New York, New York. The city so nice they named it twice.
New York is a magical place to live. There are terrific universities, great restaurants, and every aspect of high and low culture anyone could ever want. Every day is an adventure, yet buried below all of the nice things that have happened to me while I grew up in New York are a few painful events, the memories of which fade but continue to leave marks, pale shadows like the ashy, circular, black burns a fire’s sparks leave on a hearth rug. In June 2015, it was eighteen years since I began the process of surviving the murder of my graduate school friend Jon. Although at the time, I recognized the horror of the day, I didn’t realize immediately the ancillary ramifications of it. The gunshot killed Jon but also much more.
On May 30, 1997, someone who wanted to rob Jon also chose to kill him; intentionally chose, first by torture and then by a gunshot to the base of the skull, presumably to stop him from reporting the crime. He knew his assailant; it wasn’t random street crime. Perhaps if it were it would make more sense.
No one learned of the event until a few days later when Jon failed to appear for work. And then, as they say, all Hell well and truly broke loose, because Jon’s father was famous. Within two weeks the perpetrators, hardly criminal masterminds, had been apprehended and relayed their side of the story to the NYPD and the newspapers, then, ultimately, the English-speaking world. The numbness, which had begun with the initial shock, began to recede like an ebb tide, leaving an amazingly large amount of room in my heart for pain.
In mid-July 1997 I attended a pretrial meeting at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office with Jon’s mother, Carol. At one point, after Carol had gone to the ladies room, I naively asked the ADA whether she believed that they would secure a conviction because I would hate for my friend to have died for nothing. “I have news for you,” she replied curtly, gathering her papers, “your friend died for nothing, anyway.” Her observation shocked me at the time, although later I realized that it was true. I couldn’t have believed her on that sweaty July afternoon, though, because to do so would have left me unable to attend the trial that fall.
I remember entering Manhattan Criminal Court uncomfortably that cool October morning, scanning the public gallery for empty seats, and then pulling a little notebook from my handbag to scribble quick impressions so I could remember later what my senses were too overloaded to process.
We watched jury selection – twelve regulars and eight alternates (I wrote in my journal “are they expecting a high drop-out rate?”) and wondered what might really be learned about people from voir dire. I remember hearing the judge advise the jury to “use the same methods you use in your everyday life to determine if someone is telling the truth” and wondering what exactly those methods might be. The character analysis skills learned in English class didn’t seem to work in this room, especially since some in the jury pool (“Juror number 6 is trying to get off; says he’ll only be paid at work for 2 weeks so he can’t stay for 6”) didn’t care to determine anything at all.
Among the worst moments of the trial were hearing from the Medical Examiner (“one puncture in the back of the neck – three shallow cuts across the throat – one right side stab wound which hit the liver – one gunshot wound directly into the brain”) and seeing the autopsy photos passed around (according to my journal, “one of the jurors has her head between her knees . . . Carol’s face is red, now white. I think she’s about to pass out . . . Jamie’s left the room . . . M.E. doesn’t recognize the photo of Jon because by the time he saw him the body was so badly decomposed.”)
After this, the long misery of jurisprudence, the moment I had previously thought was the nadir of it all – the second I learned of Jon’s murder – faded nearly to nothingness when a jury of my peers found Corey Arthur – the assailant who was arrested wearing clothes smeared with Jon’s blood – guilty of only second degree murder which earned him a sentence of twenty-five years to life. That day paled, too, later, when Corey’s accomplice, Montoun Hart, was acquitted.
Then it was over. Except it wasn’t over. It isn’t over. Every May 6 is Jon’s birthday and every May 30 is the anniversary of his murder. Every June 2 is a recreation of the day his decomposed body was found.
Shakespeare was right when he wrote that the evil men do lives after them. Evil’s residue continues to blow over everyone involved in this event like ash from an incinerator. There is no escaping it.