Title The Lie

The Verdict

Resolved, Unresoved, Resolved

The four of us stood together at the judicial bar, our lawyer just in front and to the left of us with the state's attorney to the right. The judge's bench was what seemed to me to be a long way off, in front and all the way to the left of the court room. The clerk, seated to the judge's left, read the charges. This was not a trial. Yet. The trial was slated for five days later. This was a "Departure Hearing", a term unfamiliar to me only a week before. I don't know how this hearing came about. The short notice of it led me to believe that it was a surprise even to our lawyer. After the clerk read the charges, the judge asked the state attorney, "What do the mandatory sentencing guidelines calculate to be for these charges?" He received the answer, "... to 230 months, your Honor." I had heard those numbers before and, as before, my stomach tightened and my eyes teared when I heard them again. "Oh God, don't let that happen", I silently prayed once more. "That's a long time", was the reply from the judge without further comment.

Week of Hearing
It had been six months almost to the day since the incident started. News of it had reached my wife Alice and me like a powerful blow to the head and the pain had lingered for all those months right up until Monday of this week. For the first time, I felt calm and peaceful that day even though I knew the time of decision was fast approaching. I could not explain it. When I mentioned this new feeling to Alice, she cried and said she could not understand it either but today she also had the same feeling. It was real. I do not have a problem with high blood pressure, but my pressure had been checked twice in recent months and had increased considerably above normal. We had been schedule to give blood that evening, and even though an ice storm had hit and traffic was at a standstill, we went ahead with the commitment. The mandatory blood pressure taken when one gives blood showed that mine had fallen more than twenty points from where it had been little more than a week before. It was as though God had heard our ceaseless prayers and was telling us to leave things in His hands.

We remained calm even when a winter storm hit and threatened to ground the planes on Wednesday as we prepared to leave for the hearing. I called the airline and asked the status of our flight only to be told it had been canceled. The next flight was not until the following morning, and our connection point was in the path of the approaching storm.. I got busy on the phone, calling other airlines and found a flight that had not been canceled. It was to Orlando, not our destination but close enough. I booked us on this flight and we reached Orlando late that night. It was after two on Thursday morning before we exhaustively checked into the Holiday Inn Express in Orlando. The following day, we drove toward the gulf coast and arrived that afternoon at my son's apartment. Calmness had prevailed, but apprehension crept back from the waiting as we anticipated the following morning's hearing.

Trapped By The Web
Jerry had moved to Florida to be close to his daughter. Like many young people of today's generation, he had married much too young and the marriage was destined to fail. After the divorce, his wife had moved to Florida and Jerry moved there also to be near his daughter. Then, last July, on his 24th birthday his loneliness had led to a weekend affair with a young lady he had met on an Internet chat line. He thought she was 18 years old because she had told him so and he had no reason to doubt her. They thought they had fallen in love, not unlike the love depicted in the current popular movie, "You've Got E-Mail". But when Jerry returned home to his apartment that Monday night, expecting to find his new love, he found instead two policemen waiting for him at his door. The young lady, it turns out, was a minor and had been reported as a runaway and her numerous phone calls to him were the pointer that led the police to Jerry's door. The police piled charges with the result that four "lewd and lascivious" acts with a minor charges were filed. These charges, we later learned, would translate to 15 to 20 years in prison based on the strict Florida mandatory sentencing guidelines. That is what had brought us to where we were now, standing in front of a judge who carried our son's future in his hand.

Hearing Day
The hearing was set for 9:30 AM but our lawyer Nat had asked us to meet him in the courthouse cafeteria at 8:30 for a briefing prior to entering court. Jerry, his former wife Wendy, Alice and I arrived promptly. We had rented a car in Orlando and Wendy had driven us to the courthouse because Alice did not know the territory and because Jerry was too nervous to drive. Alice and I were glad that Wendy had come. She was showing loving support as though their marriage had never ended. I remembered the courthouse that I knew as a kid in our Missouri home town as a friendly, open place in which people came and went freely. I had forgotten how things had changed until I saw the armed guards at this courthouse door directing all visitors through the metal detection machine. Once inside, we found our way to the cafeteria. The courthouse looked very new and modern and the cafeteria did not reflect the image I had expected of one inside a judicial building. It looked more like a modern cafeteria in one of our affluent society's neighborhoods. Clean, bright and very large; many tables, lots of room between tables, and most surprising to me was the relative quiet. Only a few customers were in it.

