At the recommendation of our attorney, our plan of action was to enter a plea of "not guilty" to send the case to pre-trial. This would allow our attorney face time with the prosecutor to get copies of witness statements, explain that Matt is a quality kid with good grades, has assumed leadership roles at school and is a responsible brother to a sister with Down syndrome and therefore in this situation words do hit like a fist.
All this in an effort to get Matt's sentence reduced and hopefully an opportunity to present our position of the hate involved in using the "R" word.
To our surprise, the prosecutor was available immediately and presented with a plea deal to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor four(the lowest possible)on one count of disorderly conduct with records expunged after two years. It also would permit the transfer of the case to the Juvenile Courts in the county in which we live for sentencing. After discussing it with Matt, we agreed to accept the deal.
Although we never expected to be before the Judge on this afternoon, we were ushered into the court room. Sarah elected to sit in the back row. I was focused on getting her situated when I realized there was a boy sitting with a woman in the row in front of her. I quickly whispered to Matt asking if that was Gus. Yes indeed, Gus and his mother were in the courtroom, sitting directly in front of Sarah. My husband and I tried desperately to get her to move, but she refused. So we let her be and took our places around the table in front of the Judges stand.
While we were waiting for the Judge to arrive, I could not help but look at Gus. I replayed in my mind all the hurtful, derogatory statements he had made to Matt's girlfriend on Facebook a few days before the incident. When I first read them I could not imagine a twelve year old boy making these sexually explicit and racially driven threatening comments. At the time, it angered me to the core.
Yet now sitting in the court room, my heart softened as I looked at him. What I observed was a young teen who seemed sad and lonely. Like he just didn't quite fit in. I knew that he was bigger than Matt from a description he had given to our attorney. But I was not expecting quite so large, likely by medical definition, obese. There are so many reality shows now covering that topic that I understand it can be a painful issue for a teen. They often get bullied. And their course of action can then bully others. For the first time since this incident occurred on October 2nd, my eyes were opened to another perspective.
Soon the Judge walk in. As we all stood, I turned my body to focus solely on Matt. The prosecutor presented the plea deal we had agreed to. The Judge asked Matt if he understood to which he replied, "Yes, your Honor." I thought that would be the end of it.
Then the Judge asked Matt to stand and describe what happened. My stomach flipped as my throat tightened. He was not prepared for this. We thought this was going to be an easy in and out day. A pre-trial was going to be scheduled in the future. That was the plan. My mama bear instincts wanted to shout out, to protect my little cub.
Instead what happened is this: Matt stood up, assumed perfect posture and with the demeanor of someone much older than he, described to the Judge and all in attendance what happened and how he felt when the "R" word was used, over and over and over again. It was totally unscripted and right on point. Beautiful actually. He then sat down and our attorney stood up and also gave an eloquent speech. He referred to the sweet girl in pink in the back of the courtroom, to which everyone in attendance turned to look.
Because Sarah had chosen to sit directly behind Gus, that meant we were also looking straight at him. He squirmed at the attention. I don't want to make light of the fact that Gus was there as the victim. He was not on trial. Our son was. Yet I knew at that moment, our wish had been granted. Yes Matt needed to take his punishment, but our goal was to use this situation to educate.
Our attorney went on to describe how hurtful the "R" word can be, especially when you live day in and day out with a daughter/sister like Sarah. As soon as he stopped talking, Gus and his mother flew out of the courtroom. I have never understood her motivation for taking this through the court system. The police report is not kind to her son. It includes printouts of the Facebook dialogue which is partly why the charges were lowered to a fourth degree. Whatever she wanted from this case, I'm guessing what she got today was not it. I'm not sure if they fled so quickly because of anger that the charges had been so significantly reduced or embarrassment related to the testimony that had just been given. I just hope they learned something today. That words do hit like a fist. I hope the next time Gus starts to use that word in a derogatory fashion, he stops to think first.
Before dismissing the courtroom, the Judge did remind Matt to be on his best behavior until the sentencing hearing. With a misdemeanor four, he will likely get assigned community service. That too will be a good learning experience for him. As we were walking out of the building, Sarah said, "I love it. Good job Matt."