Justice: Real or Imagined?

The Challenge asks me to write about Justice today.  As a former news reporter, it’s hard to say if that concept is a real thing.  Sometimes we don’t see it come to pass in even the most difficult situations.

Let me tell you about one story I covered where Justice seems more imagined.  You’ll understand why I’m on the fence on the reality of it.

A young, white mother and her black boyfriend were taking care of her three children. Christopher, Austin, and Kyleigh were fathered by three different men. They ranged in age from six to just under two years old. For some reason, their mom Amanda and her boyfriend Maurice decided to take the children out to Clinton Lake in Illinois one night in 2003.  If I remember correctly from sitting through months of hearings and the actual trials, they did it to look at the water.  They parked the car on a boat ramp. And somehow, with all three children buckled into their seats, the car sunk into the lake.  Both Amanda and Maurice got out.  The car was only in a few feet of water. Reports vary on if either of them were wet when emergency responders arrived.  Did they try to save the children?  We’ll never know for sure.  All three kids died.

My son is almost Christopher’s age, who is on the right in the picture.  It’s hard for me to now imagine what happened that night and how it could have happened.

There were two murder trials. One for Amanda and one for Maurice. I covered them both. I got to know Amanda’s mom who was completely horrified over the loss of her grandchildren.  Maurice was ultimately convicted of murder and given a sentence of life in prison.  Amanda, on the other hand, was convicted of child endangerment and acquited of first-degree murder charges… all due to the way jury instructions were written in this case. Maurice’s jury didn’t have the chance to choose that option.

We will never know how it all went down. If it was pre-meditated, if it was an accident.  But one thing I do know, Amanda was released within a short amount of time and started a new life in Chicago. She had more kids.  Only recently was it discovered where she was living and that she had more children and now a judge will decide if she can keep her other children or not, based on her history.

Justice. What is it in this case? Maurice still sits in a jail cell while Amanda lives her life on the outside. Those three bright-eyed children who had unrealized potential deserve justice. Never learning how to drive, graduating from high school, growing to have their own families. As I look at their picture, the word Justice haunts me. Because I’m not sure it played out in this case when you view all the factors.

It was never my job to decide guilt or lack thereof, but I was supposed to report on a judicial system that worked for everyone involved. Those children. Their mother.  Her boyfriend.

13 years after their deaths, I’m not sure I saw it.  And I’m not sure who to blame.  The judge that allowed those jury instructions in?  Or someone else?

It just doesn’t seem fair.  And that’s why I’m not sure if Justice is real or imagined.

What can we do?  Have an open conversation about how the judicial system works, understand that jury instructions can completely derail or make a case.  Pay attention when Fox News spews information about the latest murder or rape case. The information that isn’t being put over their loudspeaker might be the most valuable of all.