14 June 2018

If Not Justice, Then Strength. Or So One Hopes.

They were not looking for vengeance.  Instead, they sought justice.  But is it possible when five lives are ended, horribly and pointlessly, and survivors may nurse wounds for the rest of their lives?

Paul J. Bridenstine probably did the best he could under the circumstances.  On Monday, he sentenced Charles Pickett Jr. to 40 to 75 years in prison.  Given that he has already served 734 days (just over two years) and that he is 52 years old, Pickett won't be eligible for parole until he is 90.

What caused Bridenstine to mete out such a sentence?  Two years ago last week, Pickett--who was driving 58 MPH in a 35 MPH zone while under the influence--plowed into a group of cyclists out for their weekly social ride.  He didn't hit his brakes until he hit the first cyclist.

Last month, he was found guilty of five counts of second-degree murder and five of driving under the influence when he cut short the lives of Debra Ann Bradley, Melissa Ann Fevig-Hughes, Fred Anton "Tony" Nelson, Lorenz John "Larry" Paulik and Suzanne Joan Sippel in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In addition, he was convicted of four counts of driving while intoxicated and causing serious injury to Paul Gobble, Jennifer Johnson, Sheila Jeske and Paul Runnels.

At the sentencing hearing, Johnson spoke of how she lost one of her best friends, Fevig-Hughes.  She rides "only in a group" now.  "I find myself holding my breath as people pass."  Still, despite intense pain, she continues on, inspired by the strength of her friend.

In that sense, she is someone else who gave a moving statement:  Madeline Bradley, the daughter of Debra Ann.  She attended Michigan State University for a semester after her mother's death, she said, but remained "broken".  At first, she thought, nothing remained of her mother until she discovered her strength.  "She continues to protect me with this strength, her strength," she declared.

At least she has that, whether or not there is justice.

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