The Niteo Chronicles: Lies Undone

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Chapter 21

Chapter Twenty-One

Past

The week following trial was grueling, to say the least. I was thankful to have Luke by my side as I sifted through more flashbacks and nightmares. I was also thankful to have a budding relationship with my mother returning to my life. Even though things weren’t yet perfect, they were on their way and improving each day; and that was all I could ask.

Luke took pride in being a spiritual guide for me. We spent a good amount of time at his family’s house talking about God and the future. His parents even chimed in and told me how excited they were to hear I had officially joined the faith. Being welcomed by another family the way I had been to Luke’s only made me miss Audrey through all of this. I’d promised when I left her house that day that I would be a frequent visitor. I promised Lucy that I would see her all the time; that it would be like I hadn’t left. I had yet to return since the day I left. Nearly five months had passed, and I hadn’t even bothered to stop by and say hello.

“We need to visit Audrey when this is all over. I miss her,” I said as Luke and I lay in my bed.

“We can do that. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you. And I think Lisbeth and Taylor could use a visit from their sister,” Luke said with warmth.

“Plus, I promised Lucy I’d see her all the time. Haven’t followed through on that promise,” I said with shame.

“You’ve had a lot going on. I’m sure they all understand,” Luke replied as he played with my hair.

I was just about ready to fall asleep under the spell of his hands until the phone started to ring. It was nearly ten o’clock; I wondered who would be calling our house so late.

“Hello?”

“Is this Cassie? I’m sorry to be calling so late, it’s Hannah.”

“Oh, yeah, it’s fine. How are you?”

“I’m well. I’m calling to tell you that the jury has come to a decision. Judge Breelan has set the closing of trial for Monday morning at 9 am.”

“Oh, okay. Wow, that was fast. Is that a good sign?”

“I can’t tell. Sometimes it is and other times it isn’t. We will have to wait until Monday to find out.”

“Okay, thank you. I guess we will see you Monday morning.”

“Yes, see you then, goodnight, Cassie.”

“Goodnight,” I said as I hung up the phone.

I turned around and smashed my face into Luke’s chest. Sudden terror had consumed me after talking to Hannah. I craved the emotion I had been feeling just before talking to her, but it was gone. Luke wrapped his arms around me and held me close against him.

“Who was that?”

“Hannah,” I mumbled.

“What did she say?” I had a feeling that Luke had already figured it out from my conversation, but was just asking to confirm the story.

“The jury is done deliberating. We have to be in court Monday morning at 9 am to hear the verdict.”

*****

When I awoke Monday morning, I felt sick to my stomach. I thought the morning of the first day of trial had been an intense one, but that was nothing compared to how I felt this morning. There were so many things riding on this decision that the jury seemed to come to so easily. My safety, my future, so many decisions and yet these twelve people had come to their decision in less than ten days –it did not make sense to me. I could only hope that their quick decision meant something good for me, that it meant they had all believed my case.

I showered quickly and threw on what I hoped would be one of my last professional outfits for court. Luke did not bother me about eating breakfast today, as soon as he saw me he knew how upset I was. The car ride to the justice center was silent. I hated the tension, but I was so nervous about what was coming, that I couldn’t speak. When we pulled into the parking garage, Luke finally spoke.

“Are you ready for this?”

I let out a deep breath. “I don’t know. I’m so scared.”

As we stood outside the truck, Luke took my hands in his. The warmth of his body surrounded me and made me feel secure.

“I know you’re scared, but, Cassie, you have faith now. Trust that to keep you going today.

“Right,” I said shakily.

“Now, let’s get inside and out of this cold,” Luke said quickly.

He wrapped his arm around me and walked close beside me so he could guard me against the blizzard that had hit this morning. I hated that mid-April still allowed for such frigid weather in the Midwest. I longed for a change.

Despite having Luke so close to me and his arm being wrapped around me, the freezing cold air of the blizzard was still cutting into my face. I was numb by the time we got into the justice center and made our way through the metal detectors. The elevators brought us right up to the courtroom, but this time, Luke stopped me outside the closed doors.

