Citadel Club of Charleston Hosts The Lowcountry Open

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On occasion I am asked to help promote events. The Citadel Club of Charleston is hosting The Lowcountry Open event to benefit Palmetto Warrior Connection, a charity that supports veterans in South Carolina. While the club is the sponsor of the event anyone can participate.

If you are in a position to be a sponsor, participant, or volunteer, please contact the leadership of the tournament and share this post in your circles. The tournament takes place after Spring semester ends so cadets can participate and/or volunteer as well. Registration opens this week. Late entry fees begin April 16.

The following promotion information was posted to the parent groups on Facebook:

The Citadel Club of Charleston is the owner and host of The Lowcountry Open; a Charleston-based offshore, nearshore and inshore fishing tournament.

Many committee members are directly connected to military services throughout the Lowcountry, the board unanimously agreed the charitable proceeds should benefit veterans. Palmetto Warrior Connection based in Charleston is the title charity for the event. 95% of charitable contributions to the Palmetto Warrior Connection goes to support veterans within South Carolina. 

We trust the sponsors will feel equally honored to help make this tournament a success!

If you would like information about tournament sponsorship opportunities, or know someone who would be interested, please contact the Tournament Chairman: Ty Holland, ’95: info@thelowcountryopen.com.

Additionally, you can see tournament and sponsorship details on the website, www.thelowcountryopen.com.

Everyone is invited and welcomed as sponsors, anglers, spectators or volunteers.

 

 

 

A 1972 grad remembers his Summerall Guard and inauguration experiences

2011 Summerall Guard photo by Stanley Leary
The 2011 Summerall Guards photo by Stanley Leary

When my oldest son deployed in 2012 I began to see the larger network of The Citadel in action. A friend at church, Col. William Buckley, USMC (ret) introduced me via email to a friend of his from his days as a cadet at The Citadel, LTC Walter “Wally” McTernan, USMC (ret), Citadel class of 1972. Wally, as I’ve come to call him, was, and still is, in Afghanistan as a contractor.

While my son was deployed Wally looped me into correspondence with a wide array of Citadel graduates. I sent care packages to some with the help of friends from church Citadel parents, military reporters, and others.

Thanks to Wally I learned helpful advice of what to send deployed service members. Things like Saran wrap that could be used to stop bleeding in the field. I learned how broad reaching The Citadel network really is, even including the clueless mom of a graduate.

I also learned that Wally is a great story-teller and organizer. He coordinates the alumni in country for an annual Muster to honor the fallen graduates. He was recognized by the Citadel Alumni Association for his volunteer work in 2014 being named the 2014 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. I also learned of his love of Crystal Light Peach tea.

My son is out of the Army now and working in his new career based in Houston. Wally and I continue to correspond. With the news of the Summerall Guards and the Regimental Band and Pipes marching in the inauguration parade in January Wally’s latest email tells the story of his experience in participating in the Cherry Blossom Festival parade in 1972 and another story of the inauguration of President George Bush in 1989. I am sharing his story it here with his permission.

A story by LTC Walter F. McTernan, USMC (retired), The Citadel class of 1972:

“The 1972 Summerall Guards marched in the Cherry Blossom Festival parade in WDC in early April 1971.  Luckily for me I was in position 1A1 (first squad leader, front rank) – because we were marching behind a mounted unit, and there were a lot of  “horse apple IED’s” on the road.  So I was luckily able to adroitly avoid stepping on/in them.  Of course, keeping established discipline, I did not say anything. I chuckled inside every time I heard a softly muttered “shxt” by someone in a follow-on rank who haplessly “stepped in it” (literally).  After the parade, I noticed the stark visual contrast in color between horse shxt brown and starched cadet FD trou white.

     During the Jan. 1989 Inaugural of President Bush-I, I was assigned on a TAD/TDY basis to be a temporary military aide to the first Drug Czar, Dr. John Bennett. (I was assigned to this post by the legendary Captain (later Colonel) Mike Riley, USMCR (Ret.) ’79, who was a big player in the military committee supporting the Inaugural.  (I served with Mike three times – Okinawa with the 3d Mar Div, HQMC and Baghdad at HQ, USF-I), and that alone ought to have earned me a high level medal.)

