final chapter–thank you travis alexander

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I got up Monday morning like any other day and like no other day. I felt the same apprehension I felt the day I headed to downtown Phoenix that first day I attended the Jodi Arias trial in early January 2013. Nervous, not knowing what I was going to face, but confident I needed to go.

I gathered my things together including a stack of letters I’d prepared to give all of Travis Alexander’s siblings, his Aunt and some friends. Just as every day I attended of the first trial, I was not going to walk in there empty handed. I thought long and hard about how I wanted to bring this to closure. The first day I sat with the family, after being invited by their victim advocate, I carried a letter offering my support specifically around victim impact statements. It was one tangible thing I knew I could help them with having written and delivered my own and having some basic skills in the writing department.

Mine was published here.

One of Travis’ siblings had reached out to me with questions about writing their statement so I knew, more than anything, that I needed to be there to support them being delivered. I had read an article online for the second time that I found very clear and descriptive about grief and I know some things about this moment they are facing so I decided to share it with each and every one. You can read it yourself here:

5 Lies You Were Told about Grief

I also wrote a letter sharing what was in my heart and off I went with my blue sweater, my angel pin Tanisha had given me, the blue ribbon still on display in my cabinet and my elephant ring. I also carried the natural trepidation of walking in to a situation where you don’t know what kind of mine fields you might run in to.

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I had decided last year to not attend the second retrial although I’d been there almost every day for the first go round. It was for entirely personal reasons that I don’t feel the need to get in to. I still supported the family in my own way from afar and feel good about my decision and role.

Things were also catapulting in my own life which, on reflection,  came as a direct result from all of the events and miracles that happened because I decided to step in that first day.

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I posted ardently on the Websleuths forum each day I came home from trial. Some days that was at midnight as a typical day looked like — go to work in the morning–rush to the courthouse after eating lunch in my car–attend afternoon session–go to the hotel nearby for a wind down after court–go visit my brother in the hospital (he was hospitalized twice during those months)–run by his house to check his cat–finally get home late at night and do my “reporting”.

I know many of you out there reading me right now know me from that time. We were all on that roller coaster together. I couldn’t have done it if not for the support from the web out there holding me up. I don’t regret any of it.

After the trial was over, I got a mysterious message on Websleuths from an editor that simply said “you should pursue writing”. I asked her what I should do and she pointed me toward WordPress and some other suggestions and support so here I am. Through this endeavor, I decided to also pursue writing my memoir. I took a sabbatical and wrote 30 chapters last Fall and am still working on it. I hope to have it completed this year.

I’m working on it here on my other blog Middle Child.

I had been thinking of this for years but I finally realized I had a story to tell so that set me on course–one of healing through tragedy but you still have to tell the tragedy story. That’s also the one I’d been avoiding. I can deal with it now. I also had to live the healing.

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Through the writing journey I was invited to join a private online writing group. And that’s where I met the love of my life. We are getting married in less than 3 weeks. I credit all of this newness and evolving to having the courage to walk in to that courtroom the first day and go on the journey it took me. We never know where our pivots lie.

I drove down Monday to the same parking lot I’d used for months. As I walked out, nervous, I passed Jodi Arias’ mother pulling in. Talk about timing. I doubt she recognized me but I recognized her.

As I walked in the building, Jennifer Wilmott held the door open for me. She is Jodi Arias’ attorney. It was all quite surreal.

I had not attended the several months of the last go round nor had I really arranged attending Monday–I basically just showed up. I went up the same elevator I’d ridden in with Juan Martinez one day and introduced myself. Once I landed on the 5th floor I saw many familiar faces–Travis’ friends Chris and Sky Hughes, reporter Beth Karas, 3 jurors who had served on the first trial. It was great, and poignant seeing these faces.

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Shortly we were taken in to the victim ante room adjacent the courtroom. I ended up viewing the proceedings from that room along side the 3 jurors and one of Travis’ friends Pam who I’d met many times in court the first go round.

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The victim room has it’s own bathroom, table in the middle and large viewing flat screen on the wall with chairs lined all around the room. Travis’ family was milling through going to the bathroom and understandably nervously walking around.  This was a big day for them. I got some hugs (including from Juan Martinez) and met some new people. One of whom, Tanisha’s friend, was there with her little baby, likely around 6 mths old. She had a seat in the courtroom so we offered to watch her baby while the hearing took place.

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He was such a good little baby, only crying once as the family delivered their statements and we all watched, standing, in the victim room. We were lucky in that our view was from a camera behind the Judge’s head facing to the back. This meant we had a rare view of the faces of all those speaking. I found out later this was not the view that was publicly televised. I’m glad that Pam and I just intuitively snapped some photos of the screen because they ended up being valuable later to those who didn’t see that view. It all felt very surreal, knowing this was the day this entire thing ends, for the most part. It ends primarily because Arias did NOT receive the death penalty.

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On a break, the baby’s mom came in and put him in a little kangaroo type pouch on her body. He fell quickly asleep. She decided to go ahead in to the courtroom for the last leg of the hearing with him just like that–asleep in the pouch. Once Jodi Arias got up to speak her unimaginably cruel words, that little innocent baby started to cry. Imagine that. A baby getting disturbed from slumber by that evil spew. As the Mama rushed up to run back to our victim room (which we could see on our monitor and quickly dashed to open the locked door), everyone saw Jodi Arias flash her head back in annoyance that direction.

 

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The baby quickly settled down so we encouraged his Mom to go back in and we’d take it from there with him. By that time the 3 jurors had been led to seats in the jury box (which was great) so it was just Pam and I back there then. The baby naturally crawled to me so I was playing with him a lot using my flouncy skirt as a little tent for him. Later someone pointed out the sticky sweet rice cracker dangling from one of the ruffles of my skirt.

