Gravity of Abuse (Chapter Four: Three Strikes)

Non-Fiction | published in Real Change on May. 30th, 2012


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The decision

Brandy started to raise Ian alone in Hope Place. Operated by the Union Gospel Mission, the shelter offers housing to women and their children. Brandy and Ian had their own room, and, as summer progressed, Ian went from rolling on the floor to crawling to pulling up on furniture.

At Hope Place, every woman, whether Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, Protestant or Catholic, participated in an individually crafted curriculum imbued with a Christian flavor. Chores in the morning, classes in recovery, morning devotions, Bible study and more. During Brandy’s first stay there, before the April assault, she had taken part because it was required. But by summer 2010, while Richard sat in jail, Brandy participated because she felt called. By then, she had found God.

This separated her even more from Richard. He practiced Odinism, a belief system that honors the Norse god Odin. Richard discovered Odinism in the Nevada prison system. But his fellow Odinist inmates also subscribed to white supremacy, and, falling in with them, Richard had acquired prison tattoos that proclaimed his beliefs: a swastika, a likeness of Adolf Hitler and, spelled out across his upper fingers, ”SKINHEAD.” Brandy, part Shoshone-Bannock Indian, was never drawn to Odinism’s racist bent. She knew their different spiritual beliefs would keep them at odds.

Shortly after the assault, a domestic violence advocate linked to the state prosecutor’s office asked Brandy a question: If the case against Richard went to trial, would she testify against him? “I told her I’d pray about it,” Brandy recalls.

She mulled it over for weeks before deciding she’d testify, though Brandy doubted it would ever happen. “I was thinking, ‘If I were him, I would probably take a plea agreement,’” she remembers.

Perhaps state history gave her confidence. Back in 1993, Washington voters had passed an initiative providing that a persistent offender convicted of three serious felonies could be sentenced to life in prison — with no chance of parole. The first such legislation enacted in the country, it became known as the three-strikes law.

A state prosecuting attorney reviewed Richard’s complete criminal history. In Nevada, Richard had been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, a serious felony. A potential first strike. He’d also been convicted of attempted battery causing substantial bodily harm in Nevada, another serious felony. A potential second strike. If Richard was found guilty of the second-degree assault against Brandy, it would qualify as a serious felony conviction. A potential third strike.

That meant, if the prosecutor’s office could ascertain that the Nevada convictions were on par with Washington convictions for similar crimes, a prosecutor could argue before a judge that Richard had earned his third strike. Of course Richard’s defense team could challenge. But a judge would decide if Richard’s sentence would be life.

Richard could avoid a potential life sentence in prison, however, if he took a plea bargain. But he surprised everyone, even himself. He didn’t opt for a plea. “He went for it,” Brandy recalls.

Richard wanted a trial.

The wait

Time leading up to a trial travels at two speeds: neutral and overdrive.

In June, a few weeks after the judge set bail, a guard escorted Richard from the jail through a sky bridge to King County Superior Courtroom E-1201. He sat in a holding cell until a prosecutor called his name for a hearing. His defense lawyer asked the judge to continue the case to a later date; the judge granted the motion. The whole process lasted barely five minutes. Richard signed his court documents with an “X,” so his signature could not be linked to any court documents he’d signed in Nevada, then returned to his cell, his mind revved up on one word: life.

In July, in August, then in September, too, he repeated the routine: the hearing, the signing of documents, the waiting. Life, life, life.

Brandy pushed the trial and her potential testimony out of her mind. It wouldn’t happen. She concentrated on Ian and contacted Karen Ciruli, a woman who had assisted her during Ian’s birth. They celebrated Ian’s first birthday at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Brandy went to church and prayed with her good friend Morgan Price. They raised their hands to God.

Since Richard couldn’t afford legal counsel, he was assigned lawyers from SCRAP, Society of Counsel Representing Accused Persons, a nonprofit public defense law firm. Attorneys Matthew Pang and Alison Warden would handle his case. Richard met with them for maybe five, 10 minutes at a time. More hearings, more waiting. Life.

The state chose deputy prosecuting attorney (DPA) Stephen Hershkowitz. He met Brandy and talked to her about what could happen on the stand. Brandy prayed.

Before Christmas, she and Ian moved out of Hope Place and into a barren two-bedroom in south Seattle, her church providing furniture, a Christmas tree, gifts. Brandy rarely thought about the assault.

More hearings, more waiting, more worrying, more praying.

And then, more than 13 months after the assault, the trial was on the docket. Brandy would testify. Richard faced life in prison.

No more waiting.


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