Impossible, couldn’t happen, not in our neighborhood.
Taking a sip from his morning coffee and then putting it down on the kitchen table Jeff Arthur picks up the newspaper and hands it to his wife. “Honey, just look at this, last night there was over five murders that took place right here in Jasonville. “According to the story there have been more than 25 homicides committed so far this year.
Taking the newspaper being handed to her and glancing at the story Jeff was referring to then putting it down on the table she questions almost in an apathetic voice, “so, what else is new, it’s tragic but it doesn’t affect us. “Besides, look at where those murders took place over in the bad part of town. “Murders and violent crimes are or seem to be a way of life there. “I sure am glad we live in this safe, low crime neighborhood, stuff like that never happens here.”
Getting up from his chair, walking over to the coffee pot and pouring another cup of coffee taking in what his wife had just said, “you’re probably right Justine, nothing like that has ever happened here in this neighborhood I just guess I am over reacting, worrying about something I need not be overly concerned about. “I do feel bad for those poor people that were murdered and their families I just can’t imagine what they are going through right now.”
Again, in a dismissive sounding voice, “it is sad Jeff but who knows what kind of people they were, gang members, broken homes, criminals? “I doubt if they were upstanding citizens.”
“My god Honey, you make it sound as though they deserved to have happened to them what did happen, how can you say such a thing? “We don’t know anything about the victims or what kind of persons they were.”
“For god’s sake Jeff, give me a break! “Maybe you’re right, but what happened has happened and there isn’t anything either of us can do about it. “Let’s just drop the subject I don’t want to talk about it anymore it’s depressing. “Besides, the police will catch those that are responsible and the criminal justice system will put them away. “I’ve got a full day ahead of me and have more important things to take care of or think about, which reminds me I have to be at Cynthia’s house on Flora Drive a few blocks away to help plan her daughter Melanie’s 18th birthday party in less than an hour from now. “Please go and wake up John he is supposed to help us.”
A sleepy-eyed young man slowly walks into the kitchen. “Mom, Dad, what’s for breakfast?”
“From here, nothing, hurry up and get dressed you’re going over to Melanie’s house with me and help decorate for her birthday party, we can stop along the way and grab something to eat.”
“Mom, that party isn’t until tomorrow night, what’s the rush? “Besides, I was planning on going surfing with the guys this morning.”
“Jeff, help me here.”
“Forget about it John, just call your buddies and tell them you’ll have to make it later after you help your Mom.”
Taking a half of a gallon of milk from the refrigerator and gulping most of it down directly from the carton and then putting it back on the shelf, “Mom, can’t you do this without me, there’s some awesome waves at Zuma right now.”
“No, just hurry up John, get dressed I’m sure there will be more awesome waves tomorrow. “We need to leave in ten minutes.”
The black BMW 325i with darkly tinted windows stops, blocking the bicycle lane. One of the occupants, a young man, probably 16 or 17 gets out of the car and walks over to the telephone pole next to it, smiling, he pulls a flyer that was thumb tacked to it. Getting back into the car and turning to the other three guys inside, “looks like we’re going to a party tomorrow night dudes.”
“Radical dude, I know that chick Melanie she goes to my school. “I would like to go out with her sometime.”
“There’s no way man, that chick wouldn’t have anything to do with you,” another occupant of the BMW chimes in.
“We’ll see dude, we’ll see. “I am surprised there’s a flyer advertising this party I wouldn’t have thought they were inviting everyone.”
“They didn’t man, some other chick at school heard about it and I guess she wasn’t invited so in spite she made a bunch of flyers at Kinko’s and posted them all around the hood.”
“Wow, she sure Gomer Pyle’d them.”
“Gomer Pyle’d them, what is that supposed to mean?”
“Where you been man, you know, Gomer Pyle the dumb Marine on that old T.V. show that was always doing stupid stuff and then saying Surprise, Surprise!”
“I never saw the show, so I still don’t know what you’re talking about dude.”
“Well Melanie, as Gomer Pyle always said, surprise, surprise, we’ll see you tomorrow night. “I hope you have plenty of beer as twenty more of us will be showing up.”