     Mrs. Bennett was expecting and was not feeling well, so we departed the Inauguration Ceremony early; got in the VIP sedan awaiting us behind the Capitol, and began to depart the area.  We drove past a contingent of Cid cadets forming up to march down Pennsylvania Avenue in the parade.  Dr. Bennett recognized them as Citadel cadets and commented that the phrase “zero tolerance” (of illegal drug abuse) that he used was a phrase he had borrowed from the late and great MG James Grimsley, USA (Ret.) ’42.  Dr. B. said that he had given a greater issues speech at The Citadel, and he had asked the General what was his policy on drug abuse.  MG Grimsley replied, “zero tolerance.” Dr. Bennett said that phrase really resonated within him and he used it ever since.  Mrs. Bennett commented that a close family friend of hers while growing up was Dr. Ira Rapp (Regimental CO ’70).  Mrs. B. and Ira’s sister were best friends growing up.

     That night I escorted the Bennet’s to dinner at a fancy WDC restaurant before taking them to an Inaugural Ball.  I waited for them in the lobby.  I was approached by the late political humor columnist, Art Buchwald, who had given Greater Issue speeches twice at The Citadel, one of which I saw when I was a cadet.  Mr. Buchwald was a Marine in WW-II, so when he saw a Marine officer, he came up to chat amiably.  He was very funny and unpretentious.  While we were chatting, a gentleman came up to speak to Mr. Buchwald.  Art was clearly continuing to chat with me just to keep this guy waiting.  While impatiently waiting, the poor (figuratively, NOT literally) guy was accosted by a couple of society matrons who hit him up for a donation to their favorite charity.  This fellow was one Mr. Donald Trump, whose own Inauguration we will soon celebrate.  Thus bringing the 2017 SG’s and our world-class Band Company to WDC.

     Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2017 to you all. God bless.”

Gifts for Your Cadet

Wearables

Each year at Christmas time and the end of the school year parents of cadets at The Citadel begin to think of gift items either for their cadet or one that has been particularly helpful to their cadet. It’s a bit late for this advice to be helpful for this year’s Christmas but the ideas below will stand for any occasion, including graduation.

Gift Cards for restaurants and movie theaters in the area are always welcomed. Knobs won’t be able to have food delivered to the barracks until after Recognition Day, but they do get into town on the weekends. Popular restaurants include Moe’s Southwest Grill, Mama Kim’s, Jim’n Nick’s BBQ, and Sticky Fingers. There are many more restaurants in Charleston, just call them to see if they offer gift cards. Restaurant gift cards make a nice gift for host families too.

Netflix, Amazon Prime and other online entertainment options are popular with cadets. This gift may be a better option after knob year.

Other gift ideas for cadets include: A watch, coffee maker or hot-pot, good sunglasses, small 6 pack cooler, a good pillow, noise canceling headphones.

If they are a hunter items like a good hunting knife or other equipment.

Some cadets enjoy gift cards for an experience like skydiving, a boat/fishing trip or other activity.

Ideas for the graduating senior include:

Lifetime Membership in the CAA

Citadel Blazer buttons or other jewelry

A nice picture frame with a photo from Ring weekend or other occasion

A Big Red Flag or Company Guidon.

Any number of items from the Bookstore on Campus

Of course for the young grad who will set up their first apartment or home, cash is always welcomed!

Links to previous posts about gifts can be found on this link.

 

A Message to Parents from the Provost office at The Citadel

I’ve been asked by the provost office to share the following message with parents of cadets:

From: Parents Program

Sent: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 12:20 PM

Subject: CONVERSATIONS OVER THE HOLIDAYS

Dear Parents and Families of our Cadets,

We have had a remarkable semester. The largest freshman class on record, weathering Hurricane Matthew, earning the Southern Conference football championship, and being once again named the South’s #1 Public College in our category — I don’t think there is much more we could have fit in over the past few months! Your cadet has truly earned some time off to relax, recharge, and prepare for the Spring semester.

Conversations with your cadet about his or her future over the next few weeks are an important way to support their success. To facilitate these discussions, we have provided valuable information on The Adjutant page of the Parents’ Website. Please use these as conversation-starters with your cadet.

Success at The Citadel revolves around the four pillars of our leadership development program: Academics, Military, Physical Fitness and Moral/Ethical. Although these pillars serve as the basis for our learning environment, the concepts we teach are further reinforced in discussions at home with people they respect.

We hope you will visit our Adjutant page on the Parents’ Website and review the information provided for your cadet’s class. You’ll also want to note key dates for the Spring semester (provided below), which is shaping up to be as busy as the Fall! If we can assist you with any additional information or answer any questions you may have, please give us a call at 843-953-6088 or send us an email at parents@citadel.edu.

