I am writing about my criminal trial many years ago.
When this whole debacle first began, I said that if it came to it that I would testify in my own defense. Part of me hoped and prayed it would never come to that, fortunately, as time passed another part of me became stronger, and more realistic about what it was like to be in the criminal justice system. I hated that I was in this situation, but I would never be able to live with myself if I hadn’t done everything I could to stand up for the truth. When everybody leaves the room and you are left to sit and think, if you did all that you could do, that would have to be enough. The decision to testify had far-reaching effects. It was my decision alone. Testifying was uniquely my choice.
From the time the trial began, every day, after a full day in the courtroom, we would walk back to Dan, my attorney’s, office. We would collapse on the couch to review the comments, events, surprises, challenges, and possibly a light moment or joke. After the decompression, we would begin to prepare for what was expected the next day, if we dared to think we knew. This time, the next day, I was going to testify.
Dan asked me if I was sure I still wanted to do “this”. Dan had told me from the beginning that I had two choices – testify or not and plead guilty or not. Dan pulled out his folder of questions for me and looked at his notes, he looked at me and sighed. He was exhausted. It had already been about 8 days of the prosecution’s case, very long days and very short nights. It wears on you in a way that is hard to describe. It is a bit like the world stops and the only thing that is happening is the trial and it consumes your every thought. I didn’t want to be exhausted. I wanted to say and do everything I could to have the jury know me and the truth.
There had always been an undertone in the courtroom about whether I would testify or not. Repeatedly I am told that I didn’t have to prove my innocence, the prosecution had to prove my guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Reality didn’t feel like that. Reality felt like from day one, I was constantly being challenged to prove my innocence. If I said something I knew to be true but had no evidence to back it somehow I was made to feel like it might not be true. Not because it wasn’t true, but because I had no 100% proof to offer.
When you have no hard evidence, you become the proof. Your credibility, your demeanor, your story, your body language, your tone, your choice of words…. they become the cocktail that the jury sips deciding what the truth is in the absence of hard evidence. I felt like I could present the truth and I felt like I had to do that.
There was an occasional jab from the prosecutor throughout his part of the case about whether I would or would not testify. I didn’t pay too much attention to them. Everyone knows that it is a significant risk to testify on your own behalf. I was more concerned about being disappointed in myself for the rest of my life if I didn’t take every opportunity I could to tell the truth. That’s why testifying was of the utmost importance.
I had to be the person I always wanted to be right now. The best version of myself needed to be in front of the jurors. There was no time left. I was about to testify in my own defense. I had to be the absolute best witness at my own trial. There is no instruction booklet. Lots of people are cheering for you and have no idea what to say. Their body language is like – wow, glad I’m not you or this is a pretty crazy situation. Good intentions, heartfelt wishes, yet my friends and family’s sentiments felt quite clumsy.
More and more, over a year and a half of waiting for the trial to begin, I felt like I had become a better version of myself, bit by painful bit. Strange, but true. If you take away stuff, your career, your friends and family, etc… all the things that you think matter in your life, are you happy with the person you are? Do you like who you see and if you don’t what is it going to take to be her? I didn’t always like what I saw, so I worked on it.
It was like having a blank sheet of paper and deciding who I wanted to be. It was a “do-over”.
I dismissed people that could only offer small talk, gossipy people in my life and people who don’t seem to care or believe in anything but themselves. I found the people that had values that I could see showing up in their lives. It was probably odd that I was so selective for the people that were around me at this time. I wasn’t in a position to be choosy. Maybe others would have taken all the friends, family, and any supporters. I wanted like-minded people around me. If you didn’t believe in me and the truth, I had no time for them. I’m done with fake.
My community right then was me. Just me. I felt alone, but strangely powerful. I had strength by showing others that I could keep telling the truth. I didn’t want others around me that didn’t support me doing that. It was an awkward feeling of being completely alone, by yourself in a way I never had known, and depending completely on who you are. I was depending on showing the jury my character.
I wished my husband could have been by my side. My husband had started the case with tears in his eyes when I told him about the charges. He said that I couldn’t plead guilty to something I didn’t do. A year and a half had passed by the time the trial came. Over that time, there were many times when his fear and other factors got the best of him and he said and did things that were less than supportive. After a few months, my attorney didn’t want to talk to my husband if he didn’t have to because my husband was difficult to reason with relative to what was important in the case. As the tension mounted and the trial approached, I said to my husband that if he said a crossword to me during the trial, I would leave and stay with my mother until the trial was over. My husband didn’t say a crossword to me during the trial. He didn’t say much at all. I think that he was often in disbelief that this whole criminal case was happening.
The day had come. Ready or not. Nobody but me could do this.
How do you prepare to do something you never thought you could?