Other than the monthly posts I have been writing for The Art Ed Blogger's Network I have not been updating my blog very much in the last year or so. My family and I have had a very difficult past 2 1/2 years. This is the first I have talked about it in a public forum. I am trying to ease into it slowly and only address the part that affected me.
This is normally a place where I share my travels, art lessons and funny things that happen in my life. The next part of this post is non of those things. But it is something that happened in my life and the only reason I am sharing it now is because it could easily happen to you, your son, uncle, nephew, husband or father....just like it did to us.
May 23, 2016 my son was arrested for a crime he did not commit. There was no investigation, the evidence that was taken was never analyzed, no one looked into my son's statement and based on a 2 and 1/2 minute interview of the so-called victim, my son was arrested. He lost his home, his good credit, his money, most of his belongings and his future. We all lost faith in the justice system. He was put in jail with murders for 17 long months facing 2 life sentences plus 15 years. The only reason he was held was because the prosecutor, Cynthia Evers in Manatee County Florida believed she had a sure win. She only cared that her conviction rate would go up. She did not care for one second that she was destroying my son, destroying my life and my family as well. Not to mention the unbelievable amount of money that was lost trying to clear his name. Sadly to pay a good lawyer we were not able to also bail him out. The bail...with no prior arrests of this nature was $250,000. We could not get him out and also get a lawyer. However if we had know it would be 17 months of rescheduling and heartbreak we would have mortgaged the house to get him out. Thank goodness we were able to find an amazing team of lawyers -Jennifer Fury and Colleen Gleen. The first public defender we had said a right to a speedy trial is 180 days (which really does not seem speedy at all) but then he slipped a paper in front of my son to sigh and did not tell him he was signing away his right to a speedy trial. Trust me there is very little justice in our justice system. It is all a game to them and a way to keep their own jobs. No one cares about the truth or doing the right thing. Nothing I believed in about our justice system was happening. The reality is not Law and Order or any other TV show, the reality of our system is hard and truly unfair, especially if you are poor, black or mentally challenged.
I have been a basket case for the last 2 1/2 years. There was not a day that went by that I did not have a full melt down. I cried all the time. I snapped at everyone around me. It was destroying me not to mention what it was doing to my son who was locked up the entire time. It was also very difficult on my husband, my son's step-father. Hubby has MS, which we only found out 4 years before my son was arrested. Stress is not good on MS, it is a trigger. At first I tried to keep my life the same and not involve hubby, very quickly I realized that was not possible. After about a year I thought I was loosing a grip on my own reality. My brain even developed a strange coping mechanism that I will share with y'all later in a different blog. I finally needed to see a professional. I wanted a system in place in case my son was unjustly convected of a crime he did not commit. If it was that hard on me while waiting for the trial I know I would not be able to handle a false convection. The doctor was able to help me and hubby and I also started seeing a councilor as well, which help. My family and a few close friends were there for me the entire time and listen to every single word I said about the case and the trial as if they were hearing it for the first time each time a repeated a theory I had. I had become my own private investigator. I looked up every law, read every deposition 5, 6, 100 times, analyzed every angle and of course shared my theories with Jennifer, Colleen, my family and my 3 very, very amazing friends. Who by the way I absolutely can not thank enough for getting me through those 17 months of agony. I could not have worked day-to- day without them.
With all this going on I had to quit teaching extra art classes. My work on the charity suffered tremendously, my own art work came to a stop and I quit blogging. I quit everything. All I did was cry...all the time.
We were finally set to go to trial, after so many reschedules on Sept 11. 2017... 4 days after my son's 33 birthday. Then Hurricane Irma hit Florida. The courts, along with everything else was closed. We had no idea how long everything would be out. So not only were we freaked out about the trial now I had to worry about a powerful cat 5 Hurricane headed straight for my son. The jail is only about 200 yards from Tampa bay. It was just an awful time. I could not stop watching the Weather Channel. Thankfully there was not much damage to Manatee county, the courts reopened and the trial was reset for November, which felt like a life time away. Jennifer put in a motion for a sooner trial date, which must have pissed of the new prosecutor, Brian Chambers because he filed another charge against my son the Friday before the pretrial hearing. Jennifer said he knew he was not going to get either one of the life convictions so he just threw in a lesser charge to try and get a any conviction he could. It really scared all of us because we all know my son was not guilty and we know the jury would see that and not convict him to 2 life sentences on hearsay evidence alone. But by throwing in 3rd charge at only 15 years so it looked like my son did 3 different crimes, which was not the case even if he had done what he was accused of. We were scared the jury might think hearsay is not enough to enough to give some one life for but the they may give him the 15 years.
The trial was moved to Oct 23, 2017...17 months to the day he was arrested, that is 515 days after he was arrested for a crime he did not commit, so much for a speed trial. There are so many people in jail now without lawyers, just the public defender who are waiting even longer. We were finally going to trial. My family was there. We were all behind my son showing the jury that this child is loved and valued. Sheriffs brought him into court hand cuffed. I had bought him an expensive suit and tie to wear in court but it did not cover the cuffs. I did not want to, I tried with all my strength to hold it in but I cried...out loud...he heard me. I could not stand to see my only child in handcuffs. For 3 long days we sat there and listened to the Bryan Chambers try and try to figure out a way to railroad my child into jail for the rest of his life. From 9am to 5 pm we sat without moving and listened. But there was nothing...absolutely nothing. Even the so-call-victim acted as if it was a total inconvenience for her to be there. She was even hostile towards Bryan Chambers. She gave her testimony and left. We never saw her again. She really did not care because she know she was lying and my son was innocent. Jennifer Fury was brilliant in her closing argument and Bryan Chambers looked like he was on a hot frying pan...he was all over the place. He was grasping at straws. He had nothing and Jennifer let everyone know there was nothing to this case.
The Jury got the case at 5 pm, they chose to deliberate straight through. We waited outside the court room. We were the only people in the Manatee court house. Then the bailiff came out and said the jury was coming back with he verdict. Jennifer told me not to react no matter what the verdict was....yeah like that was going to happen! I took one last look at my son and then the jury and then buried my face in hubby's shoulder looking back at my family. The first life sentence....not guilty. I began to sob uncontrollably. We had cleared one hurtle but still had 2 to go. Second life sentence....not guilty!!! But the last one was the worst, 15 years. I was scared the jury did not feel good about putting someone away for life with no evidence but might be okay with 15 years. After what felt like a life time the 3rd charge was read...not guilty! I had my son back, they released him and we went straight to Taco Bell. It was over, or at least that chapter was. There is so much more but I am creating a different blog for this topic. I think there needs to be a change in our justice system, prosecutors should not have so much power and not having money should a reason to not have a proper defense team. Innocent until proven guilty does not matter if you are poor and do not have bail money. Also being found not guilty by a jury of your peers does not mean you can have your life back the way it was either. No one cares they stole 17 months of my son's life.
Anyway that is why I have not been blogging or much of anything else for that matter...But I am back on track now, my son has a new home and a new job and life is good.
I will not discuss the reason my son was arrested until he is ready to do so, so please do not ask me. He is in counseling and working through this traumatic experience at this time.