“Before we go in, I just want to tell you how much I love you, Cassie. You mean more than life to me and I want you to believe everything I told you outside. You have nothing to fear today.” Luke spoke with absolute confidence and a serious tone of voice. I knew he was sincere in everything he was saying but I couldn’t help feeling as though there was some sort of deeper meaning behind his words. Something I just couldn’t figure out.

“I believe you, I do. It’s just that there is so much riding on this case and the decision that they made so quickly. I just hope they made the right decision.” My voice broke a couple times. I sounded more convinced than I was.

“I hope they did too.” Luke sounded concerned but also as if he already knew the verdict. He seemed confident that Jim was going to jail for a long time.

Luke opened the door and we walked into the courtroom together. Today, unlike any of the other days, Court B seemed massive and intimidating. The walls seemed as though they had been stretched out and everything in the room had been spaced over several more feet than before. I felt intimidated as I walked in, holding Luke’s hand. We took our usual seats. Hannah was already standing behind the table sifting through her usual pile of paperwork.

Within a few minutes, the jury entered the courtroom. One by one, the twelve walked in. I still could not wrap my mind around how these twelve ordinary, everyday people had gone into solitude and decided the fate of my entire case. They filed in slowly and each took their seats. No one made eye contact with anyone; they simply walked in and took their seats, keeping their heads lowered as if this were a solemn occasion. That terrified me in too many ways.

After the jury was seated, Judge Breelan entered the courtroom in his usual swift manner. His mood seemed no different from any other day of trial, although I did not expect it to be. This case was not personal to him; this was just another case he happened to be presiding over.

I did not dare glance over at the defendant’s table. The reaction it stirred up in me every other day would be amplified ten-fold today.

“We have reconvened this morning for case A06775. When we went to recess on April 9th, the jury broke for deliberation.” Judge Breelan spoke in the same rapid manner he always did when opening up for the day.

“Mr. Foreman, has the jury reached a verdict?”

“Yes, your honor, we have.” One of the members of the jury stood up and spoke to Judge Breelan. He was the one sitting on the end of the front row, closest to the Judge’s bench. I didn’t know how they selected the foreman of the jury, but it seemed odd to me that this man of the twelve was the foreman, the one who was speaking for the group. He seemed to be the most ordinary of them all, wearing a simple dark blue suit and tie. He was clearly an older man, as he had lost the hair on the top of his head and only had a crown of hair around the edge, which he kept short. He wore thick-framed brown glasses and a noticeable gold watch on his wrist. Such an ordinary looking man, yet, he held the most power of them all.

“The verdict the jury has come to will be the final decision for this case.”

Hearing that statement from Judge Breelan made me more nervous than ever. It was as if he were officially sealing the fate the jurors had already decided on. Now the only thing left was to find out what that crucial decision was.

“Mr. Foreman, what has the jury decided?” Judge Breelan’s voice suddenly sounded stiff, almost as if he was as nervous as I was to hear this decision.

The foreman stood up from his chair once more. He held a piece of paper in his hand, from which he read the decision. I squeezed Luke’s hand tight beneath the table.

“On counts one through six, rape, a felony of the first degree, we the jury find the defendant, James Whitlin, guilty.”

Wow. I could not believe I had just heard the foreman read off a guilty verdict on all the rape charges. It still bothered me that he was only brought up on six; God knows he raped me well over six times in nearly eight years. But, I chose to be thankful for at least six guilty charges. That had to guarantee at least some jail time. And there were still nineteen charges left; things were finally starting to look up for once.

“On counts seven through twelve, kidnapping, a felony of the first degree, we the jury find the defendant, James Whitlin, guilty.”

Six more guilty charges. I felt such a sense of relief as the foreman continued.

“On counts thirteen through eighteen, sexual misconduct with a minor, a felony of the second degree, we the jury find the defendant, James Whitlin, guilty.”

Only seven charges left. It was at this point that I happened to allow myself to glance over at the defendant’s table. What I saw would make my day for a long time. The look on Jim’s face as the foreman continued reading the charges was just priceless. He must have thought he would get off with his innocence act.