It was a warm but not too hot summer night. A cool ocean breeze was blowing onshore as John parked his four wheeled vehicle on the street just outside the gated entrance to Melanie’s house. With two six packs in hand he was greeted by several other of his surfing buddies that had already arrived. Hey John, toss me one of your brews two of his buddies called out. John and most of his buddies were over 21 and he was careful that none of the younger partygoers got hold of any of his beers he was happy to share. Walking inside the house, he greeted and hugged the birthday girl who was seated by four of his best friends, Adam, Jonas, Brett and Richard. He gave each of them one of his beers.
“Hey John, let’s get out of here, there’s too many teenagers at this party. “Let’s go shoot some pool at Billiard Heaven,” one of them yelled so he could be heard in the noisy room.
“Nope, you guys go ahead, I want to stick around for awhile, maybe I’ll join you later.”
“I’m going to stay here too,” Jonas says.
At that very moment the black BMW 325i and three other cars pulled up and parked on the street outside of the yard where the birthday party was taking place. There were about 15 to 20 of them, girls and guys that got out of the cars. Walking together as a group they approached the gate that led to the back yard entrance to where the party was taking place. They were greeted at the gate by two partygoers. “I’m sorry, this is a private party and you can’t come in unless you have an invitation.”
One of the guys who appeared to be a leader pulls out the flyer that they had taken down from a telephone poll the day before and hands it to the partygoers that had stopped them. “Here’s our invitation,” he said as he handed them the flyer.
“This can’t be right Melanie didn’t have any flyers printed for her party.”
“Well we have one, so somebody must have put this on the telephone pole I took it down from. “So get out of our way, we’re going in.”
Two or three other partygoers inside the yard noticed what was going on and walked over to help the other two that were trying to turn the party crashers away. “C’mon guys, you can’t just walk in here and ruin this party, its private so please just leave.”
Two of the male party crashers walk away and go back to the BMW and get inside. Moments later they reappear, one with a hand gun the other with a metal club The one with the gun fires it up in the air two or three times while the other proceeds to hit one of the young men that had confronted them and were trying to prevent them from entering the party.
Hearing the gun fire and the commotion taking place John walks out of the house into the back yard towards the gate to make sure no one was bothering his four wheel vehicle. By this time the person with the gun leveled it and fired indiscriminately into the crowd of partygoers. Two of the bullets hit John in the upper torso and chest. Bleeding profusely, John manages to stagger back into the house and collapses on the floor. His good friends Jonas and Richard try to comfort him as he begs for someone to help him. They stand by helplessly as their good friend John dies in their arms.
It had been a long day and John’s mother and father decided to retire for the night. Both of them quickly went to sleep and slept soundly through the night. It was around 7:30 AM the next morning when John’s father Jeff was awakened by the ringing of the front door bell. Walking by John’s room but not looking in he thought “must be some of his buddies coming to pick him up to go surfing.” Glancing through the peephole he saw two men dressed in suits that he did not recognize. Opening the door he asked “can I help you?”
They identified themselves as detectives from the Jasonville Police Department. “Do you know John Arthur?”
“Yes he is my son, is he in some kind of trouble?”
“We are sorry to inform you Mr. Arthur but your son John was shot and killed at a party near here last night.”
Grasping hold of the open door to steady himself his mind raced back to yesterday morning as he and his wife were casually talking about the murders and violence that had been taking place in Jasonville, “but in bad areas of the city, not in their neighborhood. “Please come in officers, I have to get John’s mother and tell her what has happened, she is still asleep.”
“We’ll wait here,” the detectives tell him.
Going to their bedroom Jeff now had the duty of waking his wife and tell her what had happened, their only son had been murdered. “Honey, wake up, something horrible has happened.”
Sitting up and rubbing the sleep from her eyes, “what Jeff, what has happened?”
Tears welling in his eyes, “it’s John, as he struggled to get the words out of his mouth.
“John, what about John!”
“Honey, he’s dead, he’s been murdered!”
Instantly screams of anguish and pain came from John’s mother, the woman who had conceived him carried and nurtured him in her body for nine months and then lovingly held him in her arms just after the moment of birth. “No, she screamed, it can’t be, something like this doesn’t happen to a family like us or in a neighborhood like the one we live in. You and the detectives must be wrong it couldn’t have happened it’s impossible!”
