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Chapter 26

Robby entered the courtroom with a sense of déjà vu. It was the first week in November. He’d been held in detention since late August while everyone discussed what to do with him. He was still self-conscious about his detention uniform but at least he wasn’t wearing shackles and handcuffs. Judge Dahlen had ordered them removed. She smiled at him briefly from the bench, then looked away. He knew this was an important hearing, probably the most important day of his life, but he really didn’t understand everything.

Sam Bernstein, his attorney, motioned for Robby to sit next to him at a table to the judge’s left. Officer Hammond walked him over there and stood quietly behind him. Robby felt strangely comforted by the detention officer’s presence. He was there to prevent an escape attempt or violence, not to support him. But they had developed a relationship and Robby knew that Officer Hammond was hoping for a good outcome.

Just as the assistant state attorneys took their seats at a table to the judge’s right, Robby heard a commotion in the back of the courtroom. His eyes widened as Officer Bowman walked in holding his wife’s arm. He looked a little pale. He gave Robby a small wave. Robby wanted to wave back, but Mrs. Bowman glared at him, so he thought he better not.

Baliff Sandstrom yelled, “Quiet in the courtroom” as others entered and the noise increased. Robby saw television cameramen, a few of his teachers and some other police officers. He smiled when he saw his scout master enter the courtroom with six or seven members of his troop, all in their uniforms.

Sam touched his shoulder. “Okay, Robby. I’m not sure what is going to happen here today. The State has still not signed off on you going to the psychiatric placement instead of the commitment program. We’re going to present our plan to Judge Dahlen and see if she will agree to the terms. She will probably ask Officer Bowman his opinion. We are not going to enter a plea until the deal is approved. Do you understand?”

“I think so. Will I be leaving detention soon?”

“I don’t know, son. Wish I could tell you. If we work it out, perhaps in a week. If we need to come back for another pre-trial, then no. Plus, Dr. Visconti has some sort of restorative justice thing she wants you to do with Officer Bowman. Did she tell you about that?”

“Yes. I’m supposed to tell him I’m sorry and why I did it. She made me write it down in case I get nervous and forget something.”

“Okay. But don’t read the letter until I say so.”

Mary took a deep breath and walked up the center isle toward the counsel tables. She patted Robby on the shoulder as she took her place standing in the middle between the two tables. She felt the eyes of the officers on her back.

She glanced at Raphael who smiled at her. She knew that he’d told his bosses that he and Mary were dating, and, so, they wouldn’t be allowed to work the same cases. Robby’s case wasn’t a problem as Phil McGee and Clark Stackhouse were reviewing each step. Regardless, Mary knew that Raphael felt uneasy today. He had sworn to a duty that could make him her adversary. Lord, I hope not.

Kristin tapped her gavel to open the proceedings. Mary had no idea how her friend would rule today. They’d obeyed the rules and hadn’t talk about this case outside of court. They didn’t want any foul ups that could cost Robby his freedom someday.

“Good morning. I see we have a full courtroom. I must insist on quiet as we follow courtroom procedures. Emotions are high in this case but we will be following the rules here today. That includes no photographs or videos of the minor’s face. Mr. Bernstein do you want to begin?”

Mary bit her lip. Kristin sounded too stern. She must be as scared as I am with all this.

“Yes, Judge Dahlen. Good morning.” Sam flashed his trademark smile but Kristin remained stoic.

“The court is familiar with Robby’s background as described in Dr. Visconti’s behavioral evaluation,” Bernstein opined. “Some of the attendees today are Robby’s neighbors, members of his Boy Scout troop, and teachers. They are all ready to testify about Robby’s character.”

Deputy Sandstrom had to call for order again, to quell the loud murmurs.

“Please continue, Mr. Bernstein.”

“On Robby’s behalf, we are ready to submit a plea, if the State will agree to the psychiatric placement identified by Dr. Visconti. A bed should open up next week. Robby has spent two months in detention at this point. He has remained there in order to show his cooperation with the State.”

Kristin looked over at Raphael. “Any comments, Mr. Gonzalez?”

“Yes, your honor. The severity of this act cannot be overlooked. No matter how many people are here to speak on his behalf, Robby Hartmann stabbed and nearly killed a law enforcement officer. He also brought multiple homemade bombs to school with the intent to harm other students.”

“I object your honor,” Sam broke in. “Robby’s intent has not been established.”

Kristin looked down at Raphael. “You know better, Mr. Gonzalez. Stay on track”′

Raphael reddened. Mary thought he was probably trying to force Kristin’s hand, especially with the media present.

“Yes, Judge. Going off to a psychiatric hospital without any further sanctions will not satisfy the State. We are requesting that he be formally adjudicated delinquent of these multiple felonies, committed to the psychiatric program and then placed on indefinite probation after his release. We are requesting that he remain in the program no less than six months.”

Kristin looked at Mary. “Dr. Visconti, is six months a reasonable time frame at this mental health facility?”

“Robby’s length of stay will need to be a clinical decision, not a legal decision. The placement is not under the jurisdiction of the court. However, six months is not an unusual length of stay.”

“He’ll be there for as long as is necessary and no longer,” Sam interrupted.

“That lack of specificity will not satisfy the State,” Raphael stated emphatically. “If he does not remain there for a reasonable amount of time, we retain the right to move him to a commitment program for the remainder of that time.”

Kristin addressed Jamie Ackley, the probation officer, sitting to the side of the state’s table.

“What does the department recommend, Ms. Ackley?”

“The Department of Juvenile Justice is comfortable with the state’s offer in this case, including an adjudication of delinquency on these felonies.”

Kristin saw her glance over at Phil McGee, who nodded his approval.

