Judgment Day

Page 12 of 17

Then it would be the defense lawyers trying to excuse what had happened, blaming childhoods of abuse, bad neighborhoods, peer pressure, too much alcohol and testosterone...and, of course, negligent parents. They'd argue that the "tragic incident"--or some other generic term that blew past the reality of what was done to Brandy--was someone else's fault. Not their client's.

In the two years since she'd identified Brandy's body on the coroner's table--Wake up, baby. Wake up.--this was all that remained of Angela's life.

In a way, the slow machinations of justice had given her something to keep her going. There was always another hearing, another trial, another sentencing--another step as she fought to keep her head above the still-rising tide of her grief. She had no idea what would happen when the last of the legal proceedings was finished and there were no more steps.

Nor did she care.
Angela had no illusions that it would soon "be over." It would never be over. Some members of her family talked about getting on with their lives once Francisco was sentenced and urged her to do the same. She had her friends and family who loved her. And there was her new grandson, Brandon, named after the murdered aunt he would never know.

She loved them all and knew they meant well. But they weren't Brandy. Nor could they lift the enormous weight of guilt she felt. Discussion about what Angela should do "when this is over" had led to arguments, and she'd withdrawn even further into her shell. She came out only when she was called back to court.

At prosecutor Sargent's bidding, Angela now rises from the pew where she'd been sitting with her family. Once again, she'll try to explain the impact of a never-ending nightmare. She doesn't care what decision the judges reach. She hadn't been disappointed with the panel's decision to spare Danny; such things were in God's hands. And she feels for both of the mothers on the other side of the courtroom.

Either way--life without parole or a lethal injection--Francisco will not be hurting any more little girls. But Sargent, whom she trusts implicitly, has told her it's important. One last time.

As she stands trembling next to Sargent at the podium, Angela clutches the paper on which she's written what she wants to say. It will soon be two years since Brandy was killed. Sometimes it seems like a long time ago, but in May, the last month of Brandy's life, it always seems like yesterday.

Angela keeps her eyes on the judges. The prosecutors have told her not to state what penalty she thinks is appropriate or to address Francisco personally. But avoiding Francisco won't be difficult: He isn't here. Instead, Francisco is represented by three lawyers and an empty chair.

Angela doesn't want Brandy to become just another victim in one of those textbook cases the lawyers are so fond of spitting back and forth at each other. She doesn't want them to forget that Brandy was once a real little girl.

Already she can feel the tears, never more than a memory away, waiting to spill over. So she begins while she still can. "I want to tell you a little bit about Brandy," she says, looking up at the row of impassive judges.

"She was fourteen years old, and she was a shy person."
This is the only good thing about testifying: It gives Angela an opportunity to talk about the little girl she knew. The good student. The athlete. The teenager who was still shy about her body.

"And now I go to the mountain where she died," Angela says. "I pick up the rocks that have dried blood on them, and I put them in my yard, because I don't want them up there. I don't want people seeing them or walking on them or driving on them.

"And I have there to go, and I have her grave to go to and just sit there and talk to her, and I don't get to hear her calling me 'Mom' anymore, hear her voice or see her or hug her or...," she wraps her arms around herself and weeps, "Oh, God, she had the best touch."

With an effort, Angela moves on to thank God that the last words she and her daughter said to each other were words of love. "She loved me a lot. That girl loved me a lot, and I could feel it, and now I don't feel it no more. And now I don't even care about life. I don't care about nothing."

Her husband has had to suffer the loss of both his wife and stepdaughter. "I look at him and his boys," Angela says, "and I think, 'Why? Why do you get your kids?' Why does he get them, and I don't get mine? What did I do? She didn't do nothin'. She's just a little girl. And how come everybody else gets their kids, and I don't get to see mine, or touch mine, or tell her I love her?"

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Steve Jackson