Roots & Wings—Pt 5: “Outcast”

At fifteen, Achos Tinker was still a juvenile, except when he’d picked up a gun and killed a man.  His court appointed attorney, Audrey Aderes, was immediately sure the boy would be middle aged before his appeals ran out and he faced a needle.  Luckily for Achos, however, she was good at her job and started looking for ways to defend her young client.  Beginning with the tragedy that landed him in her hands, what she discovered was heartbreaking in so many ways.

Audrey liked to get to know her clients and their side of the story before she began picking it apart with the evidence.  Playing her own “devil’s advocate” seemed to get her ready more quickly for the Prosecutor’s accusations and, when facing a jury, for their prejudices and questions.  In her first meeting with Achos the boy struck her as simply callous and unfeeling.  He began with obviously weak and practiced protestations of innocence.  She quickly let him know that if he wanted her help, he would have to drop the act and be honest with her.  Achos looked in her eyes and saw something rare in his world—honesty and sympathy—and decided to give her a chance.

His version of that night was as chilling as anything Audrey had ever encountered.  Everything had gone wrong, it seems, but that turned out to be par for the course in the life of this young boy.  She was glad she had remembered to turn on the voice recorder on her iPhone when the interview started because she was too upset to take notes and was sure she’d forget something.  Her first question after his story was over was, “Why did you try to rob those kids?”  His answer was the tip of the iceberg.

He thought they looked like an easy mark.  He had no money, nowhere to stay, no food.

Parents?  Father was completely unknown.  Mother died of an overdose when Achos was eight.  He’d been in and out of foster homes since then because he had no other relatives.  He hadn’t been in school yet this year because he’d been living on the street after running away from the last home.  The “father” in this home had beaten him unconscious, among other things, and Achos had left as soon as he woke up and was able to escape.  He had been staying with a few friends or “camped” in various spots around town.  The cold and snow had made him desperate.

Where did he get the gun?  The owner of a bodega in his neighborhood kept it behind the counter.  Achos spent quite a bit of time there with his friends, hanging out and snooping around, and had seen it.  When a high school-aged part time employee had been running the store, while she was preoccupied, he had taken the gun to protect himself in the homeless camps he’d been in.

Audrey’s perusal of the files she picked up at the courthouse was as depressing as her conversation with Achos.  Not only had he been in foster care all these years but he had a juvenile rap sheet that all but filled two pages: petty theft, minor in possession, disturbing the peace, and every other relatively minor offense for which someone in his position could be arrested.

His school records were worse.  He had been failing almost everything, primarily for lack of attendance, and he lacked the reading ability to function at his age level anyway.  That was not a surprise.  When he was at school, he was in detention just about as much as he was in the classroom.  Things did not look promising for Mr. Tinker.  She glanced at his grades in math classes and, given everything she’d discovered about him, thought that the boy should have been quite good at adding negative numbers.

Next Audrey reached out to the victims’ family to try to get their side of things.  This was always difficult, especially in the first week after the crime, yet she was surprised at the grace with which the Clemens family agreed to meet with her.

She expected a mood of great sadness in their modest home, but there was actually joy apparent that cold afternoon.  The house was colorful with Christmas decorations, a tree took up one corner of the living room, and carols were softly playing somewhere.  It was obvious, too, from the delicious aroma that came with the open door that someone had been baking cookies.  Mrs. Clemens offered her coffee or tea and some of those cookies still warm from the oven.  Audrey was overwhelmed.  She was glad to be seated when Maggie Clemens, the girl who had been struck by Achos’ gun, joined her parents to talk with Audrey.

Maggie had spent two days in the hospital.  Her jaw was still bandaged—the bruise purpling her face clear to her hairline, and Audrey could tell that she had suffered a wicked gash.  The conversation about the assault revealed that Maggie had received over 100 stitches to close the wound.  No, Maggie said, she didn’t think she would ever want cosmetic surgery to hide the scar.  She wanted it to be a reminder of her brother, Joe, and a prompt to talk to people about the needless violence that had taken his life.  Again Audrey was stunned by the strength she felt from this family.  Mr. Clemens explained that they didn’t want revenge, but healing.  They intended to be in court, of course, and Maggie would be as clear as possible in providing accurate, truthful details about that night when the Prosecutor put her on the stand, but they also wanted Audrey to question her.  The attorney was so stunned that she could barely ask why.

Mrs. Clemens explained that they, too, had learned about Achos Tinker.  Maggie knew who he was.  He had been in some of her classes when he was at school.  She had even thought she recognized his voice that night and knew him immediately when the officer yanked off the ski mask that had covered his face.

Despite their great loss, and Maggie told Audrey about the deep affection she and her brother had shared, they said that their family would go on, have good lives, learn to deal with Joe’s absence.  They would support one another just as they had before, and make sure that each setback was met with the same love with which they would celebrate every success.  But they also knew that Achos had never known this support and never would, especially if he spent the rest of his life in jail.  They planned to be in court to ask for mercy for Achos, to forgive him, and to plead for others to reach out to him.

The public outcry to the assault was nothing compared to some responses when the judgment was passed. At the end of the trial Achos Tinker was sentenced to “merely” ten years in the state prison and eligible for parole in five. When Audrey proposed it, the Prosecutor had been willing to forgo a jury trial and let the judge decide the case. He was an attorney with a conscience, as well, and raised no objections when the judge then altered his own ruling so that the sentence was to be served in juvenile detention where Achos could receive a better education and counseling and, perhaps, be safer than he would be in the prison.

Mr. and Mrs. Clemens made sure Achos had that education and counseling. They were there when he received his GED. Maggie couldn’t attend because she was taking final exams in her last semester of high school. She would go on to college. With her degree in social justice, she planned to go on to law school.

Before she passed the bar, Maggie was married.  Her first child arrived soon after she started practice.  She named him Joe.

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