I picked up the baby at one point and as the Judge delivered that Life WITHOUT parole sentence to this monster, I stood there inches from that screen holding that precious innocent spark of life in my arms. I had written on Facebook that morning as I left “doors opening, doors closing”. I could almost hear that steel door slam shut behind Arias as I held close to my breast this beautiful symbol of “life goes on”.

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I became consumed with this entire body feeling of the Circle of Life as I also contemplated in that moment that I’m on the verge of becoming a stepmommy to a 3 year old. My life is most definitely going on and emerging in to new birth in so many directions. I’d been kind of stuck in a standstill for many years, alone, when I showed up that first day at the trial.

Now, my life has become a trampoline of love and growth and healing. I credit this all to that one decision–to take the risk and show up that one day.

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After it was over we all gathered in the victim room. There were hugs and tears as you can imagine. Of course I handed the baby back to his Mama and had to show her the stuck rice cracker dangling like a Christmas ornament on the tree limb of my skirt layer and we laughed. I thanked her for the beautiful opportunity to hold her baby in that moment.

The family chose to not deal with the media gathered in the front of the courthouse so were escorted out a back door. I walked out with the 3 jurors, right out the front. The media was swarmed around Jennifer Wilmott giving her ridiculous interview still claiming her lying sociopathic client was some kind of abuse victim. Blah blah blah.

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I turned to walk to my car and saw a familiar person standing all alone. I walked to her and put my arms around her and she was shaking all over. It was Detective Flores wife Corinna who I’ve had lots of contact with over all of this. In fact we were setting up a lunch date just days before. She’d lost her son very recently in a terrible accident so I was surprised she even had the strength to show up for this. She is very tiny and was consumed with emotion so I suggested we go sit down on a bench and talk. I was glad to have run in to her in that moment and connect.

Her mother and sister showed up carrying bouquets of blue and purple balloons (purple for her son Tony, blue of course for Travis). Her mother handed me a blue balloon which was so sweet.

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Corinna and I sat for quite a while and talked and just sat in silence. She moved over so close to me at one point it felt like she was going to sit in my lap, it was that kind of need for closeness. I felt like I wanted to pull her on to my lap and hold her. Once she was surrounded by more of her family, I walked with my balloon to say goodbye to some folks I saw in the distance–Chris and Sky, Beth Karas, etc. Kathy Brown, aka “Cane Lady” asked for a picture with me and the man Paul Sanders known as “The 13th Juror” who did a lot of great writing at the trial this time. It was great to meet him.

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I finished up there and decided it was time to go. As I turned the corner of the courthouse on to an empty street, alone with my blue balloon, the words sprung in my head “you walked in here alone and you’re walking out alone”. I felt such an overwhelming feeling of completion and confidence in this journey. It’s hard to describe feelings but this was like walking on air and firmly on the ground at the same time. A smile washed over my healing face. I did well I thought. I’m proud of myself.

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I reached my car and texted Katie Wick who I’d met that very first day I attended the trial. It was her first day too. We became fast friends. She’s now attending law school right near the courthouse so on a whim  thought she could meet for lunch as I had the time. She didn’t answer so I texted her, sat awhile and called my fiance who so sweetly had left me a message early saying “call me if you need to talk when this is over”. One of the benefits of being with a Psychologist. He’s so supportive.

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As we were chatting Katie texted back saying that she had a break between classes in 15 min. I turned the car around, parked and went to one of our usual lunch spots, ordered two salads, got a small can of Sofia champagne and rose lemonade to make a, I must say, delicious little mimosa.  By the time she got there after her class I had the lunch all ready for us.

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It was SO GREAT to see her. We had really bonded through some tough times and it just didn’t feel right leaving that last day without connecting with her. It just worked out perfectly.

Over our chopped salads we reflected on this journey–how we met, how she ended up nightly on the Dr. Drew Show (once with me), how we really immersed ourselves in the trial to the detriment of our lives, how we were affected by it all, how our friendship thrived and mostly how our lives have greatly changed for the better.  She in Law School, me getting married. Both of us meeting huge dreams we had given up on before that trial.

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It was a remarkable conversation and I’m so glad she could meet me.

I’d written a letter to all the Alexanders in my little packet I gave them with the grieving article. In it I included some of the causes I’d been championing behind the scenes–the main one being the issue of murder victims being able to be trashed and murdered again in the courtroom by their killer’s lies and stories made up for their defense. I feel very strongly about this issue and how us taxpayers ARE FUNDING THIS.  This trashing of the victim was NOT allowed when we went to trial in 1990–I remember the defense dipping their toe in direction and objections sustained.  The entire Arias defense was architectured around trashing Travis–all unfounded lies from the mind of a vicious butcher who killed him defenseless in his own shower, nude. This needs to end. This just simply needs to stop! It’s beyond the beyond.

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Lo and behold Katie shares with me she wrote Tanisha the night before also sharing how this trial –and their brother–influenced her for the good and get this. She is doing her Law School thesis on that very topic–victim trashing in the courtroom with Travis’s case being her case study.  Imagine that. She hopes to influence change through this and feels so strongly about it, she’s devoting her final paper to it.

Katie and I had not talked about championing this issue much less writing the family about it. I love that kind of serendipity and connection.

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I devote my life to following these breadcrumbs so when I see their fruition like that, it just warms my heart and convinces me I’m on the right path. There is no better feeling than that, let me tell you.

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I’m glad it’s over. I also know a new chapter of grief opens up for Travis’ loved ones. I was terrified when our trials finally ended. I had devoted my entire life to that fight for 2  years (much less than them) and all I had left was a gaping hole in front of me. It’s not an easy transition. When people say to them “aren’t you so relieved it’s over?” expecting pure happiness, it’s a challenge. Many will crash now. This awareness is very important for me to educate on. There will be days they will wish it was still going on to focus on. Staring at an abyss is not an easy halt.

