Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Understanding the System

By all accounts, sentencing in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial was, in its way, riveting. I have not followed the goings on in that trial closely for a variety of reasons I am not inclined to go into here. Probably, it boils down to a combination of his plea and my displeasure with the death penalty; although I wouldn't have been surprised had he been sentenced to die, I'm hardly upset that he won't be executed and granted the martyrdom he so fervently seeks. As Judge Brinkema observed, in effect, there really is no more ignominious end than to rot in a Supermax prison.

One thing jumped out at me, however -- a victim statement following sentencing:

Judge Brinkema asked whether there were any family members of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the audience who wanted to be heard.

No one responded initially. As the judge prepared to move on, Rosemary Dillard, whose husband died on American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon, rose from the audience.

Walking to a lectern a few feet from Mr. Moussaoui, Mrs. Dillard looked at him and said: "I want you, Mr. Moussaoui, to know how you wrecked my life. You wrecked my career. You took the most important person in my life from me."

As Mr. Moussaoui stared back impassively, she continued, "I hope that you sit in that jail without seeing the sky, without seeing the sun, without any contact with the world and that your name never comes up in any newspaper again during the rest of my life."

She then thanked the judge for "what you did," thanked the prosecutors "for what you tried to do," and the court-appointed defense lawyers for "what you had to do."

That last little bit, reflecting an abiding appreciation of the role of defense attorneys in our system, floors me in its simplicity. I don't know what Mrs. Dillard does that led her to include that gratuity at an intensely personal moment, but as someone who believes strongly in the critical importance of the criminal defense bar, and thinks it incumbent on any attorney to take the occasional case he or she finds distasteful as a matter of service, charity, and humility, I'm grateful for her choice to include that last expression of appreciation -- even if it was no more than a matter of basic politeness.

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