Sunday, July 27, 2008

Judy Linehan's Testimony from the Sentencing Hearing

My name is Judy Linehan.

I am the mother of Colin Linehan.

Your Honor, before I describe to you the Mechele that
I know, I'll give a brief sketch of my background and
life experience. I have been a Registered Nurse since
1965 and practiced my profession actively for over 25
years. One of the hallmarks of working in healthcare
is engaging with a wide range and array of people and
personalities.

It is also relevant to add that 14 years ago I watched
my brother and his wife live through the
incomprehensible murder and it’s aftermath of their only
son. This bright young man and Eagle Scout was shot
following the commandeering and car-jacking of his
vehicle just weeks before his 21st birthday. A court
proceeding is not designed to touch into the profound
and sacred aspects of a person’s life, but I want Kent
Leppink’s family to know my family and I appreciate your
grief and loss in a very real way even as we are
impelled to vividly and accurately present Mechele’s
nature and character before this court.

Your Honor, in my letter I described how I was drawn
to Mechele and her zest for life from our first meeting
when Colin invited her to our home in Washington state
during Christmas break 1997. Several months later I
flew to New Orleans to visit them and meet Mechele’s
mom. A memory of the trip that always brings a smile
occurred when riding around on their royal tour of the
city. Colin was just about to pull away from an
intersection stop when Mechele noticed a stray dog
approaching her window. “Colin--” she pleaded. “No
Mechele, we can’t bring home every dog that wants to
jump into our car.” She accepted his realistic
pronouncement, but it was obvious she would if she
could; and so began my initial glimpse into the
magnanimity of this young woman’s heart.

Later in the year our family gathered in New Orleans
for Colin’s graduation and their wedding. During a
walking tour of the downtown area, Mechele greeted a
homeless man by name and exchanged brief good wishes.
To this day I’m still incredulous at that moment. I
volunteer with a Saturday morning nursing clinic at an
advocacy center for our homeless and am fully aware that
this population is invisible to the community at
large.

Mechele does not know a stranger. Social standing,
race, - or whatever we use to keep ourselves separate
in our world - do not enter into her equation. She has
an uncommon capacity to look at a person beyond the
externals and take in their humanity.

I’ve known Mechele for over 10 years. The last 6 ½
have been in close proximity. We not only live in the
same city, but also in the same neighborhood - 8
blocks or a brisk 10 minute walk away. In this span of
time our lives have intertwined and given me a special
vantage point to come to know my daughter-in-law.

Your Honor, Mechele’s heart for the poor, those less
privileged , and basically for all God’s creatures great
and small has shown through her adult life. Mechele is a
carer. In every city where she’s lived she’s
volunteered her time and unique spark of life. I view
generosity as an unwavering aspect of her being
because of the way it flows even in the busiest times
of her life. She’d have commitments clogging her
calendar and yet always made a place for others, be it
at the dinner table or in the spare bedroom. As I
mentioned in the letter her stint volunteering at the
Crisis Clinic was not a 9 to 5 shift, but every Friday
night, midnight to 0800 while the rest of us slept or
took a TGIF break.

Dr. Mills assessment and report clearly articulated
the Mechele I know. The only difference being the
expression he uses clinically as traits, I put in the
terms of qualities and gifts. It’s important to
underscore where there is no evidence of pathology,
terms like impulsive and non-conformist need to be
examined under the lens of the manner in which they
are expressed in Mechele’s life. If we don’t flesh it
out, the negative charge assigned to a pathological
state leads the seeker of facts down a path where we
risk losing the meaning of a common term used
interchangeably in the context of pathology.

Webster defines impulse as “a stimulation of the mind
to action.“ Encountering a cold, homeless man on the
street in Anchorage, and giving him a ride to a café,
and money in his pocket does not conform to
conventional wisdom, but I for one am surely thankful
I live in a world where a young woman responds so
naturally from her compassion, empathy, and impulse
for genuine caring first and foremost.

Saturday afternoon I was out and about in downtown
Anchorage. Walking on 4th Street I came upon a man
panhandling. I’d smiled and acknowledged him before
realizing it would invite the dreaded decision: “to
give or not to give.” I hate it: even with my
background and own whole hearted support of homeless,
I still automatically scroll through a scenario in my
head of social consequences. No matter what decision I
make it is never satisfying.

On Saturday, however, my thoughts instead turned to
Mechele. That was it, I dug into my wallet and
discovered, “whew, that was easy.” But then came the
2nd test. I was approached by another. Oh shoot, my
1st thought is, “I’ve already given, so I’m good.” Not
to be - Mechele’s face pops in again - I could not get
away with it. But the truth is I felt absolutely in
synch with my true nature in these moments - and perhaps
may have made a little break-through.

