I stood next to a man today who was about to start a journey - not a pleasant one, but a very, very long one. He was sentenced to life in a Texas prison for murdering a man during a store robbery.
He was originally charged with capital murder. But after defense attorneys and other experts investigated his personal history and the facts of the case, and after he agreed to stipulate that this crime was committed with his co-defendant, prosecutors agreed to a plea bargain. They reduced the charge from capital murder to murder. This means that some time in the far, far distant future, the convict may be eligible for parole. Had he received a life sentence on a capital murder charge, he would never, I repeat - never - be eligible for parole. There would never be a time in his life when he could walk up to the parole board and ask to be released. Every day for the rest of his life, he would be stuck behind bars. Instead, this defendant will spend at least 30 years in prison. He is now 20 years old. Add 30 years to his current age, and he will be 50 before he is even eligible for parole - and I say “eligible” because there is no assurance that he will ever make parole. Some citizens of our country retch at the sound of the word parole. They can't stand the idea that someone could commit such a despicable crime and even think of a time when he might walk around a free man. Today, I stood next to my client and listened while the sobbing wife of the victim told the courtroom what a good man her husband was. She said he was a fine, responsible husband and father, a hard worker, a considerate and sensitive man. She told my client that if he had just asked her husband for money, he would have given it to him. My client hung his head and cried. He told the widow how sorry he was: Sorry he ignored his common sense; sorry he was at the store in the first place; sorry, way too late, that he couldn't give his life for her husband's. There was not a dry eye in the courtroom. It was impossible not to be touched by such an open display of emotion between the two people forever affected and connected by the events of about 10 minutes one night in the hot summer month of June. No one can bring the store owner back to life. His wife and his children will live the rest of their lives remembering that night and this day. They will never forget the day their father's killer was sentenced to life for the lesser offense of murder. One day, as a much, much older person, this killer may walk free. But what is the right thing to do with a 20-year-old offender? He is far from being a man. He was stupid, and his stupidity created a hole in the lives of many people. What can we do to change this society we have created? In this society, boys and girls, like my 20-year old client, are on the streets at all hours of the night. Boys can get their hands on guns of all sizes and calibers. Boys drive looking for enemies to attack. Boys think nothing of robbing a store to get what they want. Why in the world can't we fix this? Why don't our leaders see that we have a broken society that can't be overlooked much longer? We are becoming a generation of mean, evil people with no regard for human life. It is not this boy's fault. I defy you to say it is. The root cause is not this 20-year-old’s fault. We, as adults, as parents, as teachers, as lawyers, mayors, judges, all have a role in these young lives and we, I repeat WE, are responsible. We did not physically and actually place a gun in this boy's hands, but WE are responsible for the lifestyle, the lack of education, the lack of teaching that creates a mind that says it is OK to steal in order to get what he wants. And, as a result of all this laxity in our society, we have a situation that happened in 10 minutes one hot night last June - a situation that will be forever remembered by this wife and her small children.