“On counts nineteen through twenty-four, gross sexual imposition, a felony of the third degree, we the jury find the defendant, James Whitlin, guilty. And, on count twenty-five, intimidation of a crime victim or witness, a misdemeanor of the first degree, we the jury find the defendant, James Whitlin, guilty.”

Twenty-five guilty charges. I felt almost joyful until I remembered that he had only been found guilty, now it was up to the judge to sentence him to the proper amount of jail time, if any. I hated that there was still that slim chance that Judge Breelan would have mercy on him and let him go with probation or something ridiculous like that.

“Thank you, Mr. Foreman, and thank you to the entire jury for all of your time and dedication to this trial. These types of trials are not possible without individuals such as yourselves and I personally thank every one of you for your time. At this time, the requirements of the jury in this trial have been fulfilled; you are all dismissed from this courtroom.”

As Judge Breelan finished speaking, the twelve members of the jury rose from their seats and exited the courtroom just as quietly as they had entered before today’s proceedings began. The only difference was that now, I owed them everything I had to offer. I felt a slight rush of relief spill into my mind as the jury left. I knew that once they left, court would end shortly, and I would be one step closer to knowing if justice would be served in my case.

“At this time, this court will go into recess for the final time. Mr. Smith, your client has been found guilty of all twenty-five charges. The sentencing hearing for this trial will be on Monday, April 26th at 9 am. Until then, we are in recess.” Judge Breelan banged his gavel and left the courtroom just as he did every other day of the trial.

Hannah turned to me looking even more pleased today than she had on the last day of the trial.

“Well, we got them all, how do you feel about that, Cassie?”

“I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. Do you know if this judge is known for sentencing on the high end in cases like mine?”

“I can’t say for sure because he is new to the bench this year, so he has only sentenced a few cases; however, the few he has sentenced have been decent. He is a former prosecutor, so he understands better where the victims are coming from.”

“So, what is actually going to happen at the sentencing hearing?”

“Well, Cassie, you will have the chance to give a victim impact statement. That will be your chance to express to the judge how everything that happened to you has affected you and how you feel about it all. It’s not required, but I highly recommend it. Sometimes that is what sways the judge into a higher sentence.”

“What exactly is a victim impact statement?”

“Like I said, it’s your chance to tell the judge how everything has impacted you and your life. It shouldn’t be long. But it should sum up how Jim’s crimes changed your life.”

“If I give one, what happens next?”

“After you give your statement, Judge Breelan will probably give Jim a chance to speak, whether he is apologizing to you or giving one last defense for himself. Once you both have spoken, Judge Breelan will make his official decision on the sentencing for your case. He will give the sentence and if he gives him jail time, Jim will be remanded from the courtroom on the 26th.”

“‘Remanded’?”

“He will be taken from the courtroom in handcuffs, put on a van heading to prison.” Hannah was stern as she spoke her last statement.

I did not respond to Hannah right away – I couldn’t. I stopped to think about what she had just told me. In two weeks—two short weeks, I would be back in this courtroom, waiting to hear the sentence my judge had come up with for Jim. Not only that, I would be back here, expected to speak about everything, again. I was not sure if I was ready for that. I was certainly unsure if I could wait another two weeks to learn the outcome of my case. I was already so anxious after hearing the verdict today and now I had another fourteen days to wait before getting the final closure. These next couple weeks were going to be torture.

“Are you alright, Cassie?” I heard Hannah say after a couple minutes. She must have seen my face turn to worry as she spoke.

“What? Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just thinking about everything. Um, how long does my statement need to be?”

“I wouldn’t make it too long, but usually the Judge doesn’t put a cap on time. He will want to hear everything you have to say because he will take it into account when he makes his decision on sentencing. If you want my suggestion, just go home and try to relax for a few days and then try writing out what you want to say. Don’t even think about what you’re writing, just let your emotions drive what you write and believe me, the statement will write itself.” Hannah sounded reassuring. She made it seem like the task before me was such a simple one. I wish it would be as simple as she made it sound, but I knew it would not be.

“Okay, thank you. I suppose I will see you in two weeks?”

