Everyday life is casual and humdrum. It runs swiftly without much reflection, fanfare or formality. And, if you measure it by facebook posts and movies, it’s got to be funny. How rare in the course of everyday life to catch even a fleeting glimpse of ceremony, reverence, gravitas.
Opening day of the January 13 trial of the young man charged in the death of our son offered us that glimpse.
In provincial court, we stand when the judge enters the courtroom. We sit only when he sits. If we must leave while court is in session we turn and bow to him before we do. All evidence is offered to him and everything that takes place is by his permission.
All of this ceremony reminded me of my Bible study the day before.
“I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire; A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated and the books were opened.” (Daniel 7)
Someday each one of us will stand before the Ultimate Judge, as the accused stood before this Court of Queen’s Bench Justice. At that time, we will be in front of a Judge who knows all things, including our very thoughts and intentions.
The earthly courtroom, as formal as it is, comes nowhere close to that fearsome preview. Here, the lawyers wear long black robes and under them, white wing-tip collars, short black jackets with slits under the arms that show the white of their shirts, dark trousers. Witnesses are asked, “Will you swear on the Bible?” All of them did, revealing a heartening respect for God’s Word. I wondered what other option there would have been; what else could possibly under-gird and symbolize our entire system of justice and government?
The first witness called was the bartender who first found Paul on the road as she was coming home from work that early morning of October 6, 2012. Seated directly behind the prosecutor, I caught a glimpse of the photo he picked up to have her identify. My stomach clenched. There was far more blood than I’d been led to believe. At the preliminary hearing more than a year earlier, the prosecutor had allowed me to talk to her with the proviso that evidence in the case was not to be discussed. I was hungry for something, anything to comfort me and add to my meager trove of Paul memories. I asked if Paul had said anything in his final moments. She told me he hadn’t. But she added a curious thing.
“He looked so peaceful,” she said. “He just looked like an angel.”
Her next question took me off guard. “I’ve got a picture of him on my phone. Do you want to see it?” Speechless, I tried to decide. I wanted to. And I didn’t. On the night of the funeral home viewing, despite the makeup (or perhaps because of it), Paul was almost unrecognizable.
“He changed my life you know,” she continued. “I took a day job so I could spend more time with my kids.” This moved me. Just a day earlier I had asked God to show me some purpose in Paul’s short life and death. For this woman to keep my boy’s picture on her phone showed me he’d made a lasting impact for good on her.
The second witness was the young woman who had been a passenger in the vehicle that struck Paul. Prior to the trial, we had seen her wiping tears away as we waited for the courtroom to open. She was very nervous as she testified that she had been very intoxicated that night (8-9 beer at a friend’s before going to the a downtown club where she drank more and met the accused through an online dating app).
“I used to drink quite heavily,” she said.
When she heard the “thud” of collision, she’d had her head down, texting, so she didn’t see what had been struck. She said the accused had stopped the car, gotten out to look and returned telling her he thought he’d hit an animal.
(During a morning recess when we were meeting with the prosecutor, we were touched when the young lady came into the anteroom to tearfully whisper, “I’m sooo sorry.” Parents often warn young girls of risky behaviours that could end in date rape or car wreck but who could anticipate such a lifelong sorrow — being in a vehicle that kills someone? I hoped that her statement “I used to drink quite heavily” meant it’s a thing of the past and that in this, too, Paul’s life and death may have played a role.)
The accused chewed his fingernails almost constantly listening to the testimonies. I couldn’t blame him. A 911 call from later in the day of the crime recorded the accused reporting in great detail the “theft” of his car. (The defense did not contest the public mischief charge relating to that false report, in effect pleading guilty to it. We were told the defense attorney was very gentlemanly; not talking down to witnesses as so many do. This spared us the stress of an antagonistic trial.)
How shameful it must have been to listen to this very public exposure of one damning lie after another when his intent must surely have been to cover his sin. And I thought again of the times in my own life when I’ve lied to hide my sin.
The collision analysis expert gave graphic descriptions of how Paul was hit. If mention of “the body”, “the deceased” or “the victim” tightened my insides, how much more the gruesome scene so accurately reconstructed. In his opinion, our boy was hit twice, the second time just driven over (not by the impact vehicle), scraping his chest and arm. That was agonizing to hear. Someone else had driven over my dying boy, perhaps not even noticing there was anything on the road!
Paul’s shoes were found some distance away, a common occurrence on impact, and a “fairly large mass of green hair was stuck in the windshield” of the car when it was later found. Oh, that green hair! I couldn’t have known that the hated green would be an important clue in finding the car that killed my son.
The first day of court was over, but I was apprehensive at the prospect of tomorrow’s Medical Examiner’s testimony.
“My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” ~Psalm 73:26