And one more little “impulse to action vignette”: I
recall a Christmas several years ago. The whole clan
had gathered from across the country. Mechele was in
the forefront of instigating a trek up Mount Ranier
for sledding. She rounded up snow gear for the kids,
food for the journey, mobilized us with her energy and
enthusiasm, and up the mountain we went in our caravan.
I still see the faces and excitement of the children at
the wonder of snow - no, snow is not part of our
everyday in the Northwest.

This past October I read the brochure for Hiland
Correctional facility. I was first struck by what
sounded like the humaneness of this facility and the
Alaska penal system. But my next thought after reading
about their rehabilitation program was, “how does this
fit Mechele?” She is an accomplished, grounded,
evolving woman. I had a disconnect between a program
geared, for example, to build a return to workplace
skill, and how that could possibly apply to a woman
with Mechele‘s capacity and gifts.

I am a Certified Rehabilitation Nurse using the Rehab
model in my practice in a hospital inpatient
rehabilitation unit. This cannot be compared to the
Social Rehabilitation of a prison system to be sure,
and yet from what I read the rehabilitation goal of
returning an individual safely to their community is
exactly the same in your model as well as mine. The
interventionist must first assess what a person’s
deficits are, therefore, determining what barriers
must be worked through to achieve this goal.

Your Honor, when recidivism, relapsing, committing a
crime is considered in your sentencing you must
consider Mechele’s striking history of accomplishment,
volunteerism, and good citizenship over her adult
years.

The long and the short of it is: Mechele’s essential
nature in my experience of her through years of
relationship is of a woman imbued with a love for
life, and the energy, spontaneity, and impulse
necessary to bring this delight into others’ lives.
Dogs follow her home, still. Cats show up at her door
step. Her love of beauty blooms in her garden, and in
her home with hand made creations. Children are drawn
to her. I’ve carried up this love letter signed and
sealed from her 4 year old nephew for his Aunt
Mechele.”

The essence of her person is the polar opposite of
someone who would harm another; is utterly
incompatible with representing Mechele as callous, in
other words as unfeeling or unkind.

Your Honor, this brings me to the reprehensible term
“evil” that has seeped into the court record here. It
is a sad commentary on our times that this word has
become a receptacle for all manner of conjured
suspicions. It is employed to create a sense that
judgmental thought is fact. Again, this label bears no
resemblance to the person of Mechele Linehan.

Your Honor, I respectfully petition you to strike the
term, “evil”, from testimony and all written record of
this sentencing hearing. There is no room for
inflammatory, immaterial terminology such as this in a
court of justice!

And to the media I say: from this day forward may the
word “evil” cease to be in the lexicon of the Mechele
Linehan narrative, the narrative that has served to
fill the void of evidentiary merit in this case. It is
an inexplicable travesty!

Issues were raised in Friday’s hearing which were
meant to bear on Mechele’s character as regards her
marriage to Colin. I’ll now begin to share my
observations and experiences of their couple bond.

In the months before Colin left for Iraq I indeed felt
the tension in their home. I understood the angst as I
myself was a basket case over my son’s imminent
departure to a war zone. They allowed me to accompany
them to Fort Lewis the night of his unit’s deployment.
I assure you it was a time of utmost grieving and
tenderness as we let him go and the 3 of us faced into
the unknowns of the separation.

We all shared indescribable relief at Colin’s safe
return from Iraq, and yet tensions between the 2 of
them remained obvious. I don’t know how long it was
before they told me they were seeing a marriage
counselor, but I remember my relief, especially as
little by little I observed affection and easy going
playful banter coming back into their interactions.

I was deeply struck to learn about the divorce
statistics of Officer Iraq War Veterans about a year
after Colin’s return. The figure is well over 70%. In
fact, in Mechele’s Military Wife Support group there
would virtually have been none of the wives remaining
due to divorce should Colin have remained in the Army
and re-deployed with his unit 1 ½ years later. I felt
immense gratitude for Mechele, intuitively knowing in
my heart of hearts that it was her efforts that
assured they got to counseling. I say this despite the
fact I knew Mechele was the love of Colin’s life and he
would do anything to preserve their marriage - because
#1. it is most often the wife who gets the ball
rolling, and #2. I knew Mechele as a person who always
faced into issues of conflict rather than let them
simmer. Indeed, she seems hardwired that way. I
recently asked Colin to verify my impression with him
and he responded, “Yes, that’s precisely how it went.”
He would have done whatever it took to keep his family
together, but he was still reeling from the war, so it
was Mechele giving the counseling demand that put them
on road to healing in their relationship.

An amazing moment occurred during this time period. My
daughters and daughter-in-laws and I were having a
girls’ day hanging out together. At some point we
started down the well-traveled road of launching into
the males of the species. Mechele stopped the downward
spiral with her reflection, “You know, being married
helps me to become more, to do more than I’d otherwise
be able to if it were just me.” How beautiful it was
for a mother to witness this point of growth in
Mechele and in her relationship with my son.