“Yes, Cassie. Two more weeks and this will all be over. See you then.” Hannah left quickly after she finished speaking, leaving Luke and me alone by the plaintiff table.

Luke and I walked out of the courtroom, his arm still wrapped around my waist. By the time we got to the truck, I knew he was anxious to talk to me – he was always quiet when he wanted to talk. The engine of the truck sounded louder than it normally did as Luke pulled out of the garage. Once we were out of the city, he started talking.

“What did you and Hannah talk about?” He had been standing right next to me during our conversation, so I knew he had more than likely heard every word between the two of us, but I figured he didn’t want to let on that he was eavesdropping.

“Just about the sentencing hearing, she said I have to speak before the judge makes his decision.”

“Speak as in what? A speech?”

“She called it a victim impact statement. She said it is my chance to tell the court how everything has affected me.”

“Well, that’s good. You’ll finally get a chance to tell everyone how you feel about him and what he did to you.”

“Yeah, right, good.” My voice came out spacey. As much as I wanted to, I just could not focus on my conversation with Luke. I was too consumed with the daunting task of writing my statement.

“Cassie? Are you okay?” Luke’s voice broke my clouded mind.

“Huh? Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure? You seem like you’re not completely here.”

“I’m just nervous about writing my statement and having to speak again. It was hard enough to bring everything up the first time, I don’t know if I can do that again.”

“Cassie, I know this is hard, believe me. I may not have ever gone to court for my situation, but I had to explain my case to a lot of different family members and reporters when the story went to the papers. If there is one thing I learned from constantly giving my story and repeatedly having to tell people how it all made me feel, it is to remember that by telling those people and getting my side of the story out there, I am constantly putting my Uncle to shame. Try to think of it as putting Jim to shame every time you tell another person. When you give your statement, he will be put to shame in front of the whole courtroom.”

I felt empowered by what Luke was telling me. I was so happy that he had finally told me his whole story and that he could relate to me on such a deep level now. We had always had a close connection with one another, but now it felt even more intense.

“Thank you, I love you,” I said as I lay my head on Luke’s shoulder. He took one hand off the steering wheel and wrapped it around my shoulders.

Once we got home, Luke brought up the subject I was still a bit touchy on.

“So, Cassie, have you been thinking about everything we’ve talked about these past few days?”

“You mean the forgiveness?” I asked with a heavy voice.

“Yes,” he responded with the same stiffness in his voice. I knew he was not going to let this drop. It was obviously important to him.

“Well, I think I have forgiven my mom. I mean, I don’t feel like I’m angry with her anymore and I want to build up our relationship again.”

Luke paused. “So, what about Jim?”

I winced when I heard his name.

“Um…”

“Cassie, have you thought about him at all?”

“Oh yeah, I’ve thought about him, a lot.”

“You know what I mean, have you thought about forgiving him?”

“Luke, believe me, I have been thinking about him a lot and about forgiving him. I want to get to that point and be able to forgive him, but I’m just not quite there. And honestly, would losing this connection with him be all that bad? What could being connected to him ever benefit me?”

“Cassie, do you remember what else I told you about forgiveness? That it is not just about salvaging the connection with people, but that it also brings you freedom from them. Do you want to be stuck living with all of these memories so strong in your mind for the rest of your life?”

“Well, no but those memories will be there whether I forgive him or not.”

Luke looked as though he was frustrated, but not with me. He looked as though he knew something, a big secret that he wanted so badly to tell me, but just couldn’t, and it was eating him up inside. I hated seeing him like that, and I wished there was some way I could understand what was going through his mind.

“Cassie, please promise me you will keep working on this. I can tell you are close to forgiving him. Will you please try to work toward this? For me?” Luke sounded stressed as he spoke.

“Yes, I promise. I will, for you,” I assured. “Are you okay?” I asked with concern.

“Thank you,” Luke said with relief. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just know how beneficial this is to the healing process, and I want that for you.”

“I appreciate how much you care for me. I will keep working on it. But, you also have to remember that I’m not you. The things that worked for you, may not work for me.”

“Just promise me. Please,” Luke said sternly.

“I promise,” I said almost fearing how serious Luke was.