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I’ve let them know I’m here and understand. All of our lives are going on now.

I will always think of Travis Alexander as a major influence in my life–his life will mean more than his death. Yet this trial pulled me deep in myself to find my way back to clear air again. That kind of healing opportunity is one you don’t get every day and I will be forever grateful.

Rest in Peace dear Travis. Hopefully you know my sister somewhere out there and you guys are having a ball. I know I am going forward living the life you both would be proud of.

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On a final afterthought, I woke up Monday morning to an email from the jewelry designer in the UK telling me our wedding rings were ready for sending off and when I got home that afternoon, my custom made wedding dress was waiting for me on my doorstep.

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Doors closing/doors opening, indeed.

injustice

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One errant juror hung the Jodi Arias trial in the second sentencing trial today.  Apparently she, like the foreperson in the first trial, refused to deliberate with her fellow jurors and came in to “deliberations” with a decided mind.

This sentencing phase was presented with one theme:  blame the victim.  Hoping that they get just one juror to believe that the victim, Travis Alexander, deserved to be slaughtered.  This holdout chose to believe the lies presented by the defense team for her own personal reasons, clearly based on her own history.  How she even ended up on that jury is a mystery to most of us watching.  How she was allowed to remain, although reported for refusing to deliberate by her fellow jurors is more unsettling.

I applaud the 11 who saw this case clearly and I will be writing an open letter to them tomorrow.  To the errant outlaw who wasted everyone’s time and our taxpayer money with her stubborn weakness, I have some words as well.

But I need to sleep on it.

Justice sometimes comes in forms we don’t expect.

Healing is always possible.

My thoughts and heart to Travis’ family and loved ones tonight after a very very long road.

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perspective

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Greetings from beautiful Sedona!  It’s so incredible waking up here with long expanses of days ahead of me, cool breezes and quiet.  I never for one minute forget how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to be here like this.

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Today my big goals are:  go for a hike by Cathedral rock, make homemade sauce with the ingredients I brought up with me, finish installing the surround sound stereo I brought up, finish the laundry I’ve started and continue tweaking the story I’m entering in a writing contest.  It has to be submitted by next Saturday so I hope to have it finished today.  The problem is I write so fast and furious and pay no nevermind usually to punctuation and other writerly imperatives that I’m not sure how to polish it up.  I may need to find an editor–if anyone out there is game to take a look at my completed story, please write to me!

Thank you!

I’ve also been popping in at Websleuths occasionally lately to see what people are saying about the Arias case which, of no surprise to me, has been delayed again.  I think it will be lucky to start anytime this year.  And when I say start, I mean get it over with.  Although I surely know the ambivalence that goes with a trial like this finally being over (of course with the Death penalty that never really happens should she receive that sentence).  That’s when the real hard part starts:  when the trial ends.  That’s when the family will need the most support and get the least.  I’m very aware of that cliff for the Alexanders and where my role may be most important for them.

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I wrote something about the legal system and how far it’s gone in protecting/supporting our worst of the worst now and the heinous way it’s turned toward villifying true victims.  I remember when I was testifying and one of Cindy’s killers attorneys tried to insinuate some preposterous theory about her being involved in a drug cartel or some such nonsense.  Or maybe it’s the way they tried to describe her as a slut therefore deserving to be viciously slaughtered in the desert for money.  It was very very subtle in comparison to what we’ve seen with Travis Alexander’s reputation also slaughtered in the courtroom, but it was enough.  Enough for me to flash a look at that defense attorney like “oh you will not even go there with me” and he backed off.  I think just the question itself disgusted the jury.  But times were different then.  Now it’s become commonplace to attack the reputation of victims in court fabricated out of thin air by the mind of a sociopath.  Entire defenses are spun on these about face assaults to the innocent. “Experts” participate in these lies and are well paid.  And we, as a society, seem to think this is ok.

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Anyway, I’ll just copy and paste what I wrote on Websleuths this morning so I can be done with this line of thinking and get in to something that would actually match the memories that are true of my sister and Travis (as I understand him to have been)–like cooking,hiking, writing a funny story.

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Sometimes you also just have to tell the truth about things and put it out there, so here it is:

I think this illustrates what is so incredibly beyond frustrating and maddening about how our justice system has (d)evolved when it comes to murderers like Arias. The system promotes them continuing to abuse and debase their victims in public, falsifying completely fictional stories that villify their victims out of thin air while staining their memory to anyone who even hears it even if they don’t believe it. This has been accepted as a completely commonplace line of defense now with no one setting boundaries on it’s preposterousness.

“Expert” witnesses come out of the woodwork to support these fictional stories and testify to their “veracity” although their only source is the killer themself. Entire tales are spun creating the completely innocent victim as an unrecognizable character in their own life. Meetings are held to strategize how to spin the Truth in to something that turns the entire sordid event on it’s ear pointing to the vicious killer as “victim”. Intelligent, highly paid, educated professionals conspire in this dark dance.

And the legal system supports and condones it. All the way up to the day the vicious killer likely dies in prison of natural causes as these fights continue for decades selling fiction as fact, tarnishing someone’s innocent child/sibling/friend/parent who never had a chance to fully live their life; all in the name of winning.

Or in some cases, such as Alyce La Violette, in the name of money. Thank God the scales of Karma didn’t support her in that endeavor. But she has taken her tale of victimhood, erasing the man who’s breath was taken in his own home, on to herself now. In the name of murderer Jodi Arias.

It’s a level of insanity I feel sure our forefathers never anticipated. I don’t think they knew this level of sophisticated evil back in those simpler times either. Nature or nurture we have a new breed of venom that walks the Earth now. And we protect them like precious jewels.