I’ve long seen a growth dynamic at work in Mechele.
She truly aspires to be the best person she can be.
She worked hard to put resentments from her childhood
past to rest in the same way she was willing to dig in
and do the work to build a life-giving relationship with
Colin.

Your Honor, I will now speak of their much loved 8
year old daughter. I won’t be using her name, so
please bear with any cumbersome phrasing. Their girl
is in counseling with a woman experienced in dealing
with children and trauma. The therapist told Colin
their child exhibits an unusual capacity to understand
what is happening in her young life and to navigate
the losses without losing hope, and actually of
holding onto her innocence compared to any other
children she’s seen. “Holding onto her innocence” -
this is what we all desperately want in her young life
- not to become jaded. Not to give up on life.

The counselor’s assessment speaks volumes to the
intuitive parenting their child has received from both
parents in her early childhood. You would not see this
if only one parent had the requisite nurturing skills
for a child’s growth and development. A disconnected
parent would undo the efforts of the more skilled. The
truth I see is that the individual parenting of Colin
and Mechele for their young daughter is remarkably
in-step - one with the other.

When Mechele was arrested in October of 2006, the
family circled the wagons to protect their little then
7 year old daughter to the extent possible.
The irony was that as Mechele’s mother, Colin, and I
along with aunts and uncles struggled to find the
words to explain her mom’s absence to my granddaughter
- we simultaneously came to the same thought. “If only
Mechele were here, she’d have exactly the right words
- she always does.” Your Honor, Mechele is a beautiful
mother, involved, listening, compassionate, intuitive,
and nurturing.

Before the trial began, their daughter told her mom,
“Mommy, I’m going to go to court and tell the judge
what a good mother you are, how much I love you, and
how you would never hurt anyone.”

Of course that visit wasn’t appropriate. But here are
her words for the record. She deserves to have her say
as she sits at home waiting for her mom to return.

Your Honor, I’m going on and on here, but I feel as if
I’m fighting for Mechele’s life - and for Colin and
their little family.

I’ve watched my son, Colin, during this ordeal and I
could not be prouder of him. His sense of honor, his
deep seated integrity, his fearless, passionate, and
articulate defense of the wife he believes in are
qualities we need to see expressed in this world. And
yet he is mindlessly ridiculed on the information
super-highway. I fully support the high road he takes
over and over again to live according to his values.

I’ve watched the proceedings with horror as Mechele
has been vilified by a narrative that bears no
resemblance to the love, creativity, and generous nature
she brings to life and relationships.

Judge Volland, my despairing fear is that a well-oiled
state machinery will keep turning right into
the moment of sentencing with never a regard for
Mechele Linehan’s humanity. You are the firewall for
that. I beg you to be that: to perceive the person of
Mechele behind my words, to discount a narrative that
became oh so convenient to a case where facts were
absent, to give weight to a woman’s testimony who sat
with the jury through the long weeks of the trial, to
permit Dr. Mills testimony to seep in. He carries
impeccable credentials, along with an outstanding
depth and breadth of clinical experience. The
foundation of his report is verifiable science
compiled over decades, the best science has to offer.

I stand here, Your Honor, to tell you I will defend
Mechele until my last breath. I love her, I believe in
her.

I plead with you to administer the fairest minimum
sentence possible. Please give our family a ray of
hope that Mechele can be restored to her daughter and
to her family.

~Judy S Linehan

5 comments:

sandymc said...

I know it's from me, Mechele's mom, but Judy's statement here gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "mother-in-law!"

Mechele's Friends said...

too funny, Sandy!

B said...

Judy's letter is eloquent and moving. It is also right on target regarding the legal aspects of this case when it came to sentencing considerations. Sadly, her fears regarding the "well-oiled" state machinery proved founded and it extended to the judge.

Excellent letter.

maribeth said...

This is way out of line, and I have NO room for asking. But I was just recently cheated on with my bf of 4 years. And I'm just wondering how Colin is handling life without his wife? Has he cheated or almost? I can't look at any guy anymore and ever doubt that they cheat. I just watched the show on oxygen, and the thought of how could a man (all filthy in my head) NOT cheat after all those years? Yea, I know this is out of line. I'm only 21, filled with weird thoughts & emotions. Maybe this would help me in some way.

Mechele's Friends said...

Maribeth,you sweet young girl! How sad that not just the man you loved cheated on you, but with your best friend!! I thought twice about posting your blog, but you sounded so trusting and I wanted your voice to be heard. I am going to tell you something that I told my niece not too very long ago, "there is no man worth crying over, and the ones that are would never make you cry." As for Colin, he has been working six days a week, taking care of his patients and his daughter and trying to bring his wife home. He is one of those men that would never make you cry!!