I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…
My neighbor went to jail today, the first day of a sentence that could be of the rest of his life. His lawyers advised him it was for the best, a good deal. I was to have been a witness at his trial. A witness, because I knew he did not commit kidnaping and rape.
I knew it — and worse, everybody involved in the case knew it, or should have known it.
A week before trial, my neighbor took a deal to plead guilty to a lesser charge, in exchange for the district attorney dropping the rape and kidnaping charges. The DA asked no jail time, but my neighbor would have to register as a sex offender and be on probation for ten years. The judge added six months’ work release in county jail to make appearances a little better, considering the gravity of the original charges.
It was a great, great deal for a rapist and kidnaper. For my neighbor, who was neither, it was an obscenity. For a woman who had actually been kidnaped and raped, the sentence was a greater obscenity.
My neighbor asserted his lawyers begged him to take the deal, told him if he was convicted he would go to jail for the rest of his life, told him he would nevermore see his father or mother, told him they would die alone without him, told him he would be singled out as a sex offender in prison and sodomized again and again.
Because he took a plea deal to a sex offense, I couldn’t agree with his lawyers more…now. Not before the deal, but now, Now, a single screwup in the next ten years can revoke his probation and impose the full sentence, which for a sex offender can be for the rest of his natural life.
The DA could not have believed that my neighbor would be convicted at trial, that she could prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. What prosecutor offers no jail time for what she described in court documents as “a prolonged physical and sexual assault”?
For the same reason, the defense lawyers should have known how weak the case was, But there was more. The day after the alleged assault, the “victim” called her ex-husband (or so he planned to testify) and said she had done something terrible to her friend, and lied to the police, and asked what she should do.
Four days after the incident she asked the court to modify the criminal protection order against my neighbor so she could phone, email, and meet with “my best friend,” whom she described as “pretty close” to “perfect.” He was “the only reason” she didn’t kill herself some months before, and implied she might try again now: “I’m afraid something will happen to me if I can’t at least talk to him.”
“He knows more about me than anyone…the truth is I trust no one like I trust (him).” One of the things my neighbor told me he knew about her was that she had made similar claims about other men she tried to break up with, and that her ex-husband would testify to that.
But that wasn’t why I believed my neighbor. It was because of the screaming.
It was ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit, and humid, the day I lay down to sleep, a couple of hours before my neighbor supposedly committed his crimes, in and around a van and car parked in front of his house. Our bedroom window is maybe 150 feet away, line of sight and sound. Because of the heat, and because we have no air conditioning, the window was wide open.
According to the police report, this is what my neighbor’s girlfriend said happened, from around two in the morning until four, under that wide-open window:
It began with an argument in his Ford Mustang convertible. At some point she tried to get out of the car, saying she’d walk home. He grabbed her with force, pulled her back into the car. Eventually he started to leave the car, she saw her chance and tried to get away. He went after her, his left leg “popped out,” yet he still managed to tackle her to the sidewalk, drag her back to another vehicle, his van, and throw her into the back of the van, slamming the door shut behind him.
In the van, as she kicked and fought, he managed to get her clothes off. She hit him in the mouth with her elbow. He pushed her down. She was crying. They continued a heated argument. He wouldn’t let her put her clothes back on. He threatened to take her to another house and leave her there, naked, and tried to pull her back out of the van, but she held onto something so he couldn’t.
During the next couple of hours she tried, “a few times,” to escape but he forcibly stopped her each time. At one point she did escape and ran down the street looking for help, he caught her and again dragged her back. At another, she said he forcibly performed oral sex on her, she screamed, and he punched her in the stomach. After yet another escape from the van, he caught her, threw her onto the hood of the Mustang, and resumed his assault. According to the police report.
Did all this make any noise, any noise at all?
My wife is a light sleeper, disturbed by almost any noise at all; she’s like the princess and the pea. She didn’t wake up and hear any of this, taking place nearly just below our open window. I didn’t wake and hear any of this.
But most of all, our dog didn’t wake and hear any of this. Our dog is a Tibetan mastiff. The mastiff is bred for protection. For centuries these dogs protected peaceful monks from less peaceful robbers who would otherwise loot their temples, and even from tigers who would otherwise eat the monks. The things weigh from 150 pounds to over 200 (ours is a petite 160). Its bark — and it barks to protect — would frighten the walking dead. We are so, so protected. One of our other neighbors hates us, we are so protected.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been awakened by the barking of our dog, protecting us. From a raccoon ambling quietly down the street, From distant thunder only she can hear. From people walking down the sidewalk and having a quiet conversation.
I can’t help but believe she would have protected us from a heated argument in the middle of the night. From people running up and down the street. From the sound of a body slammed atop a car hood. Most of all, from the screaming.
That’s why I was to be a witness at his trial. Because we all slept that night.
Because there was no trial, because my neighbor was too afraid, perhaps because his lawyers were too afraid, my neighbor is not my neighbor anymore. We live across from an elementary school. A sex offender is not permitted to live across from an elementary school.
He will never again be able to hug his own young nieces and nephews. He will never be able to hold his own child. If he meets another woman and she wants to stay overnight with him, he has to tell her he’s a sex offender. Great opening line at a bar, if he were allowed in a bar.
His probation officer can tell him when to be home at night. He can’t hitchhike, or pick up a hitchhiker. He can’t use the internet.
There’s more, of course. There’s always more. And if he violates any of these rules, his whole purpose in taking a plea bargain, rather than taking his chances at trial, is lost.
Because then he can go to prison. Real prison, for the rest of his days.