Finally, please be aware that The Citadel will be closed from 22 December through

2 January.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season!

Key events Spring 2017:

· 8 January – The Corps returns

· 11 January – Classes resume

· 21 January – First Saturday Morning Inspection (SMI). (This is the first in a series that will culminate with the President’s Inspection on 18 February.)

· 28 February – Midterm Grading Period through 7 March

· 16-18 March – The Annual Leadership Symposium

· 17-19 March – Corps Day Weekend/Recognition Day

· 20-24 March – Physical Fitness and Height/Weight Assessments

· 24 March to 2 April – Spring Furlough

· 10-20 April – Advising and Registration for the Fall 2017 Term

· 14-16 April – Easter Weekend

· 26 April – Final Exams Begins

· 06 May – GRADUATION!

Winter Furlough Notes for Citadel Parents

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Luminaries light a path toward 2nd Battalion December 2 after the Candlelight Service in Summerall Chapel

Winter furlough begins today for cadets at The Citadel. A time to celebrate to be sure.

Some will be thrilled with the grades their cadet achieved this semester. Others will not have fared that well and you’ll most likely have questions. The notes and links below should answer most of your questions. The links below will also bring you to the pages to find contact information for the appropriate person or department to address your questions. While this advice is manly for first year families, parents of cadets in all years may find the links helpful

If you’ve read this blog for a while you’ll already know this next bit of information. As I mentioned in this post from 2012, the beginning of second semester is tough for all cadets, knobs to seniors. They’ve just spent close to a month at home visiting with family and friends. Coming back to cadet life, getting up early, PT in the cold dark days of winter, is a tough reality.

For parents of knobs, if your son or daughter hasn’t questions their decision to attend The Citadel before, January and February are the months you may field that call. If you do get “the call” remind them that they are stronger than they think they are, encourage them to talk to their classmates. Once they talk to their classmates and other friends in the Corps they will realize they are not alone. It’s still tough but they will get through it. Remind them that Recognition Day is not too far off, March 17, this year.

This experience is so common the cadets have a name for it, the PG version is F’d up February. It is also tough when their friends decide for a variety of reasons not to return.

If you are a family with a student who has decided to leave The Citadel, I wish you and your student the best in their next endeavors.

My best wishes to all The Citadel cadets and families this holiday season.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah-Chanukah, Happy New Year!!

summerall-chapel-at-christmas

 

 

An Update for Long Time Followers

Long time followers of my blog will know I have not been updating here as often as in previous years. You see, I’ve been debating whether it’s really been helpful, or if my blog posts interfere with what The Citadel administration wants to do now that they have a parent liaison in the Provost office who updates the Parent page on the school website.

To put to rest any questions I wrote to Captain Taylor Skardon to ask what he would like me to do. I offered to pass long the parent Facebook groups that I administer and to refer all parent questions to the Citadel Family Association and to Capt. Skardon.

On Friday, Dec. 2, I met with Capt Skardon, Shamus Gillen of the admissions office and the Citadel Family Association staff liaison and two officers of the CFA. At that meeting I was asked to be the new Area Rep Coordinator for the CFA. The area rep position can be filled by the parent of a graduate, unlike the company and battalion reps. While the details of how this will proceed are still being worked out, I will now be an official volunteer with the school, in addition to already being the Parent Committee chair of the Atlanta Citadel Club. The basic idea is to have a working relationship to bridge The Citadel Family Association with local alumni clubs and the Citadel Alumni Association. In the months ahead more information will become available about how to get involved.

Bottomline, I will now proceed with official approval.

 

Relieving stress: Push ups or coloring books

A recent article in the Free Beacon caused an uproar among cadets and graduates of senior military colleges. The author of the article wrote about the practice at VMI of offering exam time stress relief activities. One of the activities open to the students is the use of coloring books. The idea that future military officers would be encouraged to use a typical childhood activity was offensive to many who read the article. Social media lit up the day the article was published and days later it si still being discussed.

As a former chaplain resident at the Atlanta VA Medical Center I found the negative comments around this activity offensive. Art therapy is a recognized modality to help veterans who have a diagnosis of Post Traumatic stress disorder and related anxiety issues. Coloring sheets were readily available and used by the veterans on the psychiatric floor.

