Hidden Damage

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"If they win a new trial, then the verdict goes away," Metier notes. "If they lose, she will be paid, but she's being robbed of a fair return."

Even if McClelland prevails, the amount she receives will be reduced substantially by her attorneys' contingency fees and other costs. "People don't understand that you don't just go to court and pick up a check," says Janet Morgan. "It's not, 'Here's my wreck and here's my check.' She's not going to walk out of this a rich woman, and she has to live on this the rest of her life."

But Morgan and other family members have nothing but praise for McClelland's attorneys. Metier was superb, they say, and as for Gold -- well, they can't say enough.

"For Greg, I don't think it was ever about money," Disheroon says. "He really believed in her and brought a lot of love and care to this case. The first year, when she didn't even have money to buy milk, he showed up at her house at Christmas with a tree and presents for her kids. He stuck with this for four years when everybody wanted to give up. He's a really exceptional human being."

McClelland's life has improved significantly since the days she thought about overdosing on painkillers. She still has excruciating headaches, and riding in a car can bring on severe anxiety. But she has been seizure-free for several years now, and she has a fiancé; friends say he "acts as her frontal lobes," taking charge of organizing household chores, the checkbook and their combined families. McClelland jokes that her plan for her life is "to buy as many pairs of pajamas as I can." She has quite a collection, a souvenir of her many hours in bed since the accident.

Seriously, she adds, "I want to get my kids through school and find something I can do. Even volunteering somewhere is hard. You have to go through training and be scheduled, and I never know when I'm going to have a headache. But I want to feel I'm giving something back instead of sitting around my house."

She sighs, a long exhale of relief. "Emotionally, I feel so much better and lighter," she says, "now that the trial is over."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast