Please be patient. The end of the story of the armed robbers is long but I believe you’ll find it worth reading. The two perpetrators had been caught thanks to the quick response of the town police and the county Sheriff’s Department. And they were caught the same night mostly due to the incredible work of the town’s canine unit. Now the legal process would begin. I had no idea that this would be an ordeal in itself. Here’s the rest of the story. The Armed Robbers Finale.
I’d told the detective from the town’s police department I was quite nervous since, when they’d stolen my car, they’d had access to the vehicle registration. That meant, had they looked, they’d know exactly where I lived. Our sons still lived at home and, of course, Mr. Comfortable was there but I was still concerned.
The interviews with the police took quite a while and, shortly after we arrived home I got a call from the detective. He told me they’d both been arrested and that bail was extremely unlikely given that it was an armed robbery. Since our county isn’t rife with serious crime the judges tend to take that kind of thing seriously.
The detective also told me about how they’d left a trail of evidence starting inside my car all the way to the apartment door of the second thug and how this moron (the detective’s word) had said he’d unloaded the gun after leaving the store “…because I wanted to keep everyone safe.”
Then I was informed that the Prosecutor’s Office would be in touch with us about the preliminary hearing and that we should all plan to attend. Little did I know that the preliminary hearing would actually take months to actually occur and that it would be months longer for the end of the legal process.
The crime occurred in February, 2003. It lasted less than an hour. The legal proceedings took 8 months to conclude. The first several times we were informed that the preliminary hearing was to be held all three of the victims, me, Pete, and the young lady he worked with, went to court. And each time we were told, after going through all it takes just to enter the courthouse and getting to the correct courtroom, that the hearing had been postponed.
Pete and the young woman had found jobs elsewhere, much to my relief. But every time the prosecutor told us to come to court they had to take a day off. And each time it was for no reason. The day came when we were supposed to appear for the preliminary hearing and I was the only one who showed up. Pete and his former co-worker had refused to miss another day of work. The prosecutor was angry but I told her that, since she knew prior to the scheduled dates that the hearings had been postponed, and didn’t bother to inform us, the two young people had decided not to waste their time any more. I told her it was completely inconsiderate of her to think that the time it took her to dictate a letter was more important than the loss of a work day for them.
At the preliminary hearing, which finally took place several months after the crime, I was asked to describe the events of that night. At the defense table the two young men who had robbed us sat wearing orange jumpsuits and handcuffs. One was glaring. I had learned he was the one who didn’t carry the gun. The other looked embarrassed. This was the person who had put a gun to my head.
I gave my testimony and was told that I’d be contacted about the trial. But there was no trial. The prosecutor said the defense attorneys had recommended that their clients plead guilty. I was too strong a witness.
Between the preliminary hearing and the sentencing I was contacted by the great aunt of the gunman. She’d seen my name on a police report a deputy had carelessly left facing up on her table. He’d gone to her home to interview her about her nephew. She wrote a letter to me and the contents were unexpected. She apologized for her nephew’s actions. And she offered her support during the upcoming sentencing.
In October I was asked to attend the sentencing hearing. It was to take place the day before my birthday. I was to give a “Victim Impact Statement” describing the crime and any impact it had on my life after, and answer any questions the judge might ask. The defendants were separated for this proceeding. The one I knew had been the ringleader was at the defense table. The other, who held the gun, was in the jury box. There were extra deputies in the courtroom because, as the prosecutor told me, they were concerned about the family of the ringleader.
The prosecutor had told me that there was an argument between the lawyers for the criminals about who had been the instigator and leader of the robbery. In my mind there was no doubt at all. In spite of not having carried the gun, it was the older of the two. He was 19 at the time of the crime. The other was 17 when it happened.
I sat with the younger perpetrator’s aunt and she held my hand. None of my family was able to attend the proceedings with me. Having that kind lady there was immensely comforting. But during a break the prosecutor told me I should not sit with her. He said it made it look like the prosecution side and defense side had a “connection.” I couldn’t help but laugh. I reminded him that everyone involved (except lawyers and the judge) lived in my village. I told him that my younger son, one of the victims, now worked with the pregnant girlfriend of the gunman. I informed him that my older son had dated the first cousin of the other defendant. I reminded him that all these kids had gone to school together and, in my tiny village everyone was “connected” in one way or another. He shook his head and muttered something about my village but he knew he wasn’t going to win that argument.