Luke and I had agreed to have my mother over that evening. He thought having her around as moral support might be good for me. We all sat around the table sipping coffee and talking. It was good conversation and almost took my mind off everything.

I excused myself from the group for a moment to gather the last load of laundry and put away the last basket of clothes. As I was walking back to the living room to fold the last load, I began to feel off. My mind instantly flashed back to the last incident. I stopped quickly, dropping the basket with a crash. My chest felt tight, as though I couldn’t take in a breath deep enough to give me fresh air. My head began pounding. I fell to the ground clutching my head from the pain and gasping for breath. The next thing I knew, I heard Luke calling my name and I felt his soft hands on my temples.

“Cassie! Can you hear me? Cassie!”

I wanted to speak and make the scene in my head stop, make the pain vanish, but I could not. The flashback continued, the incident kept playing through as if it were happening at that moment. I heard his voice in my head just like in my nightmares, but then, I heard a voice I was not expecting. My mother entered the flashback. She was not making any sense. I had to be going crazy with the pain that was consuming me.

“Heal her, Luke! Make this stop!”

“I can’t, she isn’t a member yet, I can’t reveal the secret!”

“Just do it! Look at her, Luke!”

The pain in my head increased, the flashback was getting worse. I felt as if I were right back in the situation I had been in just a few years before. I could feel the burn of imagined ropes against my wrists. I could feel the weight of Jim on top of me. I screamed out in pain as my head throbbed, begging for it to stop.

“Give me some room.”

Suddenly, I felt Luke’s fingers press down on my temples, where they had been the whole time. He placed an equal amount of pressure on both sides of my head and then, my pain was gone, instantly. I couldn’t make out the words, but I knew I heard him mumbling something.

When I came to, Luke was standing over me. I didn’t remember being placed on the couch, but I was now lying down and my mother was standing beside me too.

“Cassie? Are you okay?”

I blinked my eyes a few times to make sure the bizarre episode was over.

“Yeah, I’m fine. W-what happened?”

“You had a flashback, you stopped breathing, and you were screaming that your head hurt.”

“Yeah, I remember that part, I mean, how did you get it to stop? What were you talking about?”

“What do you mean? Cassie, all I did was lay you down on the couch and calm you down. The pain stopped when the flashback stopped.” Luke sounded nervous as he tried to explain what had just happened.

“No, the two of you were talking. I heard something…”

“Cassie, you were in a lot of pain, you probably think you heard something. Just forget about it for now and try to rest,” my mother chimed in trying to convince me I had not heard the conversation I knew I had just heard. She excused herself to get a cold cloth for my head.

Once Luke and I were alone, I decided to get the answer out of him.

“Luke, what happened? Please tell me.”

“Cassie, I don’t know what you are talking about. You had a flashback, end of story.”

“No, I know there is more to it than that. It’s happened before but I thought it was just me. You’ve made my migraines go away when you touched my hand. It’s like you can heal me or something. I heard you and my mom talking; I’m not crazy. Will you please tell me what you were talking about?”

“Cassie…” Luke sounded distressed as he spoke. “I wish I could tell you everything, but I promise…”

“It will all make sense soon, right? Is that all you’re going to give me right now?” I was getting frustrated with Luke.

“Cassie, I’m sorry, but that is all I can say right now. Please believe me, it will make sense soon.”

“Fine, let’s just drop it. I am just happy it is over. That was horrible. It was like I was living a nightmare.”

Luke sat down on the couch and pulled me up to him. He held me close, tight in his arms. I lay my head on his shoulder; I loved being held by him. He always made me feel better, I did not know how but I was thankful for it either way. Within a couple minutes, my mother returned carrying a cold washcloth.

“How are you feeling, Cassie?”

“I’m fine, Mom, I feel completely normal again, like I’ve been healed or something.”

My mother looked down when I finished speaking as if she had something to hide. After a few minutes of rest, my mother decided it was best that she left for the evening, so I could sleep. I walked her to the door and retreated to my bedroom with Luke following close behind.

We talked a while longer about my statement until I passed out.