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katie wick

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this photo was taken the guilty verdict was read in the Travis Alexander trial, surprising we have any eye makeup left at all

The first day I showed up to the Arias trial for the murder of Travis Alexander, I just came after working all morning, after lunch, out of curiosity to check out the lay of the land (courtroom).

I had been waiting for this trial for around four years.  After the first time I’d heard of this terrible crime and terrible loss in my community and terrible sociopath who committed it.  I kept contacting my journalist friends telling them they needed to cover it.  I’d say “there’s this female sociopath at the Estrella jail who’s talking to media, you should get down there!”.  None of them bit.  I just had a gut feeling on this trial but also had my own, unconscious motivations that I learned much later.  I outlined them here, the similarities between this case and our own.  Between Travis and Cindy.

I drove downtown to the courthouse that day, parked in the expensive lot, wound my way through the buildings to finally find the courtroom on level 5.  Lunch break was still on and the public area was somewhat chaotic.  An informal line was growing and yet I saw this tall blond standing outside the line area, alone, just looking around as well.

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(I think I smell flatbread–private joke 😉 )

My initial impression of this beautiful young woman was that perhaps she was a witness waiting to be called in as she wasn’t really joining the public fray.  I also decided, in my head, that she had to be Mormon and involved with this case.  That conclusion was entirely superficial as I think some of the most beautiful women on the planet have landed in that religion and they always seem so well put together fashion wise, etc. that I just assumed she was a Mormon, part of the trial and was waiting to be called to testify.

But I was wrong on all fronts.   What I had no way of knowing was that this beauty would wind up becoming one of my very good friends one day.  Life has a funny way of surprising you sometimes doesn’t it?

Due to some nitwit cutting in front of me in line that day, who I guess I now have to thank, I ended up being the very first person to be excluded from the afternoon session so went and sat on one of the chairs in the hall.  I do think I approached Katie first and we sat together and began talking.  She’d already been there in the morning but didn’t realize the chaotic line up procedure for the afternoon session so also missed out on getting a seat.  We began talking about what was going on in the trial while swatting off one of, who I later referred to as the “Nut Factory’s” regular residents.  Lots of people with lots of motivations show up at trials.  I’m not saying I’m not one of them but trial watchers can be a, say, colorful group.  This woman in animal print leggings and wild hair kept cutting in to our conversation sharing texts about her much younger boyfriend and things I know I wasn’t the least interested in, as Katie and I tried to discuss the case and what drew us to it.

Katie was much nicer to this woman than I was but that’s not surprising.  Katie is nice to everyone.

I found out that Katie’s big dream was “to become a criminal prosecutor” yet she felt it had already passed her by.  She was interested in justice, law and order and had come downtown for a job interview at another State organization so thought she’d stop by this trial.  I found her very easy to talk to and unusually approachable for someone who, I”ll just say it, looks like this.

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  There I go with my superficiality slip showing again.

I document in detail what happened the day Katie and I met here in this post so I won’t reinvent that wheel but it was nice reminiscing about it all last night, at the end of this tumultuous life changing year, together.

Katie and I were the very first “Dr. Drew’s Jury” the following week.  Our other new friend, the darling Bill Hinkle, approached us as we sat in that hallway about being on the show.  We were laughing last night about how I leaned back, flashed him one of those wide eyed “oh, you’ve landed in a gold mine” faces and said , pointing at Katie “this is your girl right here”.  I wasn’t interested in doing the show but I did intend on going back to the trial the following week.  He called me over that weekend.  How ironic now that I’m remembering, Bill called me just as Alfonse and I were leaving the house, our now house, in Sedona after walking through it with the realtor for the first time.  It’s interesting when major moments collide sometimes.

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Katie with our darling Bill Hinkle

I agreed to do the show as I felt I had something to say and right now I don’t remember what it was.  But I was terrified and uncomfortable as you can see in this lovely photo.  HA!  And what was up with all that big hair anyway?  Did I think we were broadcasting from Texas?  Oh brother.

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Katie and my destinies were solidified on that day.  We started out together and we will be in each other’s lives for the duration.

Here is a link to that clip which I can’t even bring myself to watch right now.  My stomach is in knots just looking at the small photo. 😉

http://www.hlntv.com/video/2013/02/04/arias-courtroom-spectator-im-fearful-jury-buying-it

Needless to say I learned I’m not really cut out for, nor interested in a life in front of a camera, but Katie is exactly the opposite.  She ended up getting a regular gig on Dr. Drew’s Jury, every night it aired during the trial for months and months.

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What most don’t know though is what it took for Katie to follow through on that commitment.  She would get up in the dark, every day, for days and weeks and months and head over in the wee hours to line up in the hall in the public section.  The hours kept getting earlier as more and more people caravanned to the courthouse for the trial.  And there was Katie, faithfully lining up with everyone else, every day.  She never got any special favors.

She wouldn’t be able to leave for lunch as she had to secure her spot so would sit in the hallway, in the Nut Factory, for hours between sessions then hopefully get an afternoon seat.  Then she would usually go to Happy Hour with the rest of us decompressing from the day as she waited for the taping of the Dr. Drew Show in a van on the street outside the courthouse.  Then drive home, usually after 9pm and wash , rinse repeat the next day.

(here we are again, this time I agreed to go as I had something to say!)

And she was always steadfast in her opinions on the side of the prosecution.  Unapologetically so.  She was there to see justice for Travis and his family and would give her opinions but never waiver in her position.  I knew this for a fact.

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Katie endured, eventually, a barrage attacks about her motives for being on TV, that she was using the trial just to get discovered, even a twitter acct called “Katie Wick’s Teeth” sprung up to lampoon her (her teeth are exceptionally straight, and white ;)) . And she took it all in stride, keeping her eye on the ball.  I would have crumbled from the weight of all that but she just kept getting up every morning and showing up at the trial, lining up like a trooper.