Kristin looked around the courtroom. She sighed and looked down at the file and took some deep breaths. She looked at Deputy Sandstrom, but even he was solemn. She looked at Robby, who was practically leaning on Sam Bernstein. He stared at her, his expression hopeful. Finally, she spoke.

“Here’s what I think we should do today. We can’t predict the future, but we can put in place measures to address Robby’s mental health needs as so thoroughly laid out by Dr. Visconti, and also protect the community.

“I will accept a guilty plea from Robby with the conditions outlined. In terms of the six- month length of stay, I will postpone a decision pending the psychiatric placement’s clinical opinion. I’m not going to pre-judge the length of his stay. That’s up to the program. Prior to his release, I will entertain hearings about post-commitment probation or a juvenile program. A lot will depend upon Robby himself, his cooperation and success in psychiatric treatment.

“Further,” she said, now looking directly at the state attorneys, “I will withhold adjudication right now and as long as Robby’s placement is in the psychiatric program. If he needs to be transferred to a juvenile commitment program, I have no choice but to adjudicate him guilty. That adjudication, of course, will remain on his record permanently. There’s no sense giving him a record now that will follow him the all of his life.”

Stackhouse, McGee and Gonzalez rose from their seats, protesting in three voices.

Kristin waved them down. Deputy Sandstrom stood in front of the gallery to prevent any disturbance.

“Gentlemen, you will get exactly what you want if Robby doesn’t comply or the treatment doesn’t work. A commitment with an adjudication of guilt. But if he does succeed with good psychiatric therapy, why saddle him with this horrendous record? You want him to go through life jobless, maybe homeless?”

Mary looked down, hiding a wide smile. Go get ’em, Judge!

Sam conferred with Robby. “I don’t think you will get a better deal. The state may still have you transferred to a program, if you are released early. I advise you to take the deal. However, we could still go to trial if that is what you want.”

Robby looked wistfully at Sam. “I can’t do that to my grandmother, sir. She couldn’t take a trial. I guess when they stop thinking I’m crazy, I’ll just be sent to the place for bad kids. Take the deal, please. I just want this over.”

Sam stood, preempting the state. “Judge, Robby would like to enter a guilty plea based on the conditions outlined by Dr. Visconti in her report and just now by your Honor.”

“Dr. Visconti, will you commit to following Robby’s progress and report back in advance of any release dates?” Kristin asked.

“Yes, your Honor. Also, Robby would like to address the court and Officer Bowman, with the court’s permission.”

“Wait just a minute,” Raphael snapped. “The State hasn’t agreed, nor has the Department of Juvenile Justice. We need a moment to confer.”

“You may have it,” Kristin said with a nod.

Mary watched as Jamie Ackley’s supervisor, Tom, joined the group at the state’s table. She crossed her fingers. If she had known the Boy Scout oath, she would be whispering it now. It seemed like an eternity before anyone spoke.

Finally, Jamie and Raphael rose together. Jamie spoke for everyone.

“I don’t need to remind the Court of the importance of the Department’s recommendation, Judge. It carries the most weight by law, as you know. I say this so you will understand how much thought we have given to this case.”

Get on with it, Mary thought anxiously.

“Therefore, we accept the conditions that you’ve outlined, including a postponement of an adjudication of guilt. Furthermore, the State agrees with our recommendation.”

As she sat down, getting a pat on her arm from both her supervisor, Tom, and Phil McGee, Mary wanted to applaud.

Kristin smiled broadly and tapped her gavel again for order. She glanced down at Robby and saw him smiling, too.

“Dr. Visconti, I think Robby wanted to address Officer Bowman?”

Mary signaled to the officer who stood from his seat in the courtroom galley, squeezing his wife’s arm as he passed. As he approached the podium. Robby paled, but moved slowly to stand next to him. A hush fell over the crowded courtroom. Officer Bowman remained silent. Robby’s voice began shaking as he read his letter of apology, which ended: “I won’t ask you to forgive me, since I can’t forgive myself. However, I will tell you over and over again how very sorry I am. Nothing justifies my behavior.”

Officer Bowman stared at Robby, their eyes locked together. Then he reached over to shake Robby’s hand and put his arm around him. Robby began to sob uncontrollably and collapsed against the officer’s chest.

Kristin saw people wiping tears away, even at the state attorney’s table.

Mary’s relief almost gagged her. The situation could have gone the other way. Officer Bowman could have focused on anger, punishment or revenge. But as he embraced Robby, his expression was of care and concern.

She heard him whisper to Robby, “You’re going to get through this. Work hard and come back better and stronger.”

Robby nodded. “I will, Sir.”

Kristin concluded the proceedings. “Office Bowman, the court would like to thank you for your presence and your support of Robby’s disposition. We thank you for your service.”

The officer straightened. “I just want him to get the help he needs,” the big man said.

Kristin thanked him again and then called everyone to the podium to put the plea agreement on the record. The courtroom emptied. Robby was ordered returned to detention to be transferred to the psychiatric facility next week.

Raphael followed Mary back to her own office. She closed the door.

Raphael took her into his arms. “We did good today, Mary.”

“I know. I’m happy with the disposition. I was worried for a while. I didn’t know what Kristin would do. Don’t think I missed your courtroom theatrics and manipulations, though.”

“What do you mean?” he asked innocently, looking down at her from his six-foot frame through thick, long eyelashes.

“Raphael, do you think you can just bat your eyes at me and I’ll forget everything?”

“Yes, actually I do.” He began to kiss her, holding her close. He left her office five minutes later, looking a little disheveled.

Jill peeked in at Mary who was still feeling flushed and a bit breathless.

“Things good?”

“Yes, things are good.” Mary put her head in her hands as Jill shut the door.

Good today, but will they remain that way?

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