By Joel Warner
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The agencies connected with the court are working not only to hire caseworkers to help veterans navigate treatment services, but also to support the establishment of courts in other jurisdictions, including Denver, where progress has been slow (see story, page 20).
Siddhartha Rathod, an attorney with the Colorado Public Defender's Office, has been working to get the Denver program off the ground. Once the Denver DA and judges realize how many veterans suffering from mental illness are coming through their courts, he says, "It's going to be like everyone up here is wearing green-and-brown uniforms as well."
On January 14, his big day in court, Gray sat in Judge Crowder's courtoom, looking nervous.
Watch an interview with Nic Gray here.
"I'm a little apprehensive," he admitted, smoothing the wrinkles from his suit. To change the subject, he started talking about NG Enterprises, describing a major deal he's negotiating in China. He hopes to take a trip there soon — if he's allowed to leave the state.
The judge called the court to order. Public defender McAteer and deputy DA Jeff Lindsey both told him that Gray was an ideal candidate for the program. A VA representative confirmed that Gray is receiving ongoing treatment. And Rich Lindsey, from Pikes Peak Behavioral Health, recounted his session with the defendant and told of the letters he'd received on his behalf. "I am convinced he's on the right track," he concluded.
Then two people stepped forward whom Gray had never seen before — or at least thought he'd never seen before: Edward and Caroline Lynch, owners of the house he'd broken into, neighbors he hadn't met previously. "We do not want a pound of flesh from Mr. Gray," said Caroline.
At the same time, she added, she wanted to be clear: "I would like Mr. Gray to know he scared the hell out of us that night, and it was due to my husband's ability to stay calm that it didn't escalate to something worse."
Gray put forward a formal apology and agreed to plead guilty to trespassing. Instead of incarceration, he received a two-year deferred sentence dependent on his continuing his VA treatment program and completing thirty hours of community service. On top of $525 in court-related costs, he has to pay $300 restitution for the Lynches' door and write them a letter of apology — but he won't be able to deliver it in person. The Lynches have asked the judge for a no-contact order.
Case closed — for a month, at least. Gray is due back in the courtroom in a week or so for one of many follow-up appointments. If everything goes as planned, he can petition the court to seal his criminal record at the end of his deferred sentence. If it doesn't, he could end up behind bars.
Gray knows he's going to be "tested as a guinea pig." He concedes that it was strange pleading guilty to a crime he doesn't remember committing — but he does like the idea of the veterans court. "Every single person here was trying to help, not to punish," he says.
Still, he knows that veterans courts are only a partial solution. "It doesn't really get to the root of the problem," he says. "There's still the problem of coming back from a combat theater and transitioning back into the civilian life. We need to truly make sure soon-to-be veterans aren't just being pushed out, but are being taken care of."
But he thinks he'll be okay. Thanks to veterans court, he can get back to the blueprints he keeps creating for his life. Expanding NG Enterprises. Launching a business college. And continuing to develop Operation Warrior Entrepreneur, because he knows better than anybody that sometimes veterans need a little extra help.
"Everything is moving in the right direction," he says confidently. He loves it when a plan comes together.