I remember telling her “So what if you get discovered and get a career out of this?  Do not apologize for that!  Great things come from tragedy and if that happens for you, then this is a beautiful thing!”.   But I always knew where her heart is.  Justice.  Travis. His family.

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And right now I’m thumbing my nose at those naysayers and backstabbers telling you that Katie Wick has decided to pursue that dream she thought she’d lost her chance at and she’s starting law school in 2014.  With the focused goal of becoming a criminal prosecutor.  And I have no doubt that’s exactly where she will land.  She will take this God given voice and use it for justice, just like she has always felt the need to do.  And she will pay her dues to get there.

Katie is a young woman with a solid backbone.  And she uses it.

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She wielded that backbone for me a couple of weeks ago, taking a perhaps “not with the crowd” position with me on an unfortunate incident where I was getting, well, um, severely disappointed by a group of other people who let me down then blamed me for it (yeah one of those) and she took a strong stance in support of me.  She was the only person in this group, despite my many attempts to communicate with multiple people, who contacted me directly.  She phoned me up just as the dominoes started falling in this bizarre sequence and shared that she understood completely where I was coming from and she had my back.  She was the only person who stood up for me or even talked to me during a bizarre several days where I basically got my heart broken and humiliated all in one fell swoop.  She was the only one in this entire group who seemed to understand that I actually had a valid set of ideas relating to this incident.  Validation is a great feeling, particularly when you’re being bulleted by words about how wrong you are.  Don’t we all just sometimes want to be heard?  Understood?

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It was Katie who kept showing up on my phone, the day after this debacle occurred with messages like “you did nothing wrong” and “how are you doing today?”  and “that was not right, none of it”.  She even threw in there “My Mom even thinks you did nothing wrong!”.  haha bringing Mama in to the equation was some serious artillery to deal with the bunker I’d backed in to.  😉

She was the one person who reached out to me in an entire group of others with absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose (you know, group dynamics) and yet she held her position firmly.  “I don’t think you did anything wrong and I’m here for you”.  And she proved it.  For days.  Unsolicited, she just reached out to me in friendship.  That really gets a person’s attention.

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These are the kinds of brave acts I know Katie for.  She takes a stand and commits to it.  And she really doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.  I wish I had more of that in myself now at age 54 that she does at age 27.

What’s funny and one of many things we talked about last night at our end of the year Christmas get together, was that our paths would likely never have crossed any other way but through this trial.  We are very different in a myriad of ways and I’m old enough to be her mother yet we forged this strong bond that day in that hallway.  One that has never wavered not for a second.

It was so nice to have a leisurely evening with Katie last night, look in each others’ eyes, reflect on all we’ve been through in the last year together and separately and wind that down together.  I was so appreciative for that time with her.

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After we parted last night I received a series of texts from Katie expressing her feelings toward me and her love for me and respect.  She has said to me so many times “you are the strongest woman I know Kathy” and she said it again last night.   Then again later right before I went to sleep through a text.  She adores me and I adore her right back.

How beautiful it is when you don’t feel strong, someone still sees you through those eyes?  How lucky is a person to have someone like that in their sphere?

I am so fortunate to have crossed paths with Katie that day in that terrible hallway.

Katie, I love you dearly, am honored to be your friend, grateful for your being mine and I’m here cheering for you now and forever.

May your light always shine brightly!

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Happy Thursday!

I’m back after two days of utter exhaustion and a degree of depression/full on crankiness.  Pretty sure I got spun in to that state by all the head banging I did for hours on Tuesday followed by another session yesterday dealing with the mental health system for John.  I don’t want to keep going on and on but I do want to document our struggles because I intend to take it to a higher level and just want to have a chronology to rely back on.  I also know that they are reading here, at least some of them, and I hope they do (not that I think most of them care but it just feels good to know someone’s getting called out and knows it sometimes).

First of all, John is doing well right now.  Fingers crossed this continues through the holiday as we will be all together in Sedona for a significant period of time.

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I don’t know about the rest of you but something that just gets under my skin are issues around injustice.  Particularly injustice toward those who can’t defend themselves (the infirm, animals etc).  It makes me absolutely nuts.  I tend to gravitate toward using my helping in the world time around these themes.  I won’t dwell on the recent issues with Alfonse but just to say, we have a young new attorney helping out in our attorney’s office who worked in the mental health system here for years before going to law school.  So he knows the AZ system inside and out.  He spent a lot of time on the phone with me this week and I can’t forget this exchange.  I said to him “I feel sometimes like I’m getting paranoid myself thinking these people are now actually trying to sabotage my brother’s mental health status by blocking him from receiving services now–not just not providing the services but actually setting out to block him from receiving any elsewhere”.  This attorney responded (paraphrasing) “you’re not paranoid.  I suspect that’s exactly what’s happening.  I saw it time and time again.  A squeaky wheel calls them out on their incompetence and then they get sort of targeted and punished”. 

Yes, he sure did say that.  Punished.

That just makes me want to bawl.  Again, what has happened to these people?  Did they ever, at any point in their career, care about the population they are hired to help?

It was validating to hear those words and he just said “You’ve been hitting that delicate balance most advocates go through–not calling them out on their not providing what they are there to provide vs. calling them out then getting targeted”.  Either way, it’s just hideous.  I just said “they messed with the wrong family if they think I will sit back and let them neglect or worse yet, harm my brother”.

