...think of the Lord in goodness and seek Him in integrity of heart. (Wisdom 1:1)
Tom has been sleeping in starts and stops in between hours of lying in bed, wide awake. Last week he spent hours on a jury faced with a child abuse case - he was inundated with the kind of details that sink into your soul and aren't easy to shake...the kind that wake you up at night wondering if there was anything else you could do...wondering how you and another person can look at the same details and come away with polar opposite impressions and opinions.
They saw the X-ray of this two-year-old's femur, snapped completely apart - an 'X' where an 'l' should be. They watched the video of the little boy screaming in his sleep, swinging his arms to fend off attackers...heard the testimony of the foster parents describing a child so filled with fear he wouldn't eat.
It made Tom wince, thinking of the pain the baby endured when, as punishment for not walking on his broken leg, his diaper was ripped off and he was spanked so hard a handprint remained two hours later. Tom has had enough broken bones to know the slightest movement is excruciatingly painful.
They listened as the defendant changed his story, time after time, as evidence was presented that exposed his lies...he went all the way from total denial ("he fell out of the child's rocker when I was in the other room...") to admitting he grabbed the baby by the arm and leg and then twisted, afterward tossing him onto the bed so hard his face hit the wall and bloodied his nose.
The admissions came begrudgingly, only after evidence and other testimony contrary to his forced him out on the ledge, and yet many jurors believed him when he said it was just an accident and he didn't know it would hurt the baby and that he loved him as his own..."I love kids...I hope to have children of my own one day...I've been taking parenting classes..."
"He's been lying about everything! How can you believe this?" Tom asked one of the other jurors.
"Because now he's under oath!"
(I envy that juror their faith in human beings...their belief that being under oath works as a truth serum and that everyone honors their 'word'.)
And Tom couldn't talk about it outside of the courtroom. He talked to God, praying for wisdom and guidance, but he couldn't tell me what was tearing him up - he had to hold it all inside, driving the images and frustration deeper.
Because the baby was in a body cast for four months, the defendant was found guilty of the most serious charge possible and could have been sentenced to 99 years. Because of his four previous felonies, the minimum sentence was 15 years. To Tom, after seeing and hearing the evidence and testimonies, that wasn't even enough - he felt it was a disservice to the pain and trauma the baby had suffered, and he worried about the man being around other children.
To his dismay, many on the jury thought 15 years was too much.
In the end, after holding out for four hours, Tom agreed to the minimum sentence so they could go home. But he told the other jurors that when he left, he would know in his heart he tried his best to do the right thing by this little baby who had to spend four months in a body cast....who was spanked violently after having his leg broken by a man who couldn't control his rage.
Yes, there are underlying social problems that we all need to be concerned about - poverty, unemployment, overcrowded jails, rehabilitation programs that fail - but that doesn't mean a person shouldn't be penalized for their crimes. Each of us is responsible for our actions. Social issues can't be blamed for everything - there are plenty of people who are poor and unemployed who are also compassionate and ethical; there are plenty of people who are rich and "successful" who don't think twice about lying to save their skin or get a little further ahead.
This man had been abused by his own father (he said) and yet he took these steps to continue the cycle. I pray this link is broken - I pray the little boy is placed with a loving family...has a real man for a role model - one who is filled with compassion and love rather than selfishness and pride and violence.
I pray the same thing for the defendant as well. Obviously he needs a good role model, too. I pray it's not too late for either of them.
And I pray that Tom is able to heal from the past week, that by talking about it and writing about it, he's able to exorcise the heartache and frustration, for his own sake, even though I know he will never forget that baby.