Now the Arthur family had suffered the worst kind of loss imaginable the murder of their child and were cast into the American criminal justice system as victim’s and as Jeff had wondered just yesterday morning he now not only would imagine what the other families are going through he would now be forced to find out for himself.
After more than four months an arrest was made of the person that had murdered their son. During that time they had been in constant contact with the police department and detectives assigned to their son’s murder case as well as the deputy district attorney that was assigned to prosecute the murderer.
John’s mother thought back to the morning before he had been murdered when she told her husband the criminal justice system would put murderers away. Now they were meeting with the prosecutor and were in for a rude awakening and education about the criminal justice system as it pertains to the victims and the judicial process.
“Mr. & Mrs. Arthur, the case against your son’s murderer is not as strong as it should be and we are considering offering a plea agreement to the defendant.”
“Wait a minute, are you talking about a plea bargain? “My wife and I don’t want this murderer to be offered any such bargain, agreement or whatever it is called.”
“Mr. Arthur, while I understand your concern, your disdain you nevertheless don’t have the right to prevent us from doing so as now the people of the state of California are the plaintiff’s in the case. “I only feel I as the prosecutor have the moral duty to advise you of the possibility we will offer a plea agreement not a legal obligation.”
“This guy murdered our son and I want him held accountable and no slack given him.”
“Again, Mr. Arthur, I understand and we want to convict him as much as you want him to be but I think you and his mother will agree if by offering him a plea agreement of reducing the charges from first to second degree murder and he will admit his guilt and accept the agreement you, we will be assured of a conviction and he will indeed be held accountable. “If we don’t or he won’t accept the offer and this case goes to trial there is always the chance he will be found guilty of even a lesser charge than second degree murder or possibly acquitted of the charges and walk away a free man.”
My wife and I had just received our first lesson about the American Criminal Justice system and so far it was a rude awakening. We were our murdered son’s advocates we were his voice since his had been silenced forever.
No longer did we watch the news or read the newspaper’s accounting of yet another murder, another family being victimized in an apathetic, nearly unsympathetic manner we had to be active in the process. The only way we could get through, survive what lay ahead for us was to be involved every step of the way.
Fast forward, eighteen months since the murder of our son. As I have written my wife and I felt it absolutely critical that we be involved in every hearing, court appearances, meeting’s with the district attorney’s and homicide detectives offices. We had attended and made our presence known in the juvenile court system as the murderer was under the age of 18 when he killed our son, then onto the municipal and superior courts for hearings as he was found unfit to stand trial as a juvenile. Then finally, the preliminary hearing where it was determined there was enough evidence to show he should be tried (as an adult) for John’s murder. During this time we were repeatedly made painfully aware that victims in the American Criminal Justice System don’t have any constitutional rights in the federal constitution, whereas, the criminal has the following;
Right to Counsel (at no cost if they can’t afford it)
Right to Due Process
Right to a Speedy Trial
Prohibition against Double Jeopardy
Prohibition against Self-Incrimination
Protection against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
Rights to have warrants issued only upon probable cause
Right to a Jury of Peers
Right to be Informed of Accusations
Right to Confront Witnesses
Prohibition against Excessive Bail
Right to a Grand Jury Indictment
Prohibition against Excessive Fines
Prohibition against Cruel and Unusual Punishments
Now at long last the murderer would stand trial and we prayed that he would be found guilty and held accountable for murdering our son and once more we met with the deputy district attorney about it.
As we waited for the deputy district attorney in the reception area outside of his office we glanced at the walls that were adorned with replicas of the Bill of Rights, The U.S. Constitution as well as pictures of the Governor, President of the United States, The U.S. Attorney General and the District Attorney of the county where the trial was being held. All of these artifacts were strategically placed on the wall surrounding a floor to ceiling painting of the blind-folded Lady Justice carrying a sword in one hand and the scales of justice in the other. Finally we were summoned to enter the deputy district attorney’s office.
By now we were on a first names basis with the prosecutor that would prosecute this case for the people of the State of California. “Good morning Jeff and Justine, well it looks like the day we have all been working for and anticipating is about to begin. “I just want to go over a few ground rules with you when the trial begins. “First of all no matter what is being said by the judge, defense attorney, myself or the witnesses you must not speak out or show any emotions. “If you do, the judge may have you removed from the court and barred from returning any more throughout the duration of the trial. “It could be considered prejudicial to the defendant receiving a fair and impartial trial by perhaps influencing members of the jury.”
