One year ago today SOB was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 26 years for the brutal murder of my Son.
There he was right next to me, the man who took my child’s life. This was the first day of the trial which should have been three weeks. However, the trial lasted five weeks as the judge, the legal team or the jurors at one point or another could not always be present on a particular day. The delays were extremely traumatic which further added to the immense pressure which was building up inside of Brooke and I. It was especially hard for us to hear the judge discuss the importance of other trails which he had given precedence to over ours, he made it clear on more than one occasion how he felt he was needed elsewhere due to the level of importance or size of the case. This I feel is wholly unacceptable by any stretch of the imagination, and which needs serious revision. Victims lives are at stake and they should be the driving factor of importance not the judges professional career or the cases they reside over.
Watching the jury being sworn in was remarkably hard, I remember looking at each and every one of their faces along with their body language, praying they wanted to be there to see justice being carried out and not disinterested because this interruption was an inconvenience to their work schedule. So many people I know who have been called up for jury service are disinterested and worried how their bosses might view their absence from work, I was praying this was not the case for any of our jurors. I was also too scared to look at them for any length of time for fear of being accused by the defence, of trying to seek sympathy or sway them should I forget my place and silently cry. To avoid this I asked if Brooke and I could sit outside of their vision. This however meant we had to sit alongside SOB who was now no more than ten feet away in a secured dock with two bored and disinterested prison officers next to him. It was always very strange to see them smile at SOB like he was their friend or passing seeats to one another while avoiding eye contact with us. Imagine not being able to be yourself or react to information you have just heard for the first time about your loved one and the investigation. Coupled with listening to lie after lie about them for fear of being accused by the defence or the Judge as swaying the jury while sitting near your child’s murderer.
The opening case from SOBs defence barrister was as expected, farcical leaving nothing more than a bad taste in my mouth. He cited Josh’s body language as the cause of SOBs motivation, that SOB had seen what he thought was a sharp object in Josh’s hand and how he felt threatened. Our barrister failed to mention Josh was a body builder which meant his muscles brought his shoulders and arms out. His barrister went further on to physically mimic Josh’s stance and started to pull his own arms out and walk like something off a gangster film, highly outrageous and leaving many in the court room frustrated. I watched the defence barrister with contempt every time he spoke, as I knew without any shadow of a doubt, he knew his client was guilty. After all it was there for everyone to see as plain as day on the CCTV, SOB approaching Josh and attacking him with his stanley knife with no hesitation after having prior to this been watching him from his seat while accompanied by a group of associates. For the record and what was not read out in court and which was a witness account although who was too scared to come to court said, SOB approached Josh and said ‘what is your problem’? to which Josh who looked baffled said ‘I don’t have a problem’. Without another word Josh clasped his throat as he started his fight to stay alive while suffocating on his own blood. There is so much more the defence lawyer said that was shocking, vile, suggestive, disgusting and abhorrent. How he was not overruled or stopped at any point was and is still beyond me.
Throughout the trial the jury were taken through the package/bundle of what happened while we waited patiently for ours however, we were never given the one they had. I was mindful not to make a noise or move about as we had been told many times leading up to the trial that we should be as invisible and as still as possible by the many victims who had been asked to leave their loved ones trial because they cried. We also realised very quickly we were nothing more than an inconvenience in the court room but we were not going to leave, not for a second. I found passing small bits of paper to our Victim Support Case Officer and our FLO helped us to ask questions without drawing attention from the judge or the defence. Brooke and I felt like we were nothing more than bystanders to what fell short of what we believed to be the best Criminal Justice System in the world. Incorrect information, decisions made by the police to not include information they felt might have gone the other way along with the CPS who did the same leaving us wondering why, confused and deeply frustrated.
The CCTV had to be played second by second and frame by frame, however no one was shown what happened after he attacked Josh. They were spared the blood that seeped through Josh’s sweatshirt, the way Josh struggled to stay alive, those who came to his aid or the look on the faces of everyone who witnessed the fallout of SOBs actions as he calmly walked out of the bar. Neither was Josh’s injury shown to the jury so they never got to see the damage inflicted on his helpless and innocent body. The reason for this is to avoid and reduce trauma to the jury, instead they are shown a simple drawing which plays down the injury. Had they seen the actual damage they would have seen that the attack was premeditated with clear intention due to its severity. Thankfully the pathologist explained the severity and samage in detail, and who were felt was steadfast.
The defence lawyer stated that SOB merely wanted scare Josh and waved the stanley knife to scare him and not intend to make contact. If this were true the 37cm injury would not have resulted in severing Josh’s earlobe, cutting threw his throat and slashing him with such impact it would finally lift off Josh’s chest muscles. What is recorded in Josh’s autopsy is etched in my mind.
In this country we spare the jury the discomfort of seeing the fatal injury while allowing the defence to use terminology such as waved instead of a what it actually was, a huge blow with weight and force behind it that was clearly premeditated and not self defence as was put forward. This intent was further shown when one of SOB acquaintances was seen pulling him back as he approached Josh. An innocent 21 year old with no criminal record was faced with, unbeknown to him a 28 year old known criminal with 17 previous convictions two of which were for knife offences. Our criminal justice system had already failed Josh before SOB had even laid eyes on him.
We sat through every word during the trail and as we watched SOB take the stand I looked at his small hands and thought your right hand took my Son’s life, it was and continues to be a surreal experience which still haunts me today. Watching him he never once showed any remorse he just blamed Josh and stuck to a tight script laid out conveniently by his barrister. If you had no intention and regretted what you had done would you go on the run for three and a half years, and then blame the victim for your actions, I think not.
As the weeks went by I continued to record my emotions, and my experience of the trail so that I could add them to the daily written recordings of my experience of the criminal justice system throughout the previous four years. I recorded everything from entering the court our interaction with the police, the CPS, our barrister and junior barrister, along with victim support services and our case officer who was invaluable to us and our experience of the press. The reception we were given by everyone and the way in which we were treated, along with the laid out processes and protocols.
When the jury returned a guilty of murder verdict we were relieved however we were again on tender hooks as we waited after we our statements for the sentencing. Our relief was curtailed by the sentence given that of life to serve a minimum of 26 years. We were devastated and as you might know from my blog about the Unduly Lenient Scheme I was not encouraged or told how to appeal which we would have done immediately. I thought back to the 16th century when the victim would seek justice in the courts and who would also deliver a punishment they felt was equal to the harm caused to them by the offender. I thought if this could have been me today I would look at SOB straight in the eyes and say you are sentenced to life in prison until the day you die and will hear from the families of murder victims for the rest of your life too.
Leaving court after sentencing was numbing, I really wanted to share my truth with the press that day but I knew it would not be recorded in the same way in which I would have delivered it. Unfortunately the police have a lot of say with what is orinted in the press. It would not have had the impact that I would have wanted it to, one which would have encouraged change and highlighted the failings which we experienced. Instead I gave a very simple statement knowing my diary will be written, printed and shared with the public when the time is right, when we find ourselves at a tipping point and in the hope my experience will help empower victims to navigate the criminal justice system and fight for their rights with confidence.
#victimfocused #courttrials #oneyeartoday #justiceforjoshhanson #nevergiveup