Monday, May 24, 2010
by Diane Dimond
Imagine being in a room with the person who murdered your child. How would you react? What would you want to say to the killer?
Every day, grieving families congregate in courtrooms to watch justice meted out to those who’ve robbed them of their loved ones. Before sentence is passed upon the convicted, judges offer family members a chance to give a “victim’s impact statement.” It’s the most dramatic, heart wrenching moment of the entire judicial process.
Such a day played out recently in a San Diego courtroom with a registered sex offender named John Albert Gardner III (above left). He’d been out on parole less than five months after serving six years for sexually attacking a 13-year-old girl. Gardner was 31, living with his mother, when he began preying on other young girls.
And then in a soft, eloquent voice, Kelly King compared the “wretched piece of evil” that is John Gardner to her beautiful dead daughter.
Brent King told the killer what it was like to be Chelsea’s father.
“(You) … heartlessly discarded our beautiful 14-year-old girl, Amber,” he said. “You will burn in hell for the acts you have committed. I just hope that day is an agonizingly long way away, and that you have to suffer as much as we all have.”
And then Amber’s mother stepped forward to address the court. Her attorney had told me privately that she had been so consumed with knowing about her daughter’s last moments on earth that she’d requested and gotten a face-to-face prison meeting with John Gardner.
No details were released, but can you imagine sitting down to talk with your child’s killer?
“After 15 months of the most agonizing pain, worry and grief, I’m supposed to address the court,” Carrie McGonigle began. “On February 13, 2009" Amber "innocently walked to school. I kissed her goodbye and said I loved her, not knowing it would be the last time. You took my best friend.”
Amazingly, tears rolled down John Gardner’s cheeks (right). Perhaps it was because he’d already met with Amber’s mother; perhaps she'd somehow gotten through his perverted, criminal sense of right and wrong.
Yes, in courtrooms around the U.S., the “victim impact statement” scene plays out in varying degrees every day. Victims hope that somehow confronting the guilty will bring them some sort of vindication or peace. For some it does.
At the end of her message to the court that day, Amber Dubois’ mother said the most remarkable thing to John Gardner. “I forgive you, but I will never forget what you stole from me.”
I know I’d never have the courage to say that. By the way, Gardner got consecutive life sentences.Tweet