ass, put was pulled away by some girls and they all went to visit this friend in the hospital.

TJ was tha only one allowed in the hospital, but the testimony (which I missed) was that he had kissed his friend on the forehead Godfather-style and promised to get even. After the four left the hospital, my knowledge of the events is unclear. TJ found EN1's 9mm under the seat and when they pulled up to a car he thought had the people responsible for hurting his friend, TJ pointed the gun out the window and fired three times into the car, killing one man and wounding another.

Since EN1 was driving and it was his weapon, he was charged with murder the same as TJ. This trial was like nothing on TV. Between the Prosecutor, the judge and EN1's lawyer, there was a weird semi-jovial mood as you'd expect of coworkers. TJ was also present with his lawyer and it made for a disgusting three-way trial. TJ's lawyer was the biggest asshole I'd ever seen, personally attacking the prosecutor, admonishing EN1 for wearing his uniform to court and other uniformed servicemen for coming to support him and speak on his behalf, call it "wrapping himself in the flag". Absolutely despicable. I ended up standing behind him in line at Subway during recess and concentrating very hard on not dressing him down.

I spent a lot of time with EN1 and his wife during recesses and while the jury was out. They tried very hard to remain optimistic, but the three years of pain from this trial showed. The jury was only out for a few hours before they came back with a unanimous "guilty" vedict on both EN1 and TJ.

The baptist minister father of the murder victim was understandably relived and told EN1 and TJ to get right with God, but everyone seemed especially upset with EN1 because he had worn his uniform to court and thought he was hiding behind it. The man served honorably for 12 years. The uniform helps to tell everyone who he is. He's not some local hooligan, but a proud member of the Armed Forces. Everything about the trail was offensive to me. TJ's lawyer and the prosecution ganging up on EN1. The jury's complete lack of comprehension of the evidence. It was a travesty and horrible to watch.

I went to the jailhouse with EN1's wife and mother-in-law to drop off some clothes for him. His wife couldn't hold it in anymore at that point and I held her while she cried until EN1 got there. They visited as long at the sheriff's deputy could let them, then I went to the house to visit with his family. They still hadn't told the kids what was going on and they kept asking when Daddy would be home. I told them he worked for me and he's a good man.

I'm proud to have served with him and the command is still doing whatever we can to help him and his family out, but it's essentially out of our hands. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through. I never thought something like that could happen to a good person.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous bloody well said...

Robo - tough all the way around. How's the command supporting YOU in this? You seem to have a solid head and shoulders, hang in there.

Anathema(@sailorbob.com)

18 June, 2007 20:55  
Blogger Robosquirrel bloody well said...

Thanks for stopping by, Anathema. It's nice when the Sailor Bobbers click the watermelon once in a while.

That's an interesting question, how is the command supporting me? I hadn't thought of this situation much in terms of support I need. I need a first class engineman, for one thing. The command is working to get one over here. A-gang on frigates is notoriously undermanned and a little seniority goes a long way.

I was frustrated and upset and not really sure how to feel about the trial on the day it happened and a couple days after. I think I sorted it out mainly by not thinking about how I feel about it and trying to make sure EN1 and his family are taken care of. He's requested an admin board and we're keeping him in Navy as long as possible so his family can continue to get paid. His appeal should be happening very soon.

If he does manage to get a fair trial and get the charges dropped, hopefully he'll be able to resume his naval service.

19 June, 2007 07:09  
Blogger Gyrobo bloody well said...

You shouldn't hesitate to dress down someone who deserves it.

23 June, 2007 13:14  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin bloody well said...

I've encountered situations like this before. When all is said and done persons know what they do and when they do it; he had a whole host of choices to make along the way, many of them including words and thoughts similar to "it isn't my day to get involved in this" and "I am not liking the look and feel of this in any way."

The situation may be on its face confusing but, according to the fact patterns as read, those persons with awareness KNOW that certain paths cannot end well. I admire your loyalty; however, I would ask you reexamine the fact patterns themselves in a more dispassionate fashion if you can.

I have been in a position PRECISELY the same as this; I didn't wish to think ill of my "subordinate" if you will. But I knew his reasoning skills and concluded: he too had MANY choices to make along the way. He truly KNEW where these various paths would lead and he CHOSE NOT to excise himself from the snowballing events.

BZ

30 June, 2007 20:08  

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