Then we returned to the hearing. I described the events of that night and told the judge that, although there was some debate about the ringleader between the defense lawyers and the prosecutor, I knew exactly which of the defendants had been in charge. It wasn’t the one with the gun. It was the other.
After I gave my statement the judge said he was ready to hear statements from friends and family of the older defendant. The family of that young man was truly frightening. They all sported Nazi tattoos and had glared at me after I gave my statement. Several people from his group argued that he was a “good boy” and that he’d been influenced by his best friend whom they portrayed as a cold-hearted criminal mastermind.
The judge wasn’t buying any of it. He sentenced the young man to a minimum of 14 years up to a maximum of 27 years in prison. Then he declared a recess before the sentencing of the younger of the two. I went to the hallway outside the courtroom but the prosecutor came out after only a few moments. He told me to go back inside the courtroom. The family of the young man who had been sentenced was very angry with me. They were going to have deputies escort them off the courthouse grounds.
Since the sentencing of that man he’s nearly covered himself Nazi tattoos and been in trouble in prison multiple times. His nickname in prison is “Violent J.”
When the proceedings resumed a man got up to give his statement about the gunman. He, it turned out, was the pastor for the county jail where both defendants had been housed. This gentleman described how the gunman had attended church services every Sunday since his incarceration. He talked about how the young man was studying to get his GED. And, most importantly, he talked about how the young man had repeatedly expressed his regret for the crime and how he wished he could apologize to the three victims.
I had already seen that he was sorry for committing the crime. The other was only sorry he’d been caught. When the defendant’s witnesses finished I raised my hand and the judge asked if I had something more to say. I did. I asked the judge, if possible, to send that young man to the boot camp for juvenile offenders. It wasn’t an easy place for these youngsters and the discipline and work was grueling. But it wasn’t prison.
I told the judge that I felt that since this young man was making an effort to improve his life we should try to do what we could to help him. The judge said he couldn’t do that because a gun had been used in the crime but he wanted a little time to think. Court was recessed yet again.
During the break all the spectators left the room. I went over to the jury box and motioned for the young man to come to me. The deputy was going to stop him but I told him not to be dramatic. The young man was handcuffed, albeit in front, and there were three armed deputies in the courtroom. The deputy stood just inches from the young man. I stood directly in front of the manacled youngster.
The frightened kid began to cry. He apologized for the robbery. He said he was horrified by his actions and so sorry that it had caused me fear that night and in the following months. He said no matter what happened to him he would do everything to straighten himself out. I told him to give me a hug. He raised his arms and put them around me. The deputy made a move to stop him but this time it only took a “mom look” to stop him. As the young man hugged me he sobbed over and over, “I’m so sorry!” “I know you are, Sweetie. It’s going to be okay.”
The judge returned immediately after I returned to my seat. He called the young man to stand in front of the bench. “You need to thank that lady in the back.” The judge said. “I was going to do something very different before she spoke.” He lectured the young man for a few minutes on not going along with everything friends told him to do and how he still had a chance to turn his life around. Then the judge sentenced him to two years less minimum prison time than the other defendant and five years less on the maximum.
I did not know it at the time but the judge had left the microphones in the courtroom on and had listened to what had happened while he was out of the room.
Now, finally, the end of the story. While he was in prison the gunman wrote a letter to me and sent it to his girlfriend. She called me and asked if I would read it but that he would get in a lot of trouble if I reported it. I told her I wouldn’t think of reporting it and she dropped the letter off that afternoon.
In it the young man, I’ll call Kevin, apologized again. He described his regret over that night and over the things he’d missed while incarcerated. His father had died and he hadn’t been there for his little brother. His baby had been born and he’d missed her birth. He had, however, kept his promise to improve himself. He’d gotten his GED, stayed out of the prison gangs, still attended church, and was trying to arrange a job for himself when he was released. I was quite proud of him!
Kevin was released in 2015 having served 12 years in prison. He was paroled to the same town in which the crime took place. He has a job, a fiancé, and sees his baby girl, born while he was in prison, regularly. And he’s taking me out to lunch next weekend.
Images courtesy KION, Kansas State University, and Fresh Tattoos