The problem is we have to keep him engaged in the public system for groups and classes that are with other mentally ill people because that is his peer group.  Completely mainstreaming John is not a smart idea.  We can’t deny he has a major mental illness and needs to be around peers who also relate.  The public system is where these people are.  I have high hopes for this clinic Wellness City where, so far, we’ve been treated with kindness and respect, they have an active community and he will enroll in there asap.  The problem is, the ACT Team removed him from the mental health system entirely, having him sign a form that says not one word about doing that but effectively accomplished that.  This is the kind of thing that I mean about punishment.  He was not clearly informed nor did he understand these ramifications.  He just thought he was removing himself from their cesspool program but lo and behold he closed his entire case through signing that paper they placed in front of him knowing that’s exactly what he would be doing.  Now they don’t have an appt. until Jan. 17 to get him back reenrolled.  It’s just all so damn frustrating and designed to keep people sick and get them sicker I believe.  There are systems, as hard as it is to believe, that are in fact designed to keep participants from getting well–some of them are called Insurance and Pharmaceutical companies but I digress, sort of.   It’s just so hard to wrap my head around but living inside this with him all these months I’m getting the clear picture of the blackness that exists out there.

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And my brother is the sweetest most deserving person you could ever meet.  I’m not, I’m a pitbull when it comes to protecting people I care about and I do have fangs that have a mind of their own sometimes and will arise in these kinds of situations, but not my brother.  He’s like an innocent child.  How do these people sleep at night?  Seriously?

Enough of that, I’m getting myself worked up again.

I fell in to a state of exhaustion the last two days triggered I’m sure from all of that head banging and also just from ….well, Christmas.

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I didn’t even realize this year was the 25th anniversary of Cindy’s death until a producer from the Ricki Lake Show told me as I breathlessly fast-walked down a sidewalk in Central Phoenix heading for the Arias courtroom last Spring.  He indicated it was part of the reason they wanted me on the show–that anniversary. I remember stopping in my tracks, doing the math and saying “you’re right, it’s 25 years”.

Not exactly something you want to call a  milestone but I guess it is.  I’ve survived 25 years since she was taken that Christmas in 1988.  We all have.  It’s kind of hard to believe.

I’ve said it before and say it again, grief is an unpredictable mistress.  It will let you slide when you most expect her visit then land on your doorstep with all of her suitcases and carryons when you think you’re just breezing along with your life.  She hit me hard this week.  I had a hard time even staying awake yesterday, in fact I took an afternoon nap and would have stayed in bed had I not had plans that evening.

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Like with the trap my brother landed in that has no clear exits, grief can just squeeze you in to itself and hold you there making you it’s own sometimes.  For as long as it wants to until you surrender.

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I tend to jump in to creative projects when I’m down like that as it’s one form of medicine that both distracts me and opens my brain in a new way and then I often end up with something I feel good about on the other end.

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Night before last I made a small tree honoring Travis Alexander and Cindy.  I have written before about the astounding similarities in the two of them–both 30 when they were murdered, both lived in the same city, both murdered by sociopaths who carefully planned and covered it up after conning them, both were killed in nearly identical ways, both left to be found by someone else and on and on….

No wonder I got so sucked in to that trial.

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I’ve gotten to know Travis’ siblings, some quite well.  So I made this little tree to send one of them which seems like something that could decorate a gravesite but it will end up wherever it lands.  It has a lot of personal meaning to me this little tree and it did make me feel a lot better after making it.  It’s sitting on my porch right now waiting to be picked up by the mail carrier.  As is the bag of my sweet spicy nuts I made ten thousand of this Christmas.  They turned out pretty good (burp!).

Last night I was invited to go over to Amy’s and make cookies with her kids.  I was driving over there, exhausted, thinking of how I was going to explain I couldn’t stay long, that we’d make this one batch then I’d have to leave. I was just that flattened, emotionally drained and physically spent.

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When I got there though, being with her girls, with Amy I perked right up and ended up staying for hours.  We exchanged all of our Christmas gifts (I got SO MANY cool things like a cactus garden and Tim Gunn’s memoir..yay!), watched Project Runway, had dinner and of course made our cookies.  It ended up being just what the Dr. ordered as I felt a whole lot better when I got home and this morning didn’t wake up with that terrible feeling of dread I’ve been fighting for a few days.  While trying to perk myself up making plans and doing fun things.  That feeling, when attached to you, is damn stubborn and wants to keep reminding you it’s still there, waiting. Waiting to be acknowledged I guess.

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When I got home last night I ran in to the best article I’ve ever read about grief.  I’m going to share it here.  Here is an excerpt that really spoke to me:

If instead of pretending we are okay, we would take the time to wail, to weep, to scream, to wander the woods day after day holding hands with our sadness, loving it into remission so it doesn’t turn cold inside of us, gripping us intermittently in the icy fingers of depression. That’s not what grief is meant to do.

Grief has a way of showing you just how deep your aliveness goes. It’s a dagger shoved down your throat, its handle bulging like an Adam’s apple protruding from your neck, edges pressed against both lungs, creating a long, slow bleed in your chest that rolls down the edges of your life, and you get to handle that any fucking way you want.

If you have been sitting on old grief from your childhood, your failed relationships, the loss of a family pet when you were nine, and any other losses you were unable to honor in the past, this left-over grief will also come through the broken damn. Let it.

“Grief does not change you… It reveals you.” ~ John Green

And herein lies the gift that cannot die. It changes the course of your life forever. If you allow yourself the chance to feel it for as long as you need to — even if it is for the rest of your life — you will be guided by it. You will become someone it would have been impossible for you to be, and in this way your loved one lives on, in you.

http://www.rebellesociety.com/2013/12/18/5-lies-you-were-told-about-grief/

Read the whole thing. I want to know this woman.  She speaks a language I understand and want to speak more boldly myself.

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I’m just going to leave this post on that note so we can all ponder these thoughts together.

I’m doing ok.  I really am.  I’m looking forward to our Christmas Eve Dickens dinner party we are planning, our pizza Elf movie party this Sat. with four of our Sedona friends at our house and putting up our tree up there this weekend.  When I think about it, I think it’s a pretty damn big miracle I can look forward to anything around the holidays.  Ever.  I still don’t send out Christmas cards anymore.  That ended in 1988 and never kicked in again.