We entered and sit at a square table for four. Since Nat was not yet there, Wendy went to the cafeteria line and returned with coffee for all of us. There were others in the room, but I had the feeling only the four of us were present. My habit has always been to pray silently and alone . I am glad that Alice is always quick to do the spoken prayers and I am thankful that she and others are so good at expressing their prayers to God publicly so that I can enjoy and agree with them. I was surprised, therefore, when I heard myself say, "let's all hold hands now and pray for Jerry." We bowed our heads and, in that public place, each of us in turn gave our thanks to God and asked for his help in the proceedings about to be conducted.

Nat soon arrived and pulled up a chair to join our table. He apologized for not being able to meet with us sooner, but he had a hectic week following his trip out of town the prior Friday. He had gone to Alabama to obtain a deposition from the young lady and to meet with her mother. Jerry's situation would have been resolved long ago had it not been for the young lady's parents adamant insistence that he be severely punished for his affair with their daughter. Nat had negotiated successfully with the State Attorney office and all from there were in agreement with a non-jail adjudication of the case. But along with Florida's mandatory guidelines regulations, similar laws put considerable power of punishment into the hands of the victims. Their adamance meant the state would prosecute toward a sentence commensurate with the parents wishes. Alice and I had written letters to each of the parents pleading with them to relent and be merciful. We had no response to the letters.

Nat filled us in on where things now stood. We were anxious to hear from him as to how his interview with the young lady and her mother had gone and were encouraged after he told us. The formal transcript of the deposition had been promised to reach him before today's hearing, but it had not yet arrived. Nat related that he had interviewed the young lady and that she reconfirmed everything as disclosed by Jerry. She said that there was no way, at any time in the relationship, that Jerry could have known her true age. She had similarly stated this when originally interviewed by the police investigators. Nat went on to say that based on what he observed of her appearance and demeanor, she could very well pass for being 18 years of age.

Nat also said that he had had a very good meeting with the mother. He felt that they had established good rapport and that she was softening in her demands for punishment. Further, he had talked with the prosecuting attorney yesterday and was told that the mother had let them know that she had sent an over-night letter relative to the case. Nat did not know whether or not the letter had yet been received, but we hoped and prayed that it had been and that the mother had relented.

We listened intently then as Nat began to lay out for us his defense plan to be followed in the pending hearing. He would request withholding of adjudication in favor of non-jail sentencing based on three legal grounds. One, the crime was committed in a non-sophisticated manner. Two, remorse had been shown. And three, that the victim was a willing participant in the crime. In addition, there was no prior criminal record and it was not likely any other crime would be committed in the future. He had subpoenaed the arresting officer in support of the first ground based on the record of Jerry's police report. In addition, Nat had talked to the officer several times and had gotten the impression that even the arresting officer felt empathy for Jerry having been trapped into the situation. Nat wanted us to testify to the judge specifics as to what we had observed about Jerry being remorseful. With that, it was now 9:25 as we left the table and followed Nat up to the courtroom. I don't remember the trip.

Into Court
We had been warned that Friday mornings were a particularly hectic time here because that is when all the VOP's were heard. Nat had a habit of talking to us in a language we did not understand, and I had learned that if it did not seem to be of importance to us not to ask for interpretation. Later, I learned that VOP stood for violation of parole. But as we entered the room Nat commented, "That's strange, it's not crowded at all". And it wasn't. The large room seemed extra wide to me, with benches the full width except for two aisles on each side. There appeared to be ten or so rows of benches with most of the back benches completely empty. We sit down at the second row from the back and there was no one within several benches of us. A small group was in front of the judge's bench off to the left and another group appeared to be holding a conference also at the front but to the far right. Nat spotted the assistant state attorney assigned to our case and took off to confer with him.