The next two weeks passed faster than I ever expected them to. After at least seventeen drafts, I had what I thought was a decent enough statement to give the judge. I was confident until we were at the doors of the courtroom.

Court B had even more people than usual in it when Luke and I walked in with my mother not far behind us. I expected to see the court reporters and Mr. Smith with Jim and Hannah, but there were several other people filling up the rows of padded chairs. People that I knew had not been there for the entire trial. Luke and I took our seats, and I turned to Hannah to ask her about the extra people.

“It seems that Mr. Smith’s client has decided to bring in some ‘moral support.’ It’s not uncommon, the defendant bringing people in for the sentencing hearing to show the judge that they deserve a lighter sentence because they have so many people that love them. I wouldn’t worry about it, Judge Breelan is a smart man, and he can see through all the games. You just focus on your statement.”

“O-okay.”

I felt Luke’s hand close around mine under the plaintiff’s table as Judge Breelan entered the courtroom.

“We have reconvened this morning for case number A06775, the State of Ohio vs. James Whitlin. At the close of our last day together, we heard the jury’s verdict, finding Mr. Whitlin guilty on all twenty-five charges brought against him. Today, we have Mr. Whitlin present in court with his lawyer and we have Ms. Jones present in court to represent the state of Ohio. Ms. Jones, is the victim present with you?”

“Yes, your honor, and she would like to address the court if you would allow it.”

“Okay, then at this time, Ms. Jones, your client may speak.”

“Stand up, Cassie, and state your full name before you give your statement,” Hannah quickly whispered in my ear.

I stood up from the plaintiff table. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it might break straight through my chest and fall onto the table in front of me. My mouth was dry, I feared I wouldn’t be able to start speaking, let alone get through my entire statement. I pulled my statement from my pocket and unfolded the paper in trembling hands.

I cleared my head and felt a sudden rush of confidence flood through me. I looked up at the judge and began speaking.

“My name is Cassidy Jane Flynn. Your Honor, I want to thank you for giving me the time to speak today. This statement has not been an easy thing for me. My experiences with Mr. Whitlin have affected me in more ways than I can count. I will never be the same person I was before I went through everything I did with him. I used to be a carefree girl that trusted everyone I met at first sight. Now, it takes me a long time to warm up to anyone, and even after I do, I still struggle with trusting them completely.

“Before all of this happened, I had a great relationship with my mother, she and I were each other’s best friends and now, I have only recently begun to even want to be in the same room as her. Our relationship is on the mend, but it will never be the same as it would have been if none of this had ever happened. I now suffer from massive migraine headaches because of the concussion I sustained from Mr. Whitlin the day the police report came out. The neurologist says I sustained a small amount of brain damage from the impact of my head against the car door frame. He is not sure if the damage will repair itself or if the headaches are going to be a permanent part of my life.

“My point here is that I will never be the same person. Mr. Whitlin stole my innocence, and he stole the life that I should have been allowed to live. Children deserve to feel safe in their homes, and I never did. Children are supposed to be loved by their parents, and I was not.

“This is how I feel; this is how I have been affected. I have one last thing to say and that is—Mr. Whitlin, I think you are one of the lowest people I have ever met in my life. I think that you only care about yourself and I think you have a lot to learn about life, but I want you to know that through the power of God and faith, I have forgiven you. I forgive you for molesting me and raping me for nearly eight years and I forgive you for tearing apart my family. I am free from the burdens you created in my life, I can now move on from the past you created for me, but you will forever be stuck knowing what you did to me, and I hope those thoughts haunt you until the day that you die.”

I sat back down with tears streaming down my face. Luke wrapped a comforting arm around me and wiped the tears from my face with his other hand. I hadn’t expected the forgiveness speech. It wasn’t on my paper. But it felt right. I had forgiven Jim and I knew it. I felt the freedom Luke and my mother had been telling me about and it was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

“You did great,” he softly whispered in my ear.

Hannah turned to me and gave a look that clearly showed her approval with what I had just said.

“Thank you, Ms. Flynn. Ms. Jones, is there anyone else who would like to speak today on behalf of the state?”

