Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Justice and Closure

Today I accompanied my friend Todd Beckett to the sentencing of the young man that ran him over and dragged Todd one city block.  (If you need the back-story, find out what happened here).

In the DC courtroom at 9:30 am, Todd confronted for the first time the convicted hit-and-run driver. A Salvadorian man of 19, who was little more than a high school senior, stood with his head hung. Todd had opted to attend and speak at the sentencing though it was not required. Todd's attorney made a short set of remarks.

When the judge allotted Todd's time to speak, Todd said a few words about his struggles and the tragic changes he has faced, but he largely relied on a written statement prepared by his longtime friend, Jennifer Goldstein, a federal judge. Jen addressed the statement to the court and over a few pages described Todd's character, his many athletic, intellectual, and personal accomplishments, and the type of man he is to his family, friends and community. The impact was huge. The courtroom was more silent than ever, people hung on ever word. The defendant was sobbing. The judge was transfixed and literally fumbled for words to reckon with what was said. Todd returned to his seat and sat down quietly.

Following Todd's statement, the defense attorney ineptly lumbered into his statement of how defendant had suffered and toiled with his actions, which implicitly drew a comparison to Todd whether he meant to or not. The defendant turned around to Todd with a very long face and wet eyes and said that he was sorry and remorseful of his actions.

What happened next amazed me: The judge had prepared a sentence for the convicted man. But it was plain to see that the convict was a little more than a child himself and he had a 11 month old baby. Through a series of short exchanges between Todd and judge across the court room, both agreed that prolonged jail time neither served any valuable lesson to the defendant, nor returned the young man to society in any shape to contribute or make anything of himself. So it appeared they (the judge with Todd's input) suspended the jail time entirely, put the young man in a half way house so he could work, mandated community service, and 3 years probation.

My impression was that that the judge had initially planned on imposing jail time. The result of that change will undoubtedly alter the course of convicted man's life.


  1. thanks for the inspiration and lesson in forgiveness.

  2. Your honor,
    I am an administrative judge with the DoD in Los Angeles. I know you have a difficult job before you and also that you have sentencing guidelines that must be followed. If you would indulge me, I'd like to tell you about the man Todd Beckett, the victim, is and was. Todd Beckett has been my best friend since 7th grade. He is the godfather to both of my sons (the second of which was just born on Jan. 18th and is why I am not able to appear before you today.). I'm writing to give you another voice as to who Todd is and what has been taken from him through this crime.
    The phone call I received for Leah Beckett, June 26th, the morning after the accident will always be in my mind. The pain and anguish in her voice let me know how serious the situation was and that his life was in jeopardy. I immediately caught the next plane to DC. He is that kind of friend. The kind you drop everything in your life and would do anything for. And Todd is such a devoted and loving husband to Leah. He will someday make a great father. That decision, however, will be delayed because of the pain Todd has suffered due to this crime.
    Let me tell you more about Todd. He is an athlete. If his body were not so strong, he never would have survived being dragged. He has run ultra-marathons, triathlons, and adventure races. Running, cycling, skiing, scuba diving with Leah, you name it, Todd was into it. He has always been filled with so much life. No challenge was ever to great for him. He inspires others by training them to do their first marathon. In fact, my first marathon did not allow i-pods, so Todd sang songs to me the entire way to help me achieve my goal, and he has done similar things for others. He is that kind of a guy. Always willing to go the extra mile for a friend.
    Todd is an artist. Not only did he craft beautiful hand blown glass but he can also draw. He did metal work and crafted jewelry. He wrote stories. He used his hands to rebuild a rundown row house and make the repairs from stripping the plaster off the brick wall, to laying drywall, to learning plumbing. In fact, not only did he repair the house he lives in on 13th St., just a few blocks from the accident, but he turned that house into a work of art, crafting the glass sink and an incredible light for the kitchen to fit into his design. Now, his art and those repairs are rather impossible for Todd to do himself. That has been taken away from him.
    Todd is a caring and a generous sole, donating his time, skills and resources to others, be it neighbors, local politicians or the less privileged. He would befriend homeless people and deliver meals he made to them. He led his bible study class at his house every week. He reworked his church's website. He introduced others to Christianity and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

  3. Todd had a rough childhood. He grew up in a small rust-belt town called Youngstown, Ohio. The area there is economically depressed. His father left when he was a small child. During middle and high school, there were times when he had no electricity, no heat, and no water in his home. There were times when food was scarce. Yet Todd was very smart and graduate high school early due to his intelligence and hard work. He did not have money for undergraduate school, but he found away, through his tenacity to get scholarships and enough support to get a degree. He took care of himself and would often provide for his sister as well. At the same time, he knew computers were the future and he started his local towns first internet service provider. He made computers his career. He is the success story you hear about. He made no fortune like Bill Gates, and he lives modestly, but he is one of the most generous people you will ever meet. He'd give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.
    I tell you all of this because I want the Defendant to know it. I want to be sure he knows that he made a grave decision that night after he hit Todd. He changed Todd's life forever. He changed the lives of all those who know and love Todd too. Running away and dragging Todd under the car is inexcusable. But I know that Todd, through the love and grace of Jesus Christ, will make peace with his new handicaps and challenges. The Defendant may very well go to jail for his actions, and that is in the Court's wisdom and discretion. When you have someone you love injured and nearly lost, your instinct is to react in anger and hate. You want that person to pay and suffer for what they did. . .what they took away. But no jail sentence will ever repair Todd and return him to what he was when the defendant decided to take that from him. No sentence will take away the physical pain he feels every day. Pain that may go on for the rest of his life. But I hope that your sentence will also incorporate some of who Todd is and what he gave to others. Meaningful community service or rehabilitation -not just cleaning up along the side of the road or some type of psychiatric treatment- but some requirement and opportunity to grow and change, to help the defendant turn away from crime and pay tribute to all that his victim offered others would be appropriate.
    We don't know the defendant and what he has gone through in his short life. He is young and has a long life ahead of him. I hope that he will in some way be inspired by all who Todd is, and decide to change his life. To think before he acts. To live in the light and love of forgiveness. Todd almost lost his life that night. Leah almost lost her husband. I almost lost my best friend. It seems unfair that the defendant walked away from that night unscathed. I can only hope that internally, this experience has made an impact on the defendant and that he will learn from his actions and change his ways. I hope that he can learn from his victim that despite whatever adversity he has faced in his life, that crime is not the way and does not pay. But that by serving others and being aware of the consequence of his actions, he can have a second chance at a fulfilling life.
    Jennifer I. Goldstein