In July 2016 Jeremy Ramirez, BS, MPH-C wrote, A review of Art Therapy Among Military Service Members and Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for the Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health Volume 24 No. 2 His conclusion after reviewing the various modalities to help veterans including Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is:

Challenges of military service should be met with a supportive culture that is open to implementing art therapy as a treatment modality in addition to current evidence-based practices. This review suggests that if current service members and veterans were placed into art therapy programs as early as possible after being diagnosed with PTSD, they would be at less risk for developing greater PTSD symptom severity. The preferred method of treatment for patients with PTSD receiving care in the VA healthcare system is CBT, however, since CBT is effective in treating only two of the three symptom clusters, it is an incomplete care package. Given the effectiveness art therapy has in treating the third symptom cluster, it is not meant to replace CBT, but rather it is meant to be offered in addition to CBT in order to produce a more comprehensive care package for past and present service members with PTSD.

I have to wonder why anyone would object to future military officers learning proven techniques to help deal with stress which could eventually help lower the astronomical suicide rate of our veterans. Physical activities like push ups (#22PushUpChallenge) are acceptable but other methods to raise the awareness and/or to teach stress relief are put down. To help prevent suicides early lessons in stress relief a destigmatizing getting help are key.

Putting down efforts to help with stress only adds to the negative stigma already prevalent for mental health issues.

I think I’ll go color now. . .

Della Delights: A cookbook compiled by Citadel Moms

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Della Delights, a cookbook of recipes sent in by Citadel moms. Contact Amy Bulger with questions, Baseballgirl66@hotmail.com

Last Spring a group of Citadel moms decided it would be fun to put together a cookbook and sell it to benefit one of the ring funds through The Citadel Foundation. The result of this volunteer effort is the “Della Delights” cookbook.

There are less than 100 cookbooks left to sell. Once they are sold and the final accounting is done a check will be donated through the foundation to one of the funds that provides assistance in getting a ring. Amy Bulger, an India Company, ’16 mom is handling the sales. She posted the following to Facebook:

“We have only 100 Della Delight cookbooks left to sell!
My guarantee to you is to have them turned around within 24 hrs of payment received.

The following liquidation specials remain in effect until all books are gone.
1 cookbook: $15
3 cookbooks: $40
5 cookbooks: $50
Shipping 1-5 books $6.80

I will be on Campus inside the front of the bookstore from 9AM-4PM (or until all books are gone) Jan 13, 2017.

Just a little background if this is your first time reading about the cookbook.
It was the brainchild of a number of Citadel moms who wanted to raise money for the Ring Fund, a foundation that helps Seniors, who could not otherwise afford it, the ability to wear “The Ring”

All profits from the sales will be donated anonymously, per the Funds request.

You can send payment to Amy Bulger via PayPal at Baseballgirl66@hotmail.com
Or checks can be sent directly to Amy at:

8250 Persia Way
Nashville TN 37211

My phone number is 803.412.8550 if you have any questions.
Mom and Della of Cadet Of India 2016

Let’s get these cookbooks sold and the funds donated!”

Playing Catch Up and Parents Weekend at The Citadel

2014 Bravo Promotion Ceremony
Bravo Company knobs receive their company letter. October 2014

Catching up

It’s been over a month since my last entry. After the very emotional experience as a juror for a murder trial, the sad news of a cancer diagnosis for one of the Top Nine Cadets at The Citadel was released. After corresponding with his family a YouCaring fundraising site was launch for Jesse Ray Nardone. The original goal of $10,000 was reached within days. you can read about the needs the family has to cover and updates on Jesse Ray’s health on the YouCaring site.

A week or so after the fundraising site was posted, I had a scheduled cardiac catheter ablation. It is taking me a little longer than I had anticipated to bounce back after the procedure. Fortunately I feel pretty well, but I just don’t have the stamina to do too much yet.

Parents Weekend at The Citadel

For my readers who are Citadel parents this is an exciting week. By now I hope you have seen the very helpful information posted to the parent page on the citadel.edu web site. In years past I’ve written a run down of the vents each day of Parents Weekend. Thanks to Capt. Taylor Skardon in the office of the provost that was not necessary this year. There is an overall post and individual pages for each day, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The Citadel Family Association (CFA) has also revamped their website with helpful information. Be sure to read the pages and click on all the links.