Alice tugged at my arm and whispered, "It looks like he has an over-night letter in his hands.". My heart seemed to miss a beat. We waited. In the midst of this conferring and conferencing, a hearing was in progress. A young lady, obviously another state attorney was addressing the judge in a very informal manner. It seems that the petitioner, her foe, had been found guilty of some grievous offense and now was petitioning for a new hearing on the grounds that his court appointed attorney had misinformed him of his rights. Or something to that effect. Based on what the lady state attorney was saying, I thought she was arguing against the appointment of a new attorney. The judge agreed with her. "Your honor, does that mean I am not allowed to hire my own attorney?", the accused man asked. "Absolutely not, you can hire anyone you like", said the judge. That particular hearing ended and the next was in progress. The next was a hearing for a parole violation. I lost count of the details of the many prior arrests and convictions, but heard the jest of the violator's pleas that he had violated parole because of a failure in the system's drug prevention program.

I lost track of the court proceedings when Nat returned to our area. He looked shaken. "The state attorney received the letter from the mother, but she still refuses to relent on her demand for punishment. The state attorney will argue that for her", Nat told us that bad news but he was not finished. "I am not going to call the arresting officer". "He says he won't testify that Jerry was remorseful because he has no way of knowing whether or not what Jerry was saying was truthful. He thinks he ought to go to the slammer." Our hearts sink, our hopes of resolution were shattered. Nat saw the disappointment and complained that he wished people would not lead him to think one thing when they had another in mind. But these developments did not matter, he would continue to argue the case just as he had laid it out to us. He went on to say that he felt more confident than usual that if we had to go to trial, this is a case he had a good chance of winning. That statement was made to reassure us but it missed its mark. Then we heard the judge ask for the next case and the clerk called my son's name.

After the charges were read, the judge started to ask Nat to proceed with his reasons for a request of departure, but before he could finish the question the judge suffered a prolonged coughing attack. "I'm sorry Nat, I'll try again", the judge apologized. I felt some confidence in the judge's obvious acquaintance with our attorney. Nat knew the system and the people well, he himself having served in this county for more than five years in the State Attorney's office. Nat responded to the judge with a personal word of concern for the judge's health and then proceeded with his arguments. "The facts of this case are not in dispute, your honor", Nat stated, "On that I have conferred with the state attorney and we agree." Nat continued to support this by telling the judge that these facts are futher confirmed in the deposition of the victim. He apologized to the judge, saying that he had expected to have available at this time the formal transcript of the deposition, but that it had not yet arrived. He asked permission to have the transcript introduced into the records once it became available. "Your honor, may we approach the bench?", Nat asked. With the positive response, he and his adversary approached the bench and a conference of several minutes duration pursued.

Then Nat very succinctly related the details of what had occurred. Too succinctly, I thought. There was only one interruption by the state's attorney and it was on a minor point. Nat had stated that the girl had run away from home. The state attorney wanted to clarify that she had run away from a home in Florida where she had been on a visit, not from her mother's home in another state. Then, again succinctly, Nat stated for the judge the three grounds for departure that he had previously reviewed for us. The state's attorney then asked to be heard. The prosecutor told the judge that the victim, in the form of the parents, wanted to see punishment invoked to the tune of one year and a day in jail. Following that, Nat told the judge that the three of us standing with Jerry were there to testify on his behalf. The judge said he did not think that would be necessary since, under the circumstances, he could well imagine what we would say and he would prefer to skip it in order to save time. Nat could only agree. There was additional minor discussion. The judge asked Jerry where he went to school. Jerry answered ITT.

Decision Time
The judge made his decision almost immediately and stated the grounds and conditions upon which he would offer withholding of adjudication. "Nat", he said, "confer with your client and then come back. In the meantime, we'll proceed with the next hearing". We left the main room and entered the court's outer room, in which there were two small conference rooms, one on each side of the hallway. Nat opened the door of the one on the right. A court attendant was sitting alone there, so Nat asked if we could use the room. The attendant agreed, if somewhat reluctantly, muttering under her breath as she left that she thought she could sit in the other room.

