Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Forgiveness and grief

I can’t stop thinking about the Tony Haynes case.

No matter how you feel about the sentence, you have to admire the way little Tony’s family forgives.

I’ve been covering courts for The News-Herald for more than five years, and never have I seen anything like what I saw yesterday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

Michelle Lindsey, a 43-year-old Euclid woman with two prior drunk driving convictions, was being sentenced for driving drunk a third time and killing 8-year-old Tony Haynes.

Tony had been riding his Huffy bicycle in Cleveland the night of June 27 when he was struck by Lindsey’s car.

He died in front of his 9-year-old cousin.

Lindsey, who previously admitted she caused Tony’s death, faced up to 16 years in prison.

But Judge Daniel Gaul ended up giving her just three years behind bars after the victim’s family members repeatedly told Lindsey she was forgiven.

Tony’s uncle, Jerry Daniels, told Lindsey a part of him died when the boy was buried.
Yet Daniels said the maximum sentence would not help his family’s pain.

“I know you didn’t do it on purpose,” Daniels told Lindsey. “God bless you and good luck in the future.”

He said he is a recovering addict himself and understands the disease of alcoholism.

“Sentencing her to 16 years?” Daniels remarked after the sentencing. “What good is that gonna do?”

Lindsey repeatedly apologized to Tony’s mother, grandmother and Daniels while noting that “Sorry means nothing in this situation.”

Tony’s grandmother then comforted the woman who is responsible for Tony’s death.

“It’s OK, Michelle, it’s OK, Michelle, Lillian Daniels reassured Lindsey.

Gaul did not say whether the family’s understanding comments led him to hand out the relatively light sentence.

But he did say that their extent of forgiveness for a woman they don’t even know was rare.

“Most of the time people tell me to give (the defendant) three life sentences or execute them,” Gaul noted. “I’m very impressed with the victim’s family. They can forgive. But we can’t forget.”

After the hearing was over and Lindsey was led off in handcuffs, the judge showed his human side by inviting the cousin who continues to suffer nightmares after witnessing the horrific death of Tony to come talk to him in his chambers.

At that point, I had to fight back sobs as the angelic-looking boy with tears streaming down his face looked shocked that someone of the judge’s caliber was taking the time to treat him with such respect.

As far as the controversial prison sentence goes, Grace, one of the commenters on our web version of the story, put it much better than I can:

“I am amazed at the grace and forgiveness that was shown to the driver by the victim’s family,” Grace wrote. “...One more year in prison isn’t going to bring their beloved little boy back while the driver’s family will suffer her loss as long as she is locked up. Hate does not serve anyone well — especially those who grieve.
“The family’s example of forgiveness is an example worth following. I hope to God I never have to emulate it.”

--Tracey Read


Blogger Chrissy said...

Tracey - I can't believe this either! Wow... and the family able to forgive...It reminds me of a book I read by Kent Whitaker, called Murder by Family. He forgave his son, whom killed his other son and wife, he then got money for this, and donated it all. He is a real inspiration to me. Forgiveness is necessary if we want to heal ourselves. Kent is becoming more and more well known as I found out about him on Oprah, and found his website.

March 11, 2009 at 10:06 PM 

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