1.6 Harsh Situations, Harsh Characters

Book One / 6

On the Monday morning following the court’s Thanksgiving recess, Wade appeared with his attorney for sentencing, nine weeks after the jury had found him guilty on all counts. The court had attempted to sentence him three times on prior dates. Each occasion had presented unique impediments, and sentencing had been continued to another date.

Today the steel clouds darkened the November sky. Wade arrived in court escorted by a jail security officer and dressed in his thin red jail uniform. Rather than the trim, defiant defendant appearing for trial with a spirited insistence on his innocence, Wade on this date appeared withdrawn, sunken, and somewhat bewildered.

At 8:30 the judge took his place on the bench and invited the defendant, both attorneys, the elderly victim, and the victim’s advocate to stand together at the bar. The five of them lined up before the judge like a phalanx of fatigued combatants.

In the State’s presentence report filed a week earlier, the prosecutor had noted the jury verdict of guilty on all four counts as charged, as well as the special jury findings regarding the defendant’s use of a firearm and the particular vulnerability of the elderly victim. The prosecutor also calculated the defendant’s offender score required by the statutory scoring system.

When a defendant’s score is calculated for sentencing on a class A violent felony offense, as it was for Wade, into that calculation is factored the individual’s criminal history, other current offenses, and whether the offender was on community custody on the date of the offense for which he is being sentenced. The statutory sentencing range is then determined from a grid based on the offender score.

Wade’s offender score placed him at the highest possible standard range for each of the three violent felonies for which he was convicted. Additionally, the deadly weapons enhancement would add a mandatory 60 months for each of the three offenses.  The prosecutor’s final recommendation, based on his calculations, was to sentence Wade to the top end of the standard range on each of the four counts, not including the time required for the weapons enhancement.

By law, the terms for all of the weapons enhancement counts had to be served without credit for good time.  They also had to be served consecutively, both to each other and to any other term of confinement.  Consequently, if the judge followed the prosecutor’s recommendation, Wade’s sentence would total 378 months — 198 on the underlying offenses, and 60 months for each of the weapons enhancements. As the prosecutor noted, the total term for the weapons enhancements alone nearly equaled the number of months for the underlying crimes.

As if acknowledging the severity of the sentence Wade already faced, the prosecutor was not asking for an exceptional sentence based on the jury’s finding that the victim had been exceptionally vulnerable.

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Following the State’s presentation of its recommendation, the elderly victim addressed the Court. As in the trial some months earlier, he again discussed his prior career with the city’s treasury department, describing for the court how he had spent each day of his professional life counting the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters that came into the public coffers from the city’s parking meters and monorail rides. Every day, he insisted, he counted around $31,000 in coins. Evidence of his integrity existed in the honest manner in which he’d handled the city’s revenue, he asserted.

He then contrasted his own morality to that of the defendant who, for what amounted to very little monetary gain, had been willing to commit such violence against an old man in the home of his retired years.

Wade himself chose not to address the court when given the opportunity. His lawyer, however, had prepared information on a number of mitigating circumstances. He presented each of those circumstances to the court in an attempt to humanize his client, hoping for some leniency from the judge in the calculus of his sentence.

The attorney first addressed the psychological evaluation of his client. The evaluation portrayed Wade as the adult sum of a childhood spent in foster homes where, among other abuses, physical and sexual assault had been committed against his sister and himself. Consequently, his attorney argued, Wade had had little in the way of moral guidance or role models as a young man. Following his experience in the first robbery that had resulted in the death of his cousin, Wade had been unable to turn his life around. The psychological struggles had haunted him, pursuing him unremittingly through the years.

And finally, his attorney explained, Wade had committed the present offenses under the influence of methamphetamine, a substance he consumed like so many do in their unsuccessful attempts at self-medication.

Wade’s attorney had departed a bit from the standard format in his written sentencing memorandum to the court. He had acknowledged the defendant’s pathetic posture before the court on this day, recognizing the severity of the crimes his client had committed, as well as the disrespect of his client’s ‘trial shenanigans,’ as he referred to the fingerpainting.

But then, in a final effort to garner empathy from the judge for a man whose presence and story alone might be insufficient to inspire compassion, he closed his memorandum to the court with a reference to an early twentieth-century literary critic.

“As Kenneth Burke wrote in A Grammar of Motives,” the attorney explained, “the trouble with socialist fiction — in which harsh situations create harsh characters — is that the reader is not often left with sympathy for the actors.”

And yet, the attorney argued to the judge, despite a lack of sympathy for this defendant, the court might still acknowledge that much of what could have gone wrong given the circumstances of the crimes did not go wrong. In the end, he concluded, Wade himself should receive some credit for the restraint that this outcome implied. He then asked the court to sentence Wade to the low end of the standard range.

As two new attorneys arrived in our court and began to unpack their boxes of materials for the next trial set to begin in our court that morning, the judge pronounced his sentence of Wade, following the State’s recommendation. He noted, however, that he’d been pleased to see that the prosecutor would not be arguing for an exceptional sentence despite the jury’s finding of the vulnerability of the victim.

The victim here — the judge observed, a bit bemused by the spunk of the old man — had not appeared to him to be particularly vulnerable. Rather, he concluded, the victim appeared more fit and capable of self-defense than many folks decades younger. The defendant’s high offender score, however, and the circumstances of the crimes themselves justified the high end of the standard range, which he would impose.

As the clerk prepared the paperwork for filing, Wade was transported out of the court to begin his sentence of 31 years in prison, accompanied by the voices he claimed would speak to him, and the God he insisted he’d serve.

1.7 Q-Tip vs. The World