Shortly after the Michael Stalling sentencing in Judge John Adams' courtroom, I watched a bond hearing that has haunted me the past 24 hours. Michelle Wheeler (2009CF808) is charged with 2nd Degree Murder in the death of her husband, Jerry Cisco. Without recounting all the details of the 75 minute hearing, both parties have criminal histories. Cisco had been arrested several times for assaulting Wheeler, and the charges have always been dropped.
After the judge took 15 minutes to review the psychological report, the bond hearing began. Ms. Wheeler had about a dozen family members and friends in the courtroom to support her. In addition to a 17-yr old from a previous marriage, she has two children with the victim (ages 2 and 3). If released, she would live with her parents, who have owned their home in Ocoee since 1969. She has a history of always appearing in court when required to do so.
Joyce Pastorek, co-founder of No Abuse, a certified Batterers' Intervention Program (BIP) provider, and author of the psych report testified on behalf of the defense. She related that Ms. Wheeler is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and meets the criteria for Battered Wife Syndrome. Pastorek testified that on the day of the incident, Cisco had conviced Wheeler that she would die that day. She had been repeatedly beaten and threatened with a knife that he'd used on her in the past. She was, in fact, convinced that she would die that day. Some time after midnight, she begged him to drop the knife, at which time she quickly grabbed it and stabbed him in the chest.
Wheeler's attorney, Chung-Wook Kim did an excellent job of making his case, until it was time for final argument. He carried the ball to the 5-yard line, but didn't cross into the end zone. Bond is designed for two purposes - to assure the defendant's appearance in court and to protect the victim and/or community. Mr. Kim failed to emphasize that Wheeler has strong ties to the community, and that she is not a flight risk (having lived here her entire life). He also failed to argue that she is not a danger to anyone. He asked for bond in the amount of $10k-20k with home confinement or GPS monitoring, and counseling. He indicated a curfew would be a reasonable restriction for his client, who has been in custody since January.
Assistant State Attorney Les Hess provided testimony that Ms. Wheeler committed the offense (she made an admission to law enforcement). He relied on "proof evident, presumption great" standard that she committed the offense.
The judge ordered that the defendant be held on No Bond. He indicated that if evidence were presented that she could get the counseling help she needs, and that if it was superior to the help she's currently receiving in jail with the New Beginnings program, he would reconsider if another motion were brought before him. Was the judge's decision perhaps influenced by the embarrassment of having had a different defendant (Michael Stalling) not show up when he was supposed to? We'll probably never know for certain.
True justice is tempered with mercy and each case should be considered on its own merits. I was disappointed to see that justice didn't happen in this hearing.