The weather is looking iffy thanks to hurricane Matthew. Be sure to watch the weather channels to know how to pack. Also check the school web site for any announcements should the storm end up tracking toward the SC coast. It is still early to know what will happen weather wise. The school administrators keep a close eye on weather conditions and will post updates as they can so watch The Citadel website, the school’s Facebook page and the Bulldog Alert page. To read the school’s protocol for hurricanes see this link.

I won’t be making the trip to Charleston for Parents Weekend this year. Our daughter is a high school senior and it is her last Homecoming celebration. I look forward to seeing everyone’s photos and hearing your stories. Best wishes to the Class of 2017 on receiving your rings on Friday.

Ring Presentation 2014
Bravo Company knobs receive their company letter. October 2014

For the families of 2020 cadet recruits enjoy every minute of your time together it goes by in a blink of an eye.

Previous posts about Parents Weekend (see these links for photos):

Parents Weekend 2015

Parents Weekend 2014 and 2014 Tips

Parents Weekend 2012

Parents Weekend Tips 2011

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I bid on and won the opportunity to shoot the cannon at halftime of the football game Oct 2014. My daughter was there for moral support 😉  photo by Michael Givens

 

 

Justice and Grace

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The view from the new jury room at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta

The past week I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on these two words, Justice and Grace. I served on a jury for a murder trial. This blog site is mainly for my posts to parents of cadets at The Citadel, but today I must reflect on the events of the past week, in large part to help me move forward.

If you follow this blog for Citadel related information, you will want to skip reading this entry.

Jury Selection

On August 29 I reported for jury duty. I’m one of those strange people that don’t mind being called and I was looking forward to the day. In the past ten years I’ve reported for jury duty several times but have never served on a jury. So, with a book in hand I reported to the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta to spend what I thought would be a day of sitting in the jury holding room.

The morning started out well. I met a lady in the security line form my town who also has a student at the same high school as my daughter. We took our seats near a podium by a window over looking the state capitol, quite an improvement over the old jury room.

My first clue that this would not be an ordinary day came when the Judge entered the room to welcome the potential jurors. I looked up and a few feet to my right stood Judge Jane Barwick. I first met Jane when she served on the board of directors of Simpsonwood a retreat center for the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. I was the director of marketing and development and Jane was on my committee of the board. After my daughter was born I ran into Jane again. This time she was a recently enrolled student at Columbia Theological Seminary. So seeing my long time friend that morning seemed like a fun way to start the day.

Shortly after the welcome by Jane they called the first group of names to report to a courtroom. Since I was in a stand by group I really didn’t think I would be called. Surprise! I was juror #52 out of 60 called in that first group.

Once we filed into the courtroom we were instructed to hold the laminated number that corresponded with the one we were given when our names were called. The judge introduced us to the prosecution and the defense lawyers and explained how the selection process would begin. We were told it is a murder trial and mentioned it was in the news a couple of years prior. The attorneys began with their questions. Since the deceased was a three year old who died in daycare many of the questions had to do with caring for children. As the mom of three who has worked both as a volunteer and an employee of a church I had quite a few opportunities to work with children so my number was raised quite a bit. At this point I hoped that would mean I wouldn’t be called. I just wasn’t sure how I would react being on a jury that dealt with the death of a small child.

There was a lot of waiting around on Monday. Once the questions were asked in the large group of 60, the judge began calling us in in groups of 6 to be questioned one at a time. To help speed up the process he called about 20 of us to stay and released the others to return Tuesday morning. The ones who stayed, including me, all had potential conflicts if the trial ran long. I have a heart ablation scheduled for September 13 and decided I better say something in case it ran long.

The judge called me into the courtroom shortly before 5:00. It was a relief to get up from the hard wooden benches outside the courtroom and sit in a comfortable chair. The judge and attorneys get a list with our names and occupations so when I came into the courtroom the judge addressed me as Reverend. I told him I preferred Ms. When he asked what my potential conflict is I told him of the September 13 procedure. He said the trial would be over by then, but hoped my procedure would be successful. That was my first glimpse at the judges compassion.

The prosecution then began with their questions followed by the defense. Right from the start the styles of each set of attorneys was evident. The prosecution was polished and professional in their approach, the defense was congenial and struck me like they stepped out of the book, To Kill a Mockingbird. All that was missing from the defense was seersucker suits and bow ties. The questioning ended and I was told to return at 11:00 am Tuesday morning.