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I am sincerely looking forward to it all this year…and to my heart opening wider to my family and taking the risks that I have to take to get there too.

And I’m grieving, acutely grieving again all at the same time.

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And I’m going to take care of myself in a very deliberate way.  Extreme self care is what I told my hair stylist/friend this week.

That’s the name of the game right now and I’m gonna play it.

Now I gotta run and get to the gym and a mani/pedi.

Hope you are all feeling everything you are feeling right now and that’s the most honest wish I can offer up today.  For me and for you.

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I’m not seriously following the Trayvon Martin trial.  It’s heart breaking and I do have opinions and interest.  I just rarely jump from one intense  case in to the next.  Plus this one is so divisive, I just value my relationships and don’t want to break up with anyone over it.

I did have HLN on in the background this morning as I was doing some chores and a name blasted in to my brain.  Blasted from the past I mean.

Dr. Vincent Di Maio is going to be the main forensic expert for George Zimmerman in this case evidently.  Vincent Di Maio got one of my sister’s killers, Rudi Apelt, convicted.    His testimony is probably the one and only reason there was a two hour deliberation in that death penalty trial, with a resounding GUILTY verdict in Rudi’s trial.

Now I’ve watched quite a few trials in my years following cases now.  Never, in any trial, have I witnessed such a Perry Mason moment as what occurred in Rudi Apelt’s trial.  His trial, our second for Cindy’s murder, was in 1990, before the internet was really hopping.  Before Court TV, before OJ, before cases having the kind of international attention they do now.

But the tale I’m about to tell you, had there been say a Websleuths forum, HLN coverage or a Wild About Trial feed/twitter following it,  would have caused coffee cups to be dropped, bowls of ice cream spilled, martinis toppled, bags of M&M’s imploded, Vegemite sandwiches choked on, laptops sliding off laps as people uncontrollably stood up in shock and cats and dogs scared in living rooms traversing the globe.  It was that kind of shocking, unexpected moment in a courtroom that flipped the whole game with one witness:  Dr. Vincent Di Maio.

The twist here is his testimony is what convicted Rudi Apelt,  yet he was called to the stand by none other than the defense team of Rudi Apelt.

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Let’s go back to the beginning.

I will devote an entire blog post down the road to the stellar Catherine Hughes, our prosecutor in both of our trials, because she deserves it.  But for now, I’ll tell this story that will definitely put her on your radar as someone to know and admire.

By the time Rudi Apelt went to trial for felony murder and conspiracy to commit the murder of my sister Cindy, his brother Michael had already been convicted and sentenced to death.

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Now, Cathy had always told us this one was going to be harder.  He hadn’t married my sister, the financial motive wasn’t as clear, his foot print wasn’t found on her face which was the one major piece of forensic evidence against his brother.  She warned us all along this one wasn’t going to be so easy.

Much like Juan Martinez, Cathy Hughes sat up at that prosecution table alone.  She had no second chair.  Like Martinez, she had her lead investigator most days sitting up there with her.  Esteban Flores in Arias, Mark “Jigsaw” Jones in both our cases.  Both out of the Mesa PD.

When Cathy found out the defense would be calling the preeminent Di Maio, she was concerned.  He’s a big deal.  I mean, look, he’s the main witness for George Zimmerman now, all these years later.  Our case was big locally, and oddly internationally because the killers are German, but not on the national stage.

I always thought the smart defense to go with for Rudi would be that his brother planned the entire thing, asked him to meet him in the desert and he showed up to find his brother had murdered his wife.  So he helped him cover it up.  That’s a far less charge than First Degree Murder.

But that’s not the defense they went with, thankfully.  They went with the “only one person committed this crime and since he’s already been convicted you can’t even be sure our client was ever even there so he’s not guilty”.  Rudi had these two big burly, bullish type, attorneys representing him.  Oddly, I can’t even remember their names now.  But I just always thought the dichotomy of those huge men with their huge egos on one side, and quiet powerhouse Cathy Hughes all alone on the other was just, well in the way it turned out, just rich.

Cathy kept me in the loop for many things during the year plus before the trial, and during the trial.  She didn’t tell me everything I’m sure, but she kept me closely connected in the circle of info.  Kind of amazing now that I think back, as I was just 29 years old.  Very close in age to most of the Alexander siblings during their trial.

Cathy phoned me up one day to tell me something.  She’s kind of stunned about it herself but shares it with me anyway.  She tells me not to get my hopes up, but something big has happened and she has to tell someone.  That someone was me.

At some point, she started getting a bit nervous about Di Maio, so she decided she wanted to know more about what she was up against.  She took a weekend day and drove down to the Tucson Medical School for one purpose alone:  to purchase his textbook.  You see, this expert, literally had written the Handbook on Forensic Pathology.

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On her own, with her own funds and on her own time, our prosecutor went the extra miles to find the key she needed toward conviction in our case.

She returned home that weekend and dove into his textbook, studying his own words, his own philosophies, his own teachings regarding crime scenes and murder victims.  And then she turned the page right into what I will call “Securing a Conviction Using the Other Side’s Expert Witness and Making Him Your Own,” by Catherine Hughes with Vincent Di Maio.

What she landed on, in his own words, was the study of right handed vs. left handed stab wounds.  As she delved into this witnesses learned instruction, what she found was that it was obvious that Cindy’s most fatal wound (sigh), the cut to her throat, the one that Jodi Arias repeated 20 years later, was committed by a right-handed assailant.

And what Cathy knew, having prosecuted both cases is although these two brothers shared genes, murderous greed, and sociopathic tendencies, they did not share dominant hands.

She knew that Michael was left handed and Rudi was right handed.

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She also knew, without a doubt, reading Di Maio’s own textbook, that he would have to agree that it was Rudi who had committed the most fatal injury to Cindy.

