A couple of Fridays ago, I went to the sentencing of the young gang member who murdered my friend Mark "Atwood" Evans three years ago. He was convicted a few weeks ago of murdering one of the accomplices in the robbery in which Mark got killed-- he was afraid the guy was going to "roll" on him.
Mark is the guy in the middle of the picture, in back. We'd been close friends since meeting as students at Eastern Illinois University in the early eighties.
On the night of June 3/4, 2006, a group of guys, one of whom was the son of former tenants of his, pounded on his door sometime late at night-- probably around 2:30 a.m. They intended to rob him. Since he did not have any money with him, they attempted to take him to an ATM machine. He tried to run away. The guy who had the gun-- the one sentenced-- shot him in the neck, and he collapsed after running a few yards. The shooter then stood over him and shot him three more times.
A month later, a fifteen-year-old Sudanese immigrant, whose family had been Mark's tenants, was murdered a few blocks away. It was, as it turned out, related.
In December, 2007, over a year after the two murders, a 20 year old gang member was arrested for both murders. Another accomplice, had been caught shortly after Mark's murder, and is serving a 12 year sentence for attempted armed robbery for what happened that night. He testified in the case.
He was found guilty a few weeks ago. We were told that the minimum sentence, by Illinois law, would be 45 years. This is "real time;" no time off for good behavior. No parole.
Before the sentencing, they gave the defendent a chance to speak. He continued to deny having killed anybody. His last words: "And one more thing-- whatever happened to reasonable doubt?" It was obvious his lawyer had coached him.
It was a strange moment, when the judge meted out the sentence. I was sitting with the victim's mother and with the author Alex Kotlowitz ("There Are No Children Here"). He is working on a story about the case. The judge explained his rationale for the sentence-- that the perpetrator had not only killed someone, but had threatened witnesses. It was clear to the judge that he'd killed Mark as well, and that the murder was planned and premediated to cover up Mark's murder. The judge gave him 45 years for the murder and another 25 for using a gun in the murder. 70 years. Again, "real time;" no parole. He is 23 years old now, so this is essentially a life sentence.
On that Friday night, old friend Eric, who was one of Mark's closest friends as well, dropped by with Simon, another friend of Mark's. We talked about it all; we recalled that the last time Eric and Simon were in the house was with Mark. We'd sat out on my back porch, where I'd dragged a television and dvd player, and we watched "Westway to the World," a documentary about the Clash. It was probably in 2003.
Three years later, Eric and Simon were both out with Mark the night he was killed.
In the course of our discussion, Eric blamed himself; he was certain that Mark thought it was him pounding on the door. We told him not to take that blame on. Yes, he frequently crashed at Mark's place when he was here in the city, had been out drinking and knew he shouldn't make the hour-long drive home. But he always called beforehand. I reminded him that I and half of his other friends had shown up at his place in an emergency-- he was the kind of guy you could count on. Nonetheless, we couldn't keep him from taking the blame.
I told them my recollections of the trial. How the stenographer would pop onto Facebook on the latptop she had along with her steno machine. About the judge's refusal to have people in handcuffs or ankle bracelets in his courtroom; twice I witnessed him make baliffs take defendants back to have restraints removed. It was clear that the judge respected the defendants' dignity. I was struck by the judge's mix of humor and seriousness-- and how the judge brushed off the defendant's thanks for treating him with respect-- that his thanks would have no bearing on the sentence.
Eric and I talked about how we felt, and we both realized we felt the same: elated. I don't know if it's right to feel so good about this guy facing the rest of his life in a cage, but that's how we feel. We know that there's a good chance that they won't get a conviction in Mark's case. The only witness they have is the guy who served as a lookout in the robbery. They had 15 witnesses in the other guy's case. This is probably the only justice we'll get.
Some of the other people in the extended group of friends of Mark have said that it didn't make them feel any better. Eric and I didn't feel that way. A guy who killed a beloved friend, then murdered a child to cover up that killing was put away for what is almost certainly his natural life. We felt great. After 3 years of pain, the guy who caused this pain felt some himself. Some day, with a little luck-- okay, a lot of luck-- he'll eventually be 42 years old, the age Mark was when he murdered him, and maybe, god willing and the creek don't rise, he'll have some flash of insight at how violent and stupid he was that night, and maybe even feel some remorse for the two murders he committed, for the lives he took, for the lives of loved ones that were damaged and destroyed. Then, maybe I'll have some empathy for him. But for now, I can only feel glad that his life is gone, and that he'll spend the rest of his life living in fear of the predators like him that are all around him.