Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sometimes That's Just the Way Justice Happens

I happened upon the final chapter in a tragedy that will be with two families for the rest of their lives. Kelvin Mutch, in August 2007, was 19 years old. He was convicted by a jury last month for 5 counts of vehicular homicide relating to an incident where he blew through a red light at over twice the speed limit, hitting a car driven by Brenda Whitaker and containing 4 of her family members who died at the scene or shortly thereafter. Ms. Whitaker, age 42, died approximately 6 months later in a nursing home. For more info, see

Assistant State Attorney Mark Graham presented testimony by two family members, one of whom lost her mother, two sisters, a cousin and her baby nephew (11 months old) in the collision. She begged Judge Tim Shea to impose the maximum penalty allowable - 15 years for each life - and she asked that each term be consecutive for a total of 75 years. Graham reminded the Court that the impact of the crash ejected 2 of the victims from the vehicle as it spun out of control. To demonstrate the ferocity of the impact, he reiterated that the baby was thrown 110 feet. Graham compared Mutch's driving to guiding a missile through heavy traffic without regard for the safety of others. The defendant had originally been reported by the press as fleeing pursuit by law enforcement, but that was not the case. Witness testimony at trial was that the vehicle was airborne as it went through the intersection and hit the victim's van. The family members and the prosecutor reminded the judge that the defendant had not shown one bit of remorse for his actions.

Defense Counsel Ismael Solis presented testimony by the defendant's mother and sister, both of whom mentioned that their faith in God is what has enabled them to endure this situation. His mother implied that it was somehow God's will that the victims died (stating that nobody knows when God is going to take them), and I took great offense at that statement. As I dealt with the tragedy of my own daughter's murder, I was sometimes subjected to well-meaning remarks of this nature. However, I quickly realized that her death, just like the deaths in this case, were the result of choices made by other people. God had absolutely nothing to do with orchestrating them.

Both the defendant's mother and sister seemed unable to admit that he was at fault, and both (not surprisingly) spoke about what a wonderful son/brother/father he was. His sister admitted that they have not yet told Mutch's 4-yr old son that his daddy is in jail (and has been for over a year). All he knows is that daddy is at work or at school. I think the toughest part of being a CourtWatcher is forcing myself to refrain from offering advice after I hear something that I know is so terribly damaging to a child. That little boy needs to know the truth, and I hope the family quickly gets counseling to help them tell him in an appropriate manner so that he feels safe and secure. Because when he learns his family has been lying to him, I suspect he will be angry and unable to trust them.

The defendant spoke briefly, but didn't have the guts to turn around and look at the victims' family in the gallery as he did so. He offered his condolences to them and said he was sad about missing his own son. His attorney told the judge that his client never intended to commit these crimes, that he is remorseful and that he understands the pain the victims' family is feeling (but unless you live it yourself, you truly cannot understand that kind of pain). His words seemed hollow in light of the devastation that was inflicted.

Judge Shea offered his sympathies to both families, and noted that Mutch scored a minimum of 560.85 months (=46.7 years) in the Department of Corrections. He imposed a sentence of 11 years for each victim, to be served consecutively, for a total of 55 years. There was an feeling of resignation on both sides of the gallery - neither side was satisfied. But they can all now close this chapter and hopefully move on (except for the appeal that will follow). There were no harsh words or tears in the hallway afterwards when both families waited for the elevators.

Sometimes that's just the way justice happens.

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