And she had to keep it entirely a secret.  It wasn’t new discovery in a legal sense, but it was discovery that either side could have ferreted out.  But, may the best woman win.  Cathy Hughes found a secret treasure buried by their very own witness, just waiting to be dug up.

It wasn’t new evidence, it was simply a new interpretation of the evidence.

She told me the whole story and because she’s such a humble person, she kept saying “there’s no way I’m going to get away with this.  They have got to figure this out.  It’s just too obvious”.  So she never allowed herself to fully embrace that she was going to bury this cocky defense team using their own shovel.

I, on the other hand, never doubted it for a second.  I just knew she would pull it off.  She was my hero.

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Cathy wins by being smart.  Not arrogant, not aggressive but she’s just too damn smart for most opponents.

So when she heard Di Maio would be available for a pre trial interview she used her wits in strategizing that too, so as to not tip her hand.  She invited him to meet her at her office in podunk Florence AZ where our trials were held.  It’s a tiny town.  A prison town.

She carefully chose her clothes, her demeanor, her attitude with one goal in mind:  to disarm this esteemed expert forensic pathologist.  She dressed, as she described to me “like a country bumpkin” with no makeup, a simple “house dress”, and opened her beautiful blue eyes wide fawning over him, asking for his autograph.  Playing the role of someone who would get his attention as a small town adoring fan, not a tough as nails Prosecutor who was going to, the next day, kick his ass all over the desert and back to Texas.

Di Maio takes the stand that morning, with all his bravado and hubris, surely going to convince this jury that the defendant is not guilty. That he couldn’t possibly have committed this crime, as only one assailant was involved. That’s why they brought him.  For his expertise, having reviewed the crime scene, to testify that in his expert opinion, just one assailant was involved. And obviously, since that person is already convicted of the crime, done deal.

And that is exactly what he did after they spent an hour or so just determining how much of an expert he is!  His academic background, the hundreds of cases he’s worked on, all his books and publications.  He’s a big shot and he knows it.

One assailant, here are the facts for this, he’s already been convicted, done.  Case closed.

Oh hello Ms. Hughes, of course I remember you my small town country bumpkin big fan.

Then Cathy Hughes reaches into her bag below her desk and pulls out his textbook fluttering with yellow  Post It notes piercing out from all  its pages.

No one sees it coming.  She starts slowly, asking him about his book in general.  His belief in his own words, his belief in his own science, his belief in his own opinions.

Then she opens right to the Chapter on right vs. left handed wounds.  Blindsiding the entire courtroom and sucker punching the witness with one turn of a page.   My stepmother later described the defense team as both immediately turning grey.  They clearly had no idea this was even on the table much less getting ready to be served, cold.

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Initially Di Maio was defensive, obviously caught off guard.  No one had prepared him to even consider this as an issue.  OBJECTION!  Oh yes I’m sure they wanted to object to make her stop.  To mitigate the bleeding of their case all over the courtrooom.  Too late.

She methodically led Di Maio down a garden path using his own words and graphic images as breadcrumbs escalating and amplifying her cadence straight to these words (paraphrased to the best of my recollection).

“So, Dr. Di Maio, now that we know you are the pre eminent expert in forensic pathology and now that we’re all acquainted with your textbook theories on right and left handed stab wounds, would it be your expert opinion that this fatal wound was committed by a right handed assailant?”

“Yes it would be”

“Then Dr. Di Maio, if I could tell you I can prove, which I can, that the defendant’s brother, Michael Apelt is left handed and the defendant is right handed, would it be your opinion that the right handed defendant committed this crime?”

OBJECTION!  Overruled.  (Cathy Hughes of course had video ready to be fired up of Michael Apelt writing with his left hand  in court that had aired on local news–a videotape she’d borrowed from me)

“So Dr. Di Maio, knowing you are one of the world’s most well known experts in Forensic Pathology and seeing you’ve already told the jury that only one assailant committed this crime, would it be your expert opinion that it was the right handed defendant Rudi Apelt (as she does one of those round house arm swings with a pointed finger directed straight at Rudi) who committed this murder?”.

“Yes it is”

BOOM.

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The jury later told us they took half an hour to come to their Guilty verdict but they wanted to make it appear they’d taken deliberations seriously so they took two hours.  They apologized to us for it “taking so long”.

Rudi was sentenced to death right along with his brother.  He was let off death row 18 years later on a mental retardation claim but that’s another blog post.

I  just found that Di Maio’s testimony was used as part of an “ineffective assistance of counsel” appeal:

3. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

The theory of Rudi’s defense was that Michael killed Cindy before Rudi arrived at the murder scene. To bolster this theory, the defense called Dr. Vincent DiMaio, a forensic pathologist, to testify that Cindy’s wounds (both bruises and knife wounds) were consistent with a single assailant. Dr. DiMaio also testified, on direct examination, that the assailant was probably right-handed. The prosecution further explored this on cross-examination and then called two witnesses — a documents analyst and Anke Dorn — who testified that Michael is left-handed and Rudi is right-handed. Instead of helping the defendant’s case, Dr. DiMaio’s testimony could have damaged it. Defendant claims that the presentation of damaging evidence, as well as counsel’s failure to file a timely notice of appeal from his conspiracy conviction and sentence, constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.

http://www.leagle.com/decision-result/?xmldoc/1993545176Ariz369_1478.xml/docbase/CSLWAR2-1986-2006

Cathy Hughes was offered many promotions from that one moment.  I’m sure from her successful prosecution in both our cases but that one shining moment is something none of us involved will ever forget.

I love her dearly and thank God we were so fortunate to get her as our prosecutor.  For that moment and the many others we’ve shared in friendship all of these years.

Dedicated to Cathy Hughes, one of the best people I will ever know.

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