“No, your honor. All we have to say is that we would like to see Mr. Whitlin sentenced to the fullest extent his charges allow. I believe Cassie stated it best in one of her interviews with me when she said that she feels that Mr. Whitlin should be given the maximum sentence with no chance for parole because he should feel the same sense of entrapment that she was forced to feel the entire time she lived under his abuse.”

“Thank you, Ms. Jones. Mr. Smith, does your client have anything to say before I make my final judgment?”

“Yes, your honor. Mr. Whitlin would like to address the court if you would allow it.”

“Your client may speak at this time, Mr. Smith.”

Jim stood up from his chair and picked up a sheet of paper. I had no idea what he could possibly have to say, so I knew this would be interesting.

“My name is James Dorsey Whitlin. Your honor, I want to thank you for allowing me to address the court today. I realize that I have been found guilty of these crimes, but I do not think that proves that I am guilty. I regret that this court feels the way they do. I regret that this court never did and never will be able to see who I am. All I have to say for myself is that I am an innocent man and someday I hope to prove that to everyone.”

Jim sat back down at the defendant’s, his head held high as if he had just delivered some grand speech. He looked as though he was expecting some sort of applause. I may have forgiven him, and I did, I knew I did, but that did not mean I wasn’t still frustrated with him.

“Thank you, Mr. Whitlin. Mr. Smith, does the defense have anyone else who would like to address the court?”

“No, your honor.”

“In that case, we will take a short ten-minute recess, and I will make my final decision for the sentencing of this case. We will reconvene in ten minutes.”

Judge Breelan gathered his files and quickly exited the courtroom. Hannah turned to me with a mix of emotions covering her face.

“Cassie, that was a powerful statement. You moved the judge in a big way. His face showed it all. I think you sealed the deal.”

I felt encouraged by what Hannah was saying and by how excited she seemed.

The recess passed quickly. I spent the entire time sitting in my chair with Luke right by my side. He kept his arm wrapped around me and at one point, without me even telling him that my head was beginning to hurt, he started rubbing the back of my head. It was almost like he knew when I was in pain and exactly how to heal me. I knew I had to be crazy for even considering something like that, but the idea just wouldn’t leave my mind. By the time the judge returned to the courtroom, my pain was all but gone.

He took his seat back at his bench, but now he had a stern look on his face, directed toward Jim.

“Mr. Whitlin, I have gone through the entire file for this trial several times. I sat in this courtroom for five consecutive days and listened to some disturbing testimony. I just read through the police report taken by Officer Carpin on May 17, 2009, once again and Mr. Whitlin, I must say that I am appalled at you. I absolutely cannot believe that you stand here in this courtroom today claiming innocence. The things I have read and heard during this trial are things that no child, I mean no child, should ever have to go through. Mr. Whitlin, I have a hard time believing that you will ever fully understand the meaning of what you did to this young girl.

“As far as your sentencing goes, Mr. Whitlin, you were found guilty on all charges brought against you. For all of the first-degree felony charges, I am sentencing you to twenty years in prison. On the next six charges of sexual misconduct with a minor, a felony of the second degree, I am sentencing you to five years in prison. On the next six charges of gross sexual imposition, a felony of the third degree, I am sentencing you to four years in prison. On the final count of intimidation of crime victim or witness, a misdemeanor of the first degree, you will serve one year. This makes for a total of thirty years you will serve in prison for these crimes. These sentences are to be served consecutively and there is no chance for parole.

“Mr. Whitlin, I hope that you use your time in prison wisely. I hope that you think about what you have done and why you are in the situation you are in. I hope that one day you will realize the seriousness of what you did to Ms. Flynn. This case is closed.” Judge Breelan banged his gavel and left the courtroom.

When Judge Breelan banged his gavel, the bailiff walked up behind Jim, placed handcuffs on him, and walked him out of the courtroom. I felt such a massive sense of relief when I saw him walked out of the courtroom in handcuffs. Jim had just been sentenced to thirty years in prison. I was safe. I was free. I never had to worry about seeing his face again. He could not hurt me anymore, never again. Never. That word had never sounded so beautiful to me.

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