"We got everything we could have hoped for", Nat said. "When the judge refused to let you testify on Jerry's behalf, I figured he was going to allow withholding of adjudication." Then we discussed the conditions. Two years community control followed by three years of probation. No access to Internet chat lines. Not allowed to be alone with anyone under 18 years of age except for members of his immediate family, and, of course, no contact with the victim or her family. Nat explained the restrictions that are typically imposed on community control. They are harsh and, said Nat, 80 to 85 percent of the people given community control lose it due to violation. "But", he said, "that's because most of them are criminals to start with". The number one reason for violation of community control or of probation is commission of another crime.

The decision seemed pretty clear. Accept the conditions and try to make the best of them while continuing school and remaining with the family, or risk losing it all and going to prison for many years. But it was Jerry's decision and none of us were going to make it for him. He of course accepted the conditions. We returned to face the judge.

The other hearing was just ending as we entered the court room and the judge asked Nat if we had reached a decision. Nat said yes and he and Jerry again faced the bench. The judge spoke to Jerry, "Do you understand the conditions stated and do you want to accept them and finish this matter today instead of proceeding to trial?". "Yes sir". The state attorney spoke up, "Your honor, we recommend the three years probation be as sex offender probation.". The judge answered, "Probation will be regular probation".

Life Goes On
And that's the way it ended. All of us thank all of you for your prayers in Jerry's behalf. They have been answered. True, he must still pay stiffly for his misfortunate affair, but not in prison and not in separation from his daughter and family. While we believe that a jury, made aware of the special circumstances of the case, would have found him not guilty, there was no guarantee that would be the verdict and mandatory sentencing guidelines could have meant up to 20 years in prison. Community control is a far better alternative.

There are two levels of community control in Florida. In one, electronic bracelets that track the location are worn by the subject. In the other, no bracelet is worn but activity outside the home is strictly limited and subject to spot checks by a community control officer. Jerry can work and go to school, but other activities such as going to the laundromat and grocery store can be done only at times set forth in a written schedule. After his initial interview at the community control office on Friday, it was indicated that he should not even take his dog out for a "walk", use the apartment complex swimming pool or other facilities, or go to church. We are quite sure he will at least be allowed to go to church, but these guidelines must be verified by his assigned control officer with whom he has not yet met.

These conditions will be hard on Jerry, particularly because of his love for outside activities. But God has answered another prayer and returned his former wife to his side to help him get through these trying times. We are almost afraid to say that they have re-united for fear it is not true or will not last.. But for now, their daughter has a mother and father living together and Jerry has support to help him cope with his new restrictions to freedom. Together, they are looking toward the next two years as a challenge and as a stepping stone to a new and wonderful life. Wish them well.

UNRESOLVED/RESOLVED

The nightmare returned two weeks to the day following the judge's decision. That day our attorney routinely checked the court computers to see if the downward sentence had yet been posted. In his words, he was "stunned..." to discover that the State had filed an appeal to the judge's ruling. After six months, we were right back to where we had started. We were again looking at the potential of twenty years in prison.

We were devastated.

We felt we had been lifted up to the heights, and then rudely slammed down to the depths of despair.

Nat, our attorney, investigated and learned that the decision to appeal had been made by the State Attorney himself. The Assistant State Attorney and his immediate supervisor had indicated their agreement with leniency as granted by the judge. Nat immediately made an appointment with the State Attorney in an effort to find out what had gone wrong but said he doubted the State Attorney would reverse himself. The appointment was set for four days later.

We had been devastated by news of the appeal. But surprisingly, after praying about it, by the second day calmness had returned. We felt that God was with us and eventually it would turn out alright.

Good News--Resolved Again

Early afternoon on the fourth day I received a phone call. It was Nat. I have good news..., he said, ...the State Attorney has agreed to withdraw his appeal.

Resolution had returned as quickly as it had been snatched away. It was one last message to us that God is in charge

Proceed to next section:
Advice To A Son
From His Father


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Copyright © December 1, 2017 Jerry Lee Walker Sr.