True story in my small town:
In March 2011, a man and his stepson went hunting in the nearby swamp on a 70 degree morning, got lost, got way too cold when the temperature plunged into the 30s, and couldn't find their way out in the dark. It started raining. The man tried to carry his son when the son couldn't go on, but it wasn't working. For better or worse, the man made the decision to leave the boy and go for help.
A long time later, the dad made it out, got help, but it was too late. The boy drowned in the swamp. People were abuzz all over town about whether or not the guy was guilty. He did leave the 15-year-old behind and allegedly the death happened in his absence.
The man's wife divorced him and remarried, and the new couple attended the trial, intent on seeing justice for her boy. I've talked to several people since the trial, and the opinion is split. One person said she'd been in that swamp before during the heat of summer and stepped in a boghole and her waders unexpectedly filled up with water. She said it was days before she warmed up again. She said it's very easy to make bad decisions during hypothermia.
Other people like myself say that they wouldn't have left the boy, no matter what. If we'd have both froze to death, so be it. A child is a child.
The dad was charged with two counts of malice murder, second degree cruelty to children, felony murder, contributing to the deprivation of a minor and involuntary manslaughter.
The trial took 4 days. During that time, testimony corroborated the boy drowned. The dad's own words in his testimony: "Everything looked the same. I do know the swamp like the back of my hand, but if you go there at night it all looks the same in the water. I said, 'son, you got to put everything into this or we're both gonna die back here. We're both gonna die. We're not gonna make it out.'"
The dad gave the boy his wool socks. He strapped his rifle across his back for the boy to hold onto. He carried the kid for hours. The GPS couldn't get a signal. He set the kid down and went out like spokes on a wheel from the kid's location, but couldn't get his bearings. This went on for hours, and it kept getting colder. Finally he made the decision to leave the boy.
It took another few hours for him to find his way out of the swamp and to send a search team for the boy. But it was too late. Way too late.
The jury deliberated only a few hours and returned their verdict. Not guilty on either malice murder charge, not guilty on second degree cruelty to children, not guilty on felony murder. He was found guilty of contributing to the deprivation of a minor and involuntary manslaughter.
Sentencing came next. The range of time served was 5 to 10 years for each charge. The judge said 10 years for each guilty charge to run concurrently, with 5 years in the state penitentiary and 5 on probation plus a monetary fine.
I did not sit through the trial and only know what I read in the paper and what others said who did attend. A child died. That's what the judge kept coming back to in his sentencing remarks. Everyone agreed that it was a tragedy. The jury said it wasn't murder. But for this bad decision made under duress, this dad lost his son, lost 5 years of his life, and even lost his wife.
It's easy to armchair quarterback and say what you'd have done. The thing I can't get past is I wouldn't have left a child. I just wouldn't.
What about you?
thanks to The Darien News story of Oct. 11, 2012 for the quoted material
On the Nickel, now on Kindle