In my last post I described making decisions regarding funeral arrangements. Although that, too, was a decision I never expected to make, never wanted to make, and that no parent should ever have to make, it was understandable under the circumstances. But this next decision was not foreseen at all.
An 18 year old man killed Dustin. It was not an accident, though it was not planned. A young man chose to drink, then he chose to drive drunk, then he chose to flee the scene after killing one man and injuring another.
Man with juvenile record in custody after allegedly striking and killing cyclist early Friday morninghttp://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2011/08/man_with_juvenile_record_in_cu.html
|Dustin, 4th of July 2011; picture most used by the media|
Ashawntae Rosemon was arrested within an hour. During his arraignment 3 days later, he pled “not guilty.” Within weeks, a grand jury decided there was probable cause to charge him with Manslaughter 2, Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver, Vehicular Assault of a Bicyclist, DUII, and Reckless Driving.
Deputy District Attorney Chris Mascal started working with us closely, reviewing our rights, the evidence, the charges and possible sentences, the laws. Our assigned Victim Advocate, Kim, helped us apply for Crime Victim’s Assistance, kept us informed of what was happening with the case, answered our questions, and attended all court dates with us.
Meanwhile, I was still reeling with disbelief, still doubled over sometimes from grief, still having trouble sleeping and eating and concentrating and just getting through the day. I still was being assaulted by vivid mental images of Dustin being rammed by the SUV, flying through the air for 85 feet, then leaving a trail of blood and “body scuff” on the road for another 90 feet. I was in pretty fragile emotional shape.
Then Mascal told us the evidence was flimsy. She said that when she met with Rosemon after the crash, he was so drunk she doubted he could remember anything even if he wanted. She described him as “blotto.” Although he had broken glass in his hair and cuts on his neck (presumably from the broken windshield), his blood and fingerprints inside the vehicle, and his girlfriend confirmed he was given the car earlier in the evening, no one actually saw him driving. Both he and his girlfriend separately told the police the car had been stolen during a car-jacking.
The two occupants of the vehicle directly behind the SUV when the crash happened, who saw the “front of the SUV explode,” didn’t see the driver. The injured bicyclist, Kevin, didn’t see the driver. The man and woman who watched, on a surveillance camera from inside their garage, two people exit the wrecked SUV a few blocks away, told police differing accounts from each other and then couldn’t even keep those stories straight just within a few hours of witnessing it.
Mascal told our family we should consider accepting a plea rather than going to trial. But it was up to us: take our chances at Manslaughter 2 and Reckless Driving with a minimum 75 months prison or accept Criminally Negligent Homicide, Felony Hit-and-Run, DUII, and Vehicular Assault of a Bicyclist with a maximum 60 months prison and the possibility of 12 months off for good behavior.
This was a tough decision. How much time, what type of conviction, was adequate, was fair, for taking Dustin’s life? None. None! I especially rebelled against dropping the Reckless Driving charge. Believe it or not, I was more okay with less prison time than I was with removing the word “reckless.” Dustin wasn’t killed by negligence or carelessness; he was killed because of someone’s recklessness. But keeping “reckless” and accepting a plea was not an option.
“Tell us what you want,” Mascal said. “What do you want in the plea agreement?” As in, what requirements for the person who killed Dustin. I thought, what the heck is this? Someone kills my son and I have to deal with that, and then suddenly and totally unexpectedly I’m put in a position of having to decide what happens to that person? Wasn’t the court process just supposed to proceed however court processes do and I would deal with whatever that was?
But no. So, while feeling this huge weight of responsibility on me - how unfair it seemed! didn’t I have enough to deal with? – I thought about everyone intimately involved in this tragedy: Dustin, our family, Ashawntae and his family. What would Dustin want? What would he think is justice? What would family and friends see as justice? And what should I do about Ashawntae? I didn’t know him other than as my son’s killer, what I’d read in the police reports, and what I’d seen in the media. He seemed to really have been headed in the wrong direction even before the hit-and-run.
This is when I began thinking a whole lot more about Ashawntae than I was about Dustin. And I resented it. I was using my energy thinking more about a killer than about the innocent child of mine he killed. Who was Ashawntae? What was he like? Was he sorry? Or was he only sorry he got caught? Was there anything redeemable about him? Could he live a better life, be a better person in the future if he just had a chance, some guidance, some support? Would he be raped, beaten, bullied in prison? Would prison make him into even more of a criminal? Would he spend his time feeling sorry for himself and not taking responsibility for his actions? Would he be more of a danger to the public after prison than he was before? And what about his mom?
I researched online. I saw the case of 26 year old Angela Burke, whose killer Caleb Pruitt agreed in his plea to write her family once a year to tell what he was doing to better his life, to attend drug and alcohol treatment, and participate in victim impact panels. I found the Facilitated Dialogue Program offered through the Oregon Dept of Corrections, where the offender and the victim’s family meet. I saw that driver’s licenses can be revoked for life.
These things are what I told Mascal I wanted in the plea. She put them in there, only changing the letter writing to every six months instead of every 12. Ashawntae agreed to these conditions and others (the prison term, etc) and was sentenced. At last I felt relief. I could now just mourn my son, knowing that I had done the best I could to build in safeguards and support and accountability for the person who had killed him. What Ashawntae does with his life now is up to him.