The interviews were still going on when I arrived at 11:00. We were released for lunch by 11:30. Once we were called back into the courtroom it was apparent quite a few jurors had been dismissed and the jury would be called from the group that remained. The ladies on either side of me appeared nervous. The one to my right was visibly shaking. She was the mother of young children and dreaded the thought of sitting on a jury for the death of a small boy. I offered her a hug and a mint which she accepted graciously.

The names of the jurors were called. One at a time the new jury took their seat in the jury box. I counted as they were called hoping they would get to 13 before my name was called, no such luck. “Number 52,” was called out and up I went to take a seat in the jury box. The judge gave us our instructions and dismissed us to the jury room where began to get to know the people we would spend our days with all last week.

After writing our first names down on a make shift name card we eventually went around the table giving our name and a little about ourselves. We were a diverse but friendly group. We all had a feeling this would not be an easy task ahead.

The Trial

The trial began with opening statements. Our initial impressions of the prosecution were confirmed as Pete Johnson began his statements. He was organized spoke without notes and used a PowerPoint for the statements he wanted to emphasize. John Garland for the defense spoke using a three ring binder with yellow sticky notes for his opening statement. Since I majored in public speaking and went to seminary which included classes on sermon preparation and delivery I tend to notice these things.

The first witness was the Alpharetta police officer who responded to the 911 call. In looking at my notes I didn’t write much down while he spoke. That changed the next day, Wednesday. The first witness on Wednesday was Heidi Stephens, mother of Max, the deceased three year old little boy. When the jury was called into the courtroom I saw who was in the witness stand and began to take some deep breathes in preparation for a tough day. I’ve had to handle tough situations as a chaplain resident at the VA. Preparing to hear the testimony of the young mother of this precious little boy was similar to preparing myself to console grieving family members after a death. I closed my eyes, took a few deep breathes and prayed for discernment, compassion, and a clear mind.

The judge was very compassionate. After Mrs. Stephens testimony the judge dismissed us to the jury room. Judge Newkirk did this each time we listened to difficult testimony from witnesses. I will forever be grateful to him for his compassion and grace. While the jury could not discuss what we heard until after the final arguments we could acknowledge it was hard to listen to the witnesses.

Wednesday was a very long day. In addition to Mrs. Stephens we heard from the first detective from Alpharetta reviewed the timeline of events and listened to tapes of his interviews with the defendant. Then Tahisha Smith from Bright From the Start was called as a witness followed by a second detective from Alpharetta. By the end of the day I felt we were very clear on the timeline of events and just how awful it was to find a small child strangled on a slide. I believe the entire jury was ready to start asking each other questions, but we had to wait until after the closing arguments. For me it was clear by Wednesday afternoon that the defendant did not check on the children on the play-set before she went inside. The defense’s arguments underscored that for me. The toughest day for me was to come.

Thursday the second detective was back on the stand. The timeline from July 8 was gone through with a fine tooth comb at this point. The interviews with the defendant showed that it was not clear when she went inside the house leaving the children outside, but to me it was very clear she never checked on the two children who were on the play-set either while she was outside or when she went inside. The defendant stated over and over that she has watched children for 30 years without incident and that she felt this is the work God called her to do. She seemed like a sweet lady, but to me on July 8 of 2014 she was not attentive to the children in her charge.

The hardest most emotional part of the week for me was when the 911 tape was played in full. Listening to the desperation in the voice of the day care provider and envisioning that sweet little boy laying on the ground after being released from the twine that hung him proved too much for me. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes but didn’t want to cry while in the jury box. I had to wipe a few tears away while we were still sitting there, but fortunately the judge dismissed us to our room right after the tape ended. It was there that my emotions just poured out. As I stood by my chair opening crying, my fellow jurors brought me tissues, and a cup of water. I stepped to an area away from the table to compose myself and another juror came up to comfort me. Just thinking about that tape will still bring a lump to my throat.

The next witness was the forensic pathologist, Dr. Stauffenberg. She was calm cool and collected as she described the injuries to little Max. I couldn’t help but think she looked like she was straight out of central casting to play her professional role. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so. In his closing arguments Pete Johnson for the prosecution said something like, “There is a reason some doctors work with the living and some work with the dead,” when he talked about the doctor.

The photos of little Max in the morgue were tough to look at, and we had to look at several views of his neck and face area. I couldn’t help but think of how awful it was for the Stephens family to have to review all of this evidence two years after their precious son’s death, but they were in the court room each day with people who appeared to be the grandparents of Max.

