Just before court was to convene June 5, the Crown prosecutor had asked us to meet with him. Something had come up two weeks prior through a private investigator and he didn’t want the possible appearance of it in court to disturb us.
(Have I mentioned how kind the police and prosecutor have been toward us? For example, the officer in charge of the investigation said she never drives across the Taylor Bridge without thinking of Paul. And there have been many other considerations they’ve shown us throughout this process.)
So what was this “new evidence” that had come up so recently and how might it affect the case at this point? And who hired a PI?
It was not the prosecution who hired one, since their case has been solid from the outset. We can only guess who might have been scrambling to find some sort of exonerating information.
“Coincidentally”, C was in detention with — now brace yourself for some convoluted relationships — the current boyfriend of a former girlfriend of Paul’s, one who had broken up with Paul just a few weeks before he died. This boyfriend claimed to know something about the case and referred to a note which was procured by the PI.
Unsigned, the note was about six lines on crumpled paper saying the writer couldn’t go on “without her” because life would be “meaningless”. Now, early in their investigation, the police had already questioned our sons about the possibility of suicide. By all accounts, Paul had been happy and excited that day, October 5, 2012. He’d just bought a new guitar amp and for the first time that night, his band had played a song he himself had written.
At first it was an alarming idea that this could be used as evidence. Of what? We had no idea. But once we saw the note, there was no worry. It would be very easy to prove it was not Paul’s handwriting. His was a rather cramped, angular all-caps printing while this was a wide-spaced, rounded, upper- and lower-case printing. And besides, there were at least two spelling errors in the note whereas Paul could spell xenophobic (and knew what it meant) at five years old. He just didn’t make spelling mistakes.
When we asked how this might be used in the case, the prosecutor suggested the defense might try to show Paul’s death was something that was going to happen inevitably.
As it turned out, there was never any mention of the note in court at all. What was mystifying to us was the motive of the person who produced the note. In any event, I was so grateful that we were not left with the heartache and guilt feelings that follow for the family of one who takes their own life.
When court opened, a sheriff brought in the accused wearing a dark sweater, his leg shackles rattling as he took his place. He looked into the courtroom and smiled at his mother, likely not having seen his parents since January.
The prosecution’s main argument that morning centered on the accused knowing he’d struck a person and that he was willfully blind to that truth. “Mr. C is a liar,” he said. What a damning statement of character to hear publicly stated. But I guess that’s what we call one who lies. C’s post-offense conduct of lying to police, the prosecutor continued, and of trying to cover up by claiming his vehicle stolen showed he was trying to escape criminal justice.
I had been nervous about the defense lawyer’s argument. Would he try to lay the blame on Paul in some way? He did emphasize that drivers do not expect pedestrians to be about at 2 a.m. and that the bridge not only had no sidewalks on the northbound side, but had a sign saying Do Not Walk as well.
But above all, the defense argued that C thought he’d hit an animal and then panicked. (He did not address why hitting an animal would induce panic.) Hearing him cast doubt on the prosecution’s evidence, especially that from a witness who, by her own admission had been quite intoxicated at the time of the collision, did raise doubts in my mind. As he explained C’s actions as stemming from panic and confusion, I remembered my own thoughts when the police had arrived at our door that October morning, before I understood what it was they were trying to tell us. I had thought one of my sons had hit someone, panicked and run away. Not that it would have made it a right thing to do. Just that it would have been understandable.
When the judge returned from deliberation that afternoon, he carefully went through the evidence point by point. Just as the prosecutor had presented, the judge stated that the accused intended to mislead police in order to deflect attention from himself and the more serious criminal offense.
He went on to say the accused “has shown himself to be a liar.” Claiming he thought he’d hit an animal was “totally lacking in credibility.”
“I don’t believe his claim that he didn’t stop,” the judge continued. “I don’t accept that he might not have seen the body.” (Every mention of the deceased, or the body, throughout this recap of the evidence, was once again a piercing reminder that this was our boy they were talking about. By this time we were in tears, my husband especially.)
So, without fanfare or slamming of the gavel, C was found guilty on both charges; public mischief as well as failure to give assistance. Sentencing will take place on July 22.
As we anticipated, there is no joy in the prospect of a young man going to prison. There is, though, a sense that it is fitting and right that someone should be held accountable for actions involving a person’s death.
As it is, C is not being held responsible for the death of our son. Running from the scene precludes that charge. If the relatively new statute of “failure to give assistance” had not been in place, there would have been only the public mischief charge with a penalty of perhaps 6 months.
Because of C’s fleeing the scene and the web of lies that followed, we, Paul’s family, pay certain consequences. We will never know whether Paul was briefly conscious, or whether he said any last words, something I desperately wanted to know. And I’ve been plagued by the thought of my boy lying on a street, hurt and cold and alone. Adding to our grief was finding out in the trial that another vehicle drove over him, a direct result of the accused having left the scene.
In the midst of all the sorrow and suffering, it’s infinitely comforting to be reminded that my heavenly Father understands my pain. He too watched his precious, innocent son suffer and die at the cruel hands of mankind. Because of that, I have the glorious hope that I’ll see Paul again one day. In the meantime, I’m content to leave justice in the hands of imperfect human institutions, knowing that ultimate justice awaits the return of “…the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead.” (2 Timothy 4:1)