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Verdicts on Morality
As I watched this slight, weak man, silent and resolute upon the stand, only his hands wringing frantically as his thumbs chased each other in a continual race, I knew as well as he did that the case was closed. Yet, as the recognition of my triumph washed over me, I couldn’t help but feel, somewhere deep inside, that it was my death sentence too being etched and finalized in the minds of the 12 jurors that now sat facing me.
I knew I didn’t have a choice, it was the law, and I had a right, no a duty to uphold the law. But even still, the man who sat before me was not a bad man, no, there could be no confusion about that, he was simply a man who had taken it upon himself to step outside of the boundaries of the law, and sometimes, no matter what the heart says, there can be no distinctions.
While we left for the jurors to deliberate, merely a formality at this point, I, for a second locked eyes with a man condemned, the man I had condemned, a good man, and the full responsibility of my position took hold of me like an ever-tightening serpent. How could I ever consider this verdict, however in my favor, a victory? True I acted only to get the verdict of justice, the verdict that the law dictated, but what about the verdict of morality, the verdict in my heart? Perhaps one day we will live in a world where courts can be based on those aspects of justice, but until then, it is not in our power to decide who deserves what, we can only follow precedent and formality and try the best we can in the hopes that most of the time what we have done is right.
The first time I ever set eyes on Jeremiah Kane was the opening day of the trial. I had been young, even a bit naïve, but I had always been a confident lawyer and I had taken on this case for my father’s firm before anyone knew what a trial it was going to be. Sure, most lawyers in their first year would never take on a murder case, but like I said I had confidence, I had watched my father for years, I had studied the books, I knew the law inside and out.
If I had known then that this trial would not be a test of my constitutional knowledge but rather my strength of conviction of mind over heart, I doubt I ever would have volunteered, but I didn’t know, and I didn’t think, I only dove in.
On the first day, being the inexperienced twenty-five year old I was, I expected to be prosecuting some burly man, with a dark gaze through eyes that were barely slits in a cracked and hardened face. However, when I took my seat and looked over at the defense, the man I saw was not the typical accused murderer. Jeremiah Kane was a small man, barely 5’ 5”, and he had large round eyes that bugged out a little from his face making him look like someone constantly surprised. When he spoke, his voice was almost inaudible and barely rose above a whisper, yet his words were eloquent and touching.
In the few brief moments I questioned him on that very first day, something in my gut told me that this was no ordinary case, that this was no ordinary killer. Sure, the facts were indisputable, but nobody could believe that Jeremiah, weak and nervous Jeremiah, could have killed his beautiful 8-year-old son out of anything but too much love, too much care.
But the law has no feelings, the law does not see this timid man trembling and broken in the recognition of his crime, the law does not feel the remorse or the good reasoning, the law only knows facts, evidence, and that was not something that could be hidden or denied. Jeremiah Kane, no matter how decent a man, was responsible for the death of a child, and there was nothing to be done to save him now.
As much as Jeremiah was a whisper, Victoria Kane was a thunderstorm, raging in a torrent of loud accusations and demands. I suppose it must be true that opposites attract for there was definitely no similarity between the newly separated pair. True, one only had to look in Victoria’s eyes to know that she had never married Jeremiah for love, but rather to have someone to boss around, just another pawn in her one woman chess game.
In truth, she was as much to blame for her son’s death as her ex-husband, for it was her that Jeremiah thought he was saving the boy from, but the law doesn’t witness the events that in Jeremiah’s mind made death the only haven for his son, the law can only attest to the actual events, and none of those could be deemed inappropriate or harmful. Sure Victoria was boisterous, commanding, and outrageously controlling, but none of those behaviors could be called child abuse, and certainly don’t warrant a murder of defense, yet Jeremiah saw it all differently.
The most vivid thing about Jeremiah was his words, he would speak, in his quiet way, and yet the words he spoke seemed to hold you captive and encase you with their meaning. He got the same passion and urgency across in the eloquence of his speech that Victoria attempted to muster with all of her screaming and flailing about. Perhaps most striking of Jeremiah’s plea for protection, if it can even be called that, was his description of the inner turmoil he saw his young son experiencing every day. Nobody I have ever met could see so much complexity in the mind of a child, and yet, so much like one in his own right, Jeremiah seemed to have connected on a psychological level with the boy that none of us “adults” could have ever imagined.
Jeremiah did not ever beg for our understanding, or try and deny what he did, he only wished for us to accept the world he saw and the fate he chose for himself and his son, the fate that he thought would suit both much better then their earthly one. In his mind, however skewed, Jeremiah saw the emotional life of his son, and the constant emotional turmoil set upon him by his mother’s constant over-bearing. Though she had never laid a hand on her son, Jeremiah was convinced that his darling, precious boy was being destroyed, killed slowly, by her never ceasing tongue. It was in this mindset that he set out to kill his one and only offspring, his most prized creation.
The murder of his son Matthew was not a spur of the moment decision, but rather a well calculated and followed plan to ensure that his son felt no pain nor experienced any anxiety in anticipation of the end. For him, death was meant to be an escape for Matthew from a horrible life. He was a religious man, who believed strongly and fervently in the forgiveness of sins and the promise of an afterlife. Never did it cross his mind that killing his son meant the end, meant dirt, meant decomposition, no, for Jeremiah, killing his son was giving his son everything he wanted and everything he could ever want, giving him immortality, giving him heaven.
Slowly, I saw the jurors exiting their chambers, and I knew that it was all about to be over. I rose from my seat and headed down the hall, ready to face the verdict that was about to destroy a man’s life, and change another’s forever. I was keeping my head low, trying to get myself into character, hardening myself to face the verdict, but, just before I got to the door, there was Jeremiah, sitting, his hands still whirring crazily in their cuffs. Seeing him there, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with the horrifying answers that lay waiting behind the looming oak doors.
I stood staring at him, perhaps just a bit too long, hoping he would look up at me, hoping to find some anger or hatred in his eyes that would make the verdict easier to handle. But if he knew of my presence, he never showed it, and eventually I had no choice but to head inside and face the truth.
As I reached for the door, wanting to escape everything, wishing it could just be over, Jeremiah stood up and walked toward me. I stood rooted, not knowing what to do or think as I stood facing the man I had spent years sentencing to death. “Thank You” was all he said before a police officer led him inside, but in that instance I recognized that for him death was not as horrible as it seemed to me, that perhaps it was the greatest thing he could have been granted. Jeremiah didn’t see death as the end, he saw it as a chance to reunite with his beloved son, a chance to escape this world and live harmoniously in the next.
I sat behind the table, facing this slight, weak man, silent and resolute upon the stand, only his hands wringing frantically as his thumbs chased each other in a continual race, I knew as well as he did that the case was closed, but that sinking feeling was no longer there. Instead, I faced this man with a new understanding, a new appreciation, and when the jurors finally stood to deliver their verdict I was confident that this too, in the end, was a verdict of morality.