Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Defendant Sentences Himself to Death
Mr. Antuna was clean-shaven with a neat haircut and well dressed with a suit and tie, as though to project the message that someone so “put together” could not have committed the heinous acts for which he was on trial.
Our volunteers were impressed with the grace of the eldest victim (who is now an adult) as she testified. In addition to being thoroughly prepared, Assistant State Attorney Ryan Williams was the epitome of a gentleman as he led the victim through the ordeal of telling a room full of strangers about the embarrassing and disgraceful acts she was forced to endure at the hands of the defendant. Defense Counsel Melissa Stockham's cross examination of the victim was nothing short of horrendous in the way she treated this young lady.
Stockham was condescending and repeatedly asked why she didn’t say anything about the abuse even after the defendant was removed from the home and their parents' divorce proceedings were underway. She kept asking questions over and over again in various ways trying to get different answers and/or cause the victim to give conflicting answers - making comments such as “well which is it?” “is it your contention?” “you don’t remember?” Stockham implied that because the victims called the defendant "Dad" even while the abuse was happening, that such abuse not must have occurred if they kept calling him Dad.
The oldest victim maintained her composure under both direct and cross-examination. She testified that throughout the many years she was subjected to the defendant's assaults, she complied because she was attempting to protect her younger sisters from being victimized. As is so often the case, it was only after the defendant was no longer in the home did the victim feel safe to disclose the abuse once she suspected a younger sister had also been assaulted.
She testified that Mr. Antuna had two sides to his personality but was a good Dad to her younger siblings and provided a stable home. She also believed that she was the only victim in the home. The defense attorney attempted to put blame on a younger sibling for not saying anything when she once witnessed the eldest victim on one occasion run from the bedroom (where all the assaults occurred) holding her pants up - expecting that the younger child should ask the victim what had happened and try to help.
In response to repeated questions from the defense attorney as to why the victim never confided to anyone about the abuse she stated, “It’s hard to walk around with an ‘I’ve been raped sign’ on my forehead,” and “I didn’t expect to be raped my whole childhood.”
One of the things I find most aggravating is that defense attorneys in these cases seem expect children to react to situations in the same manner as an adult would be expected to behave. And they're made to feel guilty for not trying to stop their caretaker - a bigger, stronger, adult who wields incredible power over their lives - from abusing them or another family member.
It is the fear of encountering such treatment that keeps victims from being willing to prosecute in these cases.
On the second day of trial, Antuna attempted to delay the trial by asking to fire his attorney. Judge Lubet told him he was free to do so, but that the trial would continue.
That night he attempted suicide by hanging himself while in custody at the jail. He was transported to the hospital.
The judge determined that since the defendant voluntarily did not attend court, case law permitted the trial to continue. The trial concluded on Friday and the jury rendered a verdict of guilty of all thirteen counts. Sentencing was scheduled for January.
Mr. Antuna succumbed to his injuries and passed away on Saturday.
As someone who was victimized by a loved one who committed suicide, I suspect the victims in this case will feel a combination of sadness, anger, relief and gratitude. Sad that the person they loved came to such a tragic end. Angry that they don't get to see him pay for what he did (though I suspect he is now paying dearly). Relief that the ordeal is over. And gratitude that this abuser can never hurt them again.
I hope they learn that forgiving does not mean that they have to agree that what he did was ok. Forgiving is merely letting go of the bitterness, anger, and other negative feelings one has and allowing God to take care of the situation as He sees fit. Forgiving is the best way to quit being a victim and to start being a survivor and to truly thrive.