Two wasted lives renew passion for teaching |

Two wasted lives renew passion for teaching

by Jennifer Locke

The child is father to the man.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins

On Thursday, I was one of 12 jurors who convicted a 26-year-old Spokane man of first-degree murder. He will spend the rest of his life – perhaps 50 more years – in a prison cell. Two human lives, his victim’s and his own, are wasted forever.

When I received my summons in the mail two months ago, I wondered what kind of trial this would be and hoped I would make it through the jury-selection process successfully. Although many people come up with excuses not to serve, I’d always considered jury duty a civic responsibility. What I didn’t know was how that simple form letter would leave a lasting impact on my life.

I arrived at the courthouse early on the date the letter told me to report. One of 60 potential jurors, I walked into the small courtroom curious about the selection procedure, hoping that at least I would be chosen as an alternate. I looked around and saw who I thought were four nicely dressed attorneys, not realizing that one of these suited men was really the accused murderer. I didn’t know then, but as the trial went on, I would find myself wondering what he could have been.

We were divided into groups to fill out questionnaires. Did I know anyone who had been raped? No. Did I know anyone who had been accused of rape? No. Could I stomach looking at gruesome autopsy pictures? For a moment, I thought twice about my enthusiasm to fulfill my civic duty.

I was chosen to serve and became Juror No. 5, forever connected to two strangers – a man who was my own age and the woman he killed in cold blood.

After the two-week trial, as we deliberated for two days, I thought about his victim, who had done nothing to deserve her death. It was hard for me to grasp that I had been staring into the face of a killer. I had looked at his hands, which had held a knife and slit a vulnerable woman’s throat. He had admitted his crime, but showed no remorse. He never said he was sorry.

So we sent him to prison for the rest of his life. I am 100 percent confident that we made the right decision in upholding the law and seeking justice for the victim, but I am surprised at the overpowering waves of sadness that washed over me when I think about what he might have been.

Even though I knew he was guilty, I cried in the jury room after the verdict had been read, and I have cried every day since then because I see him in the faces of my young students who can’t read at grade level, or who aren’t supported at home, or whose sense of empathy toward others is not nurtured. I cannot shake the profound sadness I feel.

I have no pity for the killer, but I am sad for the child he once was, the child who would never know his potential and who might have been so much more. I am sad for the victim whose life was cruelly taken from her and who will never fulfill her hopes and dreams. And I am sad for us, a society that cannot come up with a preventative solution.

I want to write a letter to the killer in prison, but what could I say? That he is a murderer – but might have been so much more? That as I go on, have children, watch them grow, enjoy my job, live my life – he will be forgotten and grow old in a prison cell? My husband says my letter would be too late for him. Too late for him, but maybe not too late for others.

I am sure, more than ever, that my civic duty is far from over. Through this experience, my passion for teaching has been renewed. After looking into the eyes of a killer, I am convinced that there is no more important civic duty than to educate, believe in, and support all of our children, so that they will wonder what they can be, instead of wonder what they could have been.

• Jennifer Locke, born and raised in Carson City, teaches elementary school and is a Title I reading specialist in Spokane, Wash. After completing graduate studies in June, she will return to Nevada. She is the daughter of Marilee Swirczek, who writes for “Fresh Ideas.”