The most commonly asked question I have faced during my twenty-plus years as a prosecutor in one of the most-populated counties in the U.S. is, "How do you not let all of those things that you see affect you?"
As a prosecutor in Harris County, Texas, I have seen horrible things: photographs, statements, and details of the worst atrocities one human being can commit against another. Depraved, cruel, sick, heartbreaking crimes. Committed in the name of love, for money, just for the "fun" of it, because it was the easy way out, or for no reason at all.
Strangers murder strangers. Loved ones hurt loves ones. Mothers kill their babies. Daddies abuse their children. Children torture their parents. There is no line drawn anywhere that has ever stopped or ever will stop the horrific ways our world has found to hurt one other.
The details of the many cases and crimes I have handled would disgust and frighten "normal" people and there are too many to list.
Every police officer, medical examiner, or prosecutor who has given chunks of his or her life to law enforcement probably feels the same way. I could tell you about the time I had to display and discuss autopsy photos of the internal organs of a one-year-old girl, spread out on a metal tray, so a jury could see with their own eyes evidence of internal hemorrhaging. Or I could describe autopsy photos that showed the exact marks a hammer left on the skull of the woman Joseph Ezell swore that he loved. I could tell you what the weight of the world felt like when I questioned a little boy about being sexual abused. His eyes clung to mine while I asked him about sordid details he wishes he could forget but will remember forever.
So how do you not let any of that affect you?
Funny. I thought for a long time, that I didn't let it affect me. I answered people who asked me that question, "You just have to learn how not to bring it home with you, how to leave it all at work . . . to just not think about it." That was a skill I thought I'd mastered.
That ended the day I met a young lady named Amber Shore. Amber Shore is the biological daughter of Anthony Allen Shore (pictured right). Anthony Shore now sits on Texas Death Row, convicted of capital murder in Harris County in 2004. Corey Mitchell wrote about the horrible crimes committed by Shore, an admitted serial killer, in his book Strangler.
In preparing for Shore's trial, another prosecutor, Terese Buess, and I spent weeks lining up witnesses and physical evidence from Shore's many murders, in which he raped and strangled his female victims. It wasn't until the second phase of the trial, the punishment phase, that I met Amber in person. She flew to Houston because she had agreed to testify against her father, whom she had not seen for more than seven years. I met with Amber at a Houston hotel, where our office typically houses witnesses, one evening after her father's trial ended for the day. In her early twenties, Amber had dark hair and eyes like her father. She was shy and obviously nervous to meet me.
That evening, I explained all of the questions I would need to ask her on the witness stand the following day and delicately worked my way through her answers. She answered every question, as painful as they had to have been for her, about being raped and humiliated and scorned and degraded by her own father. She talked about being called "stupid," an "idiot," and "retarded" so often by him that she came to believe it. Without flinching and never shedding a tear, she told me everything she remembered.
She told me about her younger sister, Tiffany, and how beautiful and smart and how much more of a "people-person" Tiffany was. I can still see how her eyes lit up when she talked about her "successful" little sister.
But the answer that will always haunt me is when I asked Amber why she finally told someone her father was sexually abusing her. She looked at me and said, "because it didn't matter what he was doing to me. I'm nothing. But I couldn't let him do that to my sister. She's different, and she's special. And I had to protect her."
The contrast of her utter belief that she was "nothing" and her determination to protect her little sister affected me more than any other single moment in my career. It took incredible courage for Amber to stand up in a strange courtroom, years after the fact, and detail her horrific abuse, while her father/abuser, the man who'd convinced her she was nothing, sat directly in front of her.
Amber Shore, believing she was "a retard," testified in the face of the monster who was her father, all for the love of the little sister she was determined to protect. How could a father do to his baby girl what Anthony Shore did to Amber? And to Tiffany? And from where in her genetic make-up did Amber find such amazing courage? So terribly scarred by her father, who had the IQ of a genius, Amber continued to struggle in life.
Please God, watch over Amber.
Now when people ask me that question, "How do you not let all of those things that you hear and see affect you?" I tell them what I have always told them. That you have to learn to keep the two "lives" separate.
I lie. Because it's too painful to think about Amber Shore.