“We understand, we don’t like it but we understand.”
Continuing, the deputy district attorney says, “During testimony the coroner will be called to the stand to explain the injuries sustained to your son’s body and the cause of death and there will also be crime scene photos both graphic and gruesome.”
“Honey, I don’t think I can stand to see those pictures as I want to remember an image of John as being the fun-loving, youthful and good looking son that he was. “If I see the crime scene photos I feel those images will be branded into my memory for the rest of my life and I will always remember him like that instead.”
“That’s perfectly understandable Jeff and I will warn you in advance and you can excuse yourself and wait outside the courtroom until the coroner’s testimony is finished.”
“Guess we don’t want to spoil that alledged murderer’s chance at receiving a fair trial do we,” Jeff says sarcastically?
“Certainly not Jeff and we most assuredly don’t want the judge to declare a mistrial because he feels the jury has been improperly influenced by an emotional outbreak of you or your wife or anyone else in the courtroom.”
On the drive home Jeff and his wife Justine talked about the meeting that had just taken place with the deputy district attorney. “This brings home once more the victim’s have no rights or standing in the criminal justice system. “This needs to be changed and it looks like the only way it can be is through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving victims a standing in it.”
Two decades have gone by since that horrible summer night when our son was murdered and countless others have been murdered in America and forced to travel the road of the criminal justice system as we were and yet there are no rights afforded to the victim’s in the U.S. Constitution even though there have been attempts to right this injustice. For us, John’s parents we are still dedicated in fighting for victim’s rights but as we get older we’re not sure if that will ever happen in our lifetime. But, we won’t give up. We consider our fight to be perhaps our final act of parenting for our John as I’m sure those of you out there that are dedicated and caring parents you never stop being Dad or Mom and you are only doing what you feel is right for your child even though they are no longer with you.
In the years that have gone by and I trying to educate others about the plight of crime victims I have arrived, perhaps biased, at the conclusion that society in general particularly those who have never suffered the loss of a loved one to murder don’t feel the need for victim’s to have rights in the criminal justice system. I only hope and pray they will never be cast into the position of being a crime victim or a survivor of a murdered loved one. Also, many naively still think that bad things only happen in the bad parts of town and could never happen in their safe, secure neighborhood. Sadly it does, it can and will happen. Now as I sit at the breakfast table in the morning reading the newspaper I think back to the conversation my wife and I had the morning before John was murdered. One morning I wrote the following;
“Impossible–not in my Neighborhood”
With a cup of coffee, and the daily newspaper in hand another night of senseless violence and wanton criminal deeds are revealed.
My senses of outrage, sadness and empathy for the victims are lessened, nearly deadened by the distance between where I live and where the horrific acts were committed.
Thank God if those things have to happen their occurrence is elsewhere, and surely could not take place in my safe neighborhood.
The reward of my hard work and effort has manifested allowing me to live in a community where crime is nearly non-existent. I feel secure and safe in the knowledge that my children and their friends are decent and good.
Days, weeks and months swiftly become years. Time passing by as the enigma of violent crime continues to escalate.
Our neighborhood is still perceived to be safe it seems to be an island surrounded by gangs and crime.
Urgent action must be taken while there is still time.
New victims are added to the statistics, as ever increasingly those figures grow.
As yet another mother weeps when her son or daughter is added to its toll.
Once more as countless times before we bid farewell to our loving, treasured child.
Cautioning him or her to be careful and good, avoiding dangerous places and peers both bad and wild.
As they abide by our wishes, following our advice they innocently attend a party, movie or function close to home.
Our whole world is shattered its course forever altered by the knock of a stranger at our door, or an unfamiliar voice on the phone.
Mr. and Mrs. Safe secure citizen, the impossible has happened I am sad to advise.
Your son or daughter did this night die.
A victim of violence, of a senseless murder, without reason or logic, I am sorry to say, and I can’t begin to explain why.
While reality begins to set in, as family, friends, relatives and neighbors stricken by disbelief, overwhelmed by sorrow and grief, ponder what has happened, struggling to grasp why it did or how it could.
One familiar thought is painfully real. What has happened to my child could not be. Or so I thought and truly believed. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE, IT DOESN”T HAPPEN IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD.