This blind guy gets his girlfriend to help him kill somebody. This is his grandmother they end up killing. A woman beloved in her community. The type who goes to church on Wednesday nights, plays bingo, helps the other older ladies get their groceries into their apartments, but still has a glass of wine now and then. Maybe two glasses.
They strangled her. Actually, he choked her to death. It took her a while to die, the coroner says in court. She suffered. She knew she was dying. A terrible thing. The blind kid keeps fiddling with his tie. It is a red tie that brightens his navy suit. He acts like he is at a job interview, listening to somebody tell him which door he will go into: listening intently, but unconcerned.
His girlfriend turned sixteen just before the trial started. She goes in and out of the courtroom in handcuffs and leg irons, always between two overweight deputies. She looks like hell. You wonder what the boyfriend thinks about her now, if he knows how unraveled she looks.
The prosecutor holds up the grandmother’s purse. It is silver leather and sporty. This is why they murdered her, he says. There was enough money in here to buy two more days’ crack. What a grand two days they must have had!
Objection, your honor.
Heresay, immaterial. They only bought enough crack for one night. Counselor for the state’s remarks are from misguided testimony, your honor. Plus, it has no bearing.
Somebody behind me says they should’ve gone to her crack dealer. A hundred bucks buys enough crack for a whole weekend from where she gets it.
The kid rolls his head left and right. Like there’s a mosquito at his ear. He will do this from time to time throughout the trial. After a while you come to expect it. But you never get used to his dead eyes. You wonder what the jury thinks of his eyes, the fact he never wears sunglasses. You learn later that it does matter at all. Everybody has seen this kid around town. They all loved his grandmother, who was thrown into a ditch at the back of the town cemetery after they strangled her. It was a cold January and the buzzards didn’t help the cops find her. It took three days. The living and the dead kept their respective distance until a cemetery worker went to pick up limbs by the woods. There she was, curled up like she was sleeping. Frozen, gaping at a tombstone of somebody she knew when she was a girl.
I’d like to know what kind of deal she is getting, the defense attorney says, peeved.
The prosecutor looks up from his papers, shifts in his seat.
Can I approach, your honor?
The judge waves the aggravated defense attorney up as well. The all put their hands over the microphone in front of the judge and whisper angrily for a couple minutes. The defense attorney tugs at the tails of his jacket as he strides angrily back to his table, where the blind kid sits twisting his head like a spinnaker.
The defendant, Miss Toxey, gets a reduced sentence, to be determined by the court, as a result of her plea. It was accepted yesterday, your honor.
The defense attorney rolls his eyes. He frowns at the jury and wags his head mournfully.
Thank you, your honor.
They’d been smoking crack for days, since before Christmas, and ran out on New Year’s. He gets the idea to do in his loving granny and she, still fourteen, goes hell yeah I wanna smoke some crack, lover. He chokes her in her bed and they roll her into a rug and the girl figures out how to drive the grandmother’s car to the cemetery. They dump her, fold the rug back up, go home and call out for crack.
There is no more motive than this. For fuel to keep their high alive. Granny zero, drugs one. And this poor town worker, who seems to have lost his own friends and family to cocaine, is left to see the stiff corpse in a leafless copse right behind a grave marked Zeke Underwood/Left Unto God, He Will Be In Heaven Waiting For Us. And the hunt for the grandmother, fictitiously reported missing by her loving blind grandson (a wicked pole in a frozen desert of lies).
We’re not saying he didn’t do such a vile thing, his lawyer whispers to a steady-gazing jury of sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. We are just asking for you to show mercy.
No mercy, the prosecutor says. None given then, none given now.
But they give it, perhaps because he is blind – and white – and keeps revolving his handsome blonde head. For reasons we won’t ever know, they show mercy.
Never will know why a jury decides how it does, the prosecutor tells me. I gave up a long time ago. But you can’t put that in your paper.
The girl follows right along, that very afternoon. Pleads guilty. Asks for mercy. Mercy here being time served (almost two years) awaiting trial. She is sixteen now. Her entire life still ahead of her.
She deeply regrets what she did, her lawyer sighs, I can tell you that, your honor.
No jury for her. Judge’s discretion. Accessory to second-degree murder.
The judge is not old, has a heap of dark hair on his head, wears half-glasses and keeps tapping his cheek with a No. 2 pencil.
Okay, the judge says. Eighteen years. That takes into account time served.
The girl shrieks and slumps within her chair, her arms raking out across the table for something she can’t reach, because it isn’t there. She sobs wildly. Most of the audience has already left. The blind kid was the big draw. This girl is not that interesting to us.
She will be thirty-four when she gets out. The kid, who got life, hangs himself in a youth prison (he was nineteen at the time of his incarceration) bathroom and comes back to town to be buried not far from his grandmother. He is dead a little over four years after killing her.
Somebody puts flowers on his grave. People do that. While we all may hate, some forgive. I still wonder how this girl is doing. When released, she will not be young anymore, but she won’t be old either. Right in her prime, so to speak. But maybe still fourteen inside, a little. Pigtailed, like she was in court that day, when her hopes collapsed and she cried out such as I have never heard anyone cry out in a courtroom. Sometimes I can still hear it. A ghastly, sharp sound. But it is hard not to have pity for her. She was more broken – so acutely – than any person I have ever seen in real life. Shockingly. I can’t forget that.
Causes Sean Jackson Supports
PFLAG, Amnesty International, AA, Catholic Social Services