My Name is Sarah

MY NAME IS SARAH. I am a quilt designer and the sewcial director of Sarah's Sewcial Lounge. I also have a business called Down Right Charming. I sell my quilts mostly on etsy and I make pillowcases to donate to patients in the hospital in memory of my friend Kristen Kirton. I am a young adult living with Down syndrome. I hope you enjoy reading about my life journey.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Plea Deal for "R" word Testimony

A mother's perspective: At approximately 2:45 on December 2nd, my husband and I walked into the Geauga County Annex building with our thirteen year old son Matt and our daughter Sarah. Matt had been summoned to appear in Juvenile Court that afternoon. He was charged with one count of Assault in the First Degree for throwing three punches at a boy who repeatedly called his girlfriend "R#tard" at a football game.


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."


Rochelle said...

YEAH! YEAH! YEAH! So thrilled to hear the great turn of events. I am sure everyone in the courtroom learned a great lesson yesterday. Way to go Matt!

Muncher said...

Sounds like the best possible outcome here. Good deal.

Mama Mason-Mann said...

Wow. What a beautiful post. Glad it worked out and thank you so much for sharing it (and quite eloquently I might add)!

Anne and Whitney: Up, Down and All Around said...

sounds like it was a great day in court for you guys (considering, I am sure, that you never imagined ever being in that position) - I love sarah's comment at the end, and I hope Gus and his mom got the message about how hurtful words can be. Hopefully, too, Gus can do something to help his health and his self-image so he doesn't feel the need to bully!

Anonymous said...

You know they say many comedians have low self-images and that's why they turn to humor to deflect from themselves. I think, too, many bullies have the same problem. Instead of turning to something else, they turn to bullying.

Glad it turned out so well. I am glad Matt stood up and conveyed his side of the story. I suspect he's grown up a lot these last few weeks. I also suspect he's learned a valuable lesson. I can only hope Gus learned an equally valuable lesson.


Mel said...

A good outcome all round. Just a shame that it wasn't possible to have this mediation without going to court :( Glad to hear you have made it through all this stress, and get it sorted before Christmas :) Well done Matt.

Scarehaircare said...

Joyce - I know I am asking a lot, but is there any possible way to get a transcript copy from the court exactly what Matt and your lawyer said? I would love to read the words as is. I am all teary right now and thrilled beyond words for your family right now.

RK said...

Excellent...when reading this, Joyce, I kept watching for a reference to "By chance or by design" in the sequence of events and seating. :o)

I keep thinking of what to say, but I keep ending up at what seems silly since I don't know Matt personally... but for what it's worth... I'm really proud of him, and bet you are too!

The VW's said...

I love it too Sarah! Great job Matt!

I'm thrilled to hear that he was able to tell his side of the story and that this message was heard that day!

Everything does happen for a reason! :)

Adelaide Dupont said...

I feel happy and relieved that Matt got out with a misdemeanour only.

And wonderful, wonderful speech! Would love to see the text of it. Nothing to what it would have been in real life, I appreciate.

Sarah sitting near Gus was powerful too.

As was your description of Gus, Joyce. Yes, more than 50% of American children and teenagers are overweight/obese.

Good luck to Matt on the community service. I know he will do it well and faithfully.

(And great to see the guys relaxing and watching TV).

Molly said...

His eloquence will serve him well in future years. Sarah is lucky to have such an advocate. Actually, we're all lucky.

JRS said...

Way to go Matt! I'm proud of you. I've got chills through the tears.

Emily said...

Your sweet boy sounds amazing! I was reading along... and tears came out of my eyes at the very end. Sarah... YOU ARE AMAZING TOO!

AZ Chapman said...

glad it went well come visit

Mary said...

Good news. Congrats.

Carol N. said...

I think Matt could write a novel now....way to go to your family for sticking together!

Kristin said...

Yes - good job Matt!

Anonymous said...

Yeah Matt!!

Leah said...

AWESOME!!!!! It is amazing how God works, isn't it? Placing Sarah right behind Gus and his mom, the opportunity for Matt to tell his side of the story. Gus and his mom being put on the spot just by the seating arrangement! My guess is the judge is going to throw this out.

In all of this, you have to wonder what Gus told his mom about the events? You know he had to leave some out, and they weren't expecting Matt to be able to say anything either. HA! Gus' mom just got a dose of reality, that her son is not a perfect angela, and that if it weren't for his actions they wouldn't have been in court today! God is good! Gus, his mom, and your family as well will learn plenty from this.

Julie said...

Such a relief! I'm so glad at how it all turned out. Good for Matt, and hopefully Gus and his mother have had their eyes opened for the better.

JennyH said...

Thanks for the update. Sounds like Matt did awesome being on-the-spot.