The final witness was Juan Medina, the landscaper who put down the mulch and pine straw. His young son was in the courtroom listening. From his testimony it was evident that the defendant bent the truth in some of her statements to the police, but his testimony really didn’t change any of the evidence we were charged to weigh for a verdict.

I went home Thursday just emotionally drained.

The closing arguments were Friday morning and by lunchtime the jury was dismissed to the deliberation room. Our first task was to select a foreman. I had offered early in the week before we knew each other. I had said that if no one else wanted to serve as foreman I would volunteer. The group voted and I was elected foreman. Our deliberations began right away with a short break for the group to order pizza and salad in. The judge brought the pizza, salad and change in himself but made it clear he could not and would not talk to us.

From the start we wrestled with the wording of the four charges. Charges #2 and #4 clearly dealt with whether the defendant knew the rope, or twine was in the back yard. All twelve jurors voted that we did not believe she knew the twine was there. Charges #1 and #3 were not as clear. It read that we would have to find her guilty of being willful, wanton and reckless leading to the death of Max, but it did not mention the rope. We sent the judge three notes for clarification. The third note read something like, “Is knowledge of the rope by the defendant required to find the defendant guilty on count #1 then I wrote a Yes/No and asked him to circle the answer, I wrote the same thing for charges #2-4. The judge answered by circling yes for all 4 counts. In the end the answer to our questions was that to find the defendant guilty of the charges we had to believe she had knowledge of the rope in the backyard.

Most, not all, of the jurors really felt she should be found guilty of reckless behavior since she did not check on the children on the play-set. It was extremely hard to say the defendant was not guilty when we felt that she held the responsibility for not being attentive enough to very small children.

The defense mentioned writing on the back of the official statement how we felt. On the front I wrote not guilty for all four counts. On the back of the judgement I wrote on behalf of the whole jury (we each had a part in composing the note):

“We the jury are disappointed and frustrated with the charges brought by the State. While we found the defendant negligent i leaving young children unattended, we cannot find her guilty of criminal negligence as required by the charges.”

The jury entered the courtroom. I couldn’t look at the family as I walked in. I was wrestling with the verdict and the feeling that the family would be so disappointed. I was relieved that the judge read the verdict after I handed in the paper. To his credit the judge read our note to the courtroom too. You can see this moment on this clip.

After the trial

The jury was dismissed to our room and we were asked if we would stay to meet with the attorneys from both sides. It was there that we learned the defendant had her license revoked and the family had received a financial settlement from early litigation. Not that money will ever replace a child but at least we knew the defendant would not be able to watch children again. Since she felt called to her work as a child care provider I know this had to be the worse punishment after seeing Max dead that she could receive.

One of my fellow jurors parked in the deck where I parked and offered to walk with me out of the building. I had a lump in my throat and appreciated his kindness and his company. He guided me out as I was asked for a comment by Valerie Hoff of 11Alive the Atlanta NBC affiliate. I just couldn’t talk right then. I knew I’d be too emotional. My friend gently guided me past the cameras.

Once I reached my car I took a few minutes to let the tears flow. I spoke briefly to the lady in the parking garage who takes your money at the end of the day. I had teased her all week that she was a popular lady because people lined up to see her each day. That is when I saw something I will always remember.

Ed Garland one of the defense attorneys was talking to a man who appeared to be homeless in a wheel chair. Mr. Garland placed his two satchels against the planters outside the courthouse and pushed the gentleman in the wheel chair across the street. The man I thought earlier in the week would look natural in seersucker and a bow tie showed he is a true Southern gentleman and showed his true compassion that evening.

I did end up talking to Valerie Hoff on Tuesday after the trial ended Friday. I felt it was important for people to know how tough it was for all of us. It helped me to process a few days later, just as writing this out is helpful.

Valerie asked me if I thought justice was served. That questions stays with me. I know we carried out our task and followed the guidelines we were given. But when a small child is dead and you think it was due in large part to the negligence of another person, is justice really served?

Then Wednesday the most grace filled message I have ever received appeared in my Facebook messenger inbox. I saw it was from Jeff Stephens, Max’s Dad and I took a deep breath. This man who lost his young son showed such strength, caring, and grace I will always remember him.

“Dorie, thank you for taking the time to speak to the media regarding the verdict. I know that must have been difficult for you. Thank you for your service.
 
Jeff Stephens – Max’s Dad”
judgeletter
The judge sent a thank you note the week after the trial.