Monday, August 14, 2017, court is in session, the honorable Judge LePage presiding.
Court is an interesting experience in and of itself. From my perspective, at least on pretrial conference day, court is little more than an exercise in fine assessment and future scheduling.
The defendant is called. He or she stands before the judge who reads aloud the charges the prosecutor (who is not present) filed. The defendant is then asked if they understand the charges and asked how they plea. A guilty plea results in fine assessment or setting of a later trial date. A not guilty plea is followed by the defendants presentation of evidence of innocence. The charge is dismissed and the next defendant’s name is called. Basically it’s the equivalent of wash, rinse repeat over and over again.
It’s enlightening and it’s sad. There are those who just couldn’t locate the necessary paperwork when they got pulled over for a traffic stop. Those who made downright dangerous choices. Those who were frankly told that they would be serving time. And those whose lives seemed to be riddled with one problem after another, be them of their own making or not.
Then there were those who came to lend support to the defendant. Parents, siblings, friends and children. That last one is heartbreaking to see.
And then there was me.
I had no business with the court and was not there to support another. No, I sat in my corner waiting to see what would become of the felony charge leveled against the man who was responsible for the accident that killed my daughters three and a half years earlier. I noticed all this as I sat on the back row in the far corner waiting with increasing anxiety every time the courtroom doors opened.
Would it be him?
How would I feel the moment I laid eyes on him?
He entered the courtroom after the bailiff went in search of him. He glanced my way, then stood behind the podium before the judge. I don’t think he had any idea who I was. I wish I was blessed with the same ignorance.
I was surprised when the initial charge read was a felony stalking charge. I knew he’d been arrested for stalking but didn’t realize that charge would be addressed today. Finally the judge read the charge I was interested in. Felony driving without a license. In the state of Missouri the first two citations are misdemeanor offenses; the third a felony. This was actually Troy Robins fourth offense. No mention was made of the fact that the defendant had been eligible to obtain a driver’s license for seven years. Two prior offenses were mentioned however, no mention was made of the fact that on the date of his third offense he caused an accident that resulted in two fatalities.
The judge asked if he had secured an attorney and the defendant responded that he wasn’t sure if he’d need one. The judge then pointed out that he was looking at a four year maximum sentence on each charge.
Troy Robins volunteered the fact that he now had a driver’s license. I sat in stuptified wonder as the judge turned to a woman seated across the courtroom and asked if she intended to throw out the charge since he had acquired a driver’s license. I held my breath then exhaled in complete disbelief when she responded yes. I wasted no time in rising to my feet and exiting the courtroom. I couldn’t stomach anymore. Just what was the point of upgrading the charge to a felony only to throw it out? Color me not only disgusted but also confused.
I’m sure a driving without a license charge appears insignificant to the court in comparison to the stalking charge and a good number of other charges that I’m sure are routinely presented before the judge. I guess it’s a throw away charge deemed irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
I’m not sure what role that woman in the court served, but after recycling the events through my head repeatedly today, I concluded that she’s probably the prosecuting attorney’s clerk. I have learned that only the prosecutor can bring charges so I assume the prosecutor, or his proxy, are the only ones who can withdraw charges as well.
To say I’m shocked by the outcome of today’s proceedings is a bit of an understatement. I never expected the charge to be dismissed outright but thought it more likely that he’d be sentenced to little or no prison time instead. What’s sad is that had I not notified the city attorney that his name was misspelled and this was not his first offense on this charge, he would have at least been convicted of another misdemeanor and paid a paltry fine ($80).
Silly me, I honestly thought it was a God thing a few weeks back when I was told that the county prosecutor had agreed to take the case and prosecute the felony charge. I say that because I was able to notify the city prosecutor of the errors only one day before Troy Robins was scheduled to appear in court on the misdemeanor charge. The public docket indicated that several delays had occurred prior to that day. It felt as if God had allowed the whole thing to be strung out until the real crime he was guilty of could be discovered so that he would not escape justice yet again. But I guess that was an erroneous assumption on my part. Once more I found myself sitting by helplessly as justice slipped away. Could I have waved my hands and offered the court the pertinent information they seemed unaware of? I don’t know. Most of what I know about courtroom procedures comes from television and interrupting the proceedings is portrayed as a definite no, no.
I find myself filled with righteous indignation but beyond that I’m just numb. I had no desire to track Troy Robins through the parking lot and run him over with the wheelchair van we now need in part because of his actions.
There is no fight left in me.
Had Troy Robins been convicted and sentenced for driving without a license today I would have firmly believed it was a work of the Lord. But now? Not so much. I don’t hold God responsible for what transpired in that courtroom today, but I do assume He allowed it for a reason. Maybe just not one I cared to entertain.
When I discovered Troy Robins most recent ticket I asked for prayer on Facebook that the prosecutor would amend the charge. A local McDonald County resident or two shared the post which eventually made its way to some of his friends. As a result I found myself under attack. I was proclaimed pathetic, vindictive and bitter. I was accused of attempting to intentionally hurt someone who unintentionally hurt me. I was mocked as a hypocrite for the forgiveness I’d said on past blogposts I’d granted. I was maligned for failing to have compassion for the young man who struggles with feelings of guilt, self-medicates with drugs and had poor judgment because of his tender age of 19 at the time of the accident. I was accused of both stalking and harassment for accessing public arrest records.
Like any other human being my knee jerk reaction was one of angry defensiveness. I knew better than to respond to those allegations directly so instead I began writing responses that would never see the light of day. Round and round my mind circled over and over again. And when the dust settled a bit I turned inward and began to once again examine my heart. Is there any truth to the allegations that have been thrown at me, I asked myself.
I talked this through with a longtime friend and this is what I discovered. By and large my motives are pure. I sincerely want justice served – no more and no less. I want the citizens of McDonald County to be safe and had I not drawn the courts attention to the true status of Troy Robins’ record (having let it go as I’ve been encouraged repeatedly) I would have felt as if I shared responsibility for anyone he hurt thereafter having not been prosecuted because I knowingly did nothing. Today, having discovered he is a legally licensed driver, released me from any future concern in that regard. The state qualified him, the courts excused him and I can wash my hands of him. I am so glad that I can turn my back and refuse to consider him any longer.
But that’s not all I discovered.
I also found that there remained a corner of my heart that took spiteful pleasure in his predicament. Afterall, how hard is it to acquire a driver’s license? He really just shot himself in the foot by refusing to apply for a license.
It hurts to think that this “God thing” might have been more about sussing out sin I was unaware my heart was harboring. It hurts to know that I needed to cycle through the process of repentance, if not forgiveness, once again. I didn’t want to go there, but I also don’t want to be a bitter, vengeful woman either. So last week I went about dragging my feet where I least wanted to venture again even if it is in my own best interest. I returned to that hollowed out place in my heart. The one where I acknowledge that God will assuredly ensure that justice is served but that I will likely never know, never see it, never experience the satisfaction on behalf of my daughters. I don’t feel angry about that – just deeply disappointed and utterly resigned to this thing I cannot change or control. I don’t want to hear about what will eventually come to pass. It is of little consolation for me today.
I cannot lie, today was a difficult day. I have only verbally spoken of it to David and Gracen. I have found it nearly impossible to even begin to process how I feel about God in the wake of today’s events. I really don’t want to go there, so I reverted to my standard internal debate escape method – sleep and fiction. That’s how my afternoon was spent.
I had nothing to say when David initially walked through the door tonight, mail in hand. But moments later he handed me an unexpected card and letter that arrived in the mailbox this afternoon. It came from a former high school classmate of my husband’s, Erich Magruder and his wife Amy. They are no strangers to the heartache that results when life changes drastically in one single moment in time. And this is the message God prepared in advance for my hurting heart today via the concern of a friend who had only recently become aware of the deaths of our daughters. He reached out extending sympathy and hoping to catch up on the last 35 years of lives that have taken divergent paths:
“In the ever changing circumstances of life, There’s a faithful, never-changing God in control. Every day begins and ends with His purpose, every moment of our life is in His care. There isn’t a detail that escapes His eye, or a trial that doesn’t touch His heart.”
And inside the card:
“Praying you’ll be encouraged as you entrust your cares to Him today.”
That simple card reminded me that while I may not understand or even appreciate God’s ways – He is still faithful. He still sees. He doesn’t turn away when things get hard or go very, very badly. He bears witness to the trials that touch our lives. He lingers with the brokenhearted.
I needed that today.
And it meant so much more coming from hearts that have sustained their own deep wounds. Talk is cheap, but not when the words, and the truth they reflect, have been torn from depths unsearchable.
Those words, they are a sacrifice of praise, and they have been offered at great cost.
They are precious words that shine brightly because they are what remains when the dross has been removed by the meticulous and patient efforts of the Refiner of Silver in the hearts of men.
Maybe tomorrow I can once again begin to reconcile my circumstances and my faith with the Word of God. But today, I will rest upon the encouragement of another. My heart is too hollow to do anything else.