At first, I didn’t understand. None of us did. We sat in a separate room near the main Court, watching the proceedings on a TV screen and looked at each other.
Had we heard right? What was it the judge was saying?
That my son’s killer was not guilty?
I listened for a few minutes more. And then I had to stand up, get out, leave the building. I thought I would vomit.
I felt a scream come up from my insides. Grabbing my coat, I looked at Alex’s father; his head in his hands, his eyes filled with tears.
My two other children; their faces grey in horror.
Down the stairs, past the security, out, out, out.
I couldn’t catch my breath. It was almost five years since my son had been bludgeoned and strangled to death by someone he knew.
He’d stood no chance. He’d died in a pool of his own blood having suffered over 50 injuries to his head alone.
And now I was being told that no one was responsible for his death?
The killer had been arrested at the scene, he’d admitted taking his life!
I stood in the cold outside Zurich Appellate Court. I didn’t understand how it was possible.
As I write, I still don’t.
But what I do know, now that I’ve had time to pick myself back up, is that I will fight for my son. I will do so, again, and again, and again.
To be told that no one is responsible for his death is an insult to us, his family, and his memory.
What’s more, the message such a decision sends out to the world is that the law in Switzerland doesn’t hold killers responsible if they’re so drunk or high that they don’t know what they’re doing.
I can’t help but wonder whether the judges would have averted their eyes from mine had I been sitting before them as they read their verdict.
They should have had to tell me to my face that the man who brutally killed my child was not guilty.
Because if that is the law, then who is?
Erosion of faith in the legal system is dangerous. Free democracies must have a just and fair rule of law, a robust, well-funded system that works both for the defendant and the victims because all parties are entitled to a fair trial.
It will never be perfect but it has to work. As citizens, it’s our right to ask whether our justice system and laws are fit for purpose.
They should be a balance between punitive measures for inexcusable acts of violence and rehabilitation so criminals do not re-offend.
When a child is killed, the family will stand shell-shocked, bewildered, and utterly lost before a judicial system that barely acknowledges their pain.
I know from personal experience, and the many homicide-loss families I’ve spoken to that we all want the same – to rely on a legal system that delivers justice.
But as I again had to realize last week, and as so many other families of homicide victims already know, justice is illusionary.
When the courts convict a murderer people assume the defendant will be sentenced to years, if not life, in prison.
But on average, actual terms served in prison in the USA for 1st-degree murder are 17 years, and 2nd-degree murder is 6 years. In the UK for murder, it’s 16 years. In Switzerland, the maximum jail term for murder is 20 years.
My son’s killer got 9, and with good behaviour his prison time would have been reduced by a third.
Six years for killing my boy.
Life is cheap it seems.
When my son’s killer was found guilty of intentional homicide two years ago and sentenced at the District Court it really helped us emotionally. We felt that our pain and loss had been publicly acknowledged.
Someone had stopped and looked at us and seen our devastation.
That my son’s life had meant something, that it was of value, and that my community was holding space for our grief. I can’t begin to imagine what’s it’s like for families when no arrests are made.
Sitting through the trial of my son’s killer was re-traumatizing. I was an emotional wreck not only during the trial but in the run-up and for months afterward.
I sat so close to the accused that I could almost smell his sweat as he refused to answer questions.
The District Court found the killer guilty of intentional homicide. He was also found guilty of rape (of another) and given an additional three years.
The killer immediately appealed both verdicts. Two years later, on 20th November, I and my family had to sit through the appeal. To cope with this added ordeal I wrote ‘My Internal Dialogue’.
Last week, his convictions for both the homicide and rape were overturned by the Appellate Court in Zurich.
Not of homicide, nor of rape.
Disbelief doesn’t come close to how I feel.
So what next? Will there be an appeal to the Supreme Court?
Should we change the law? Where do we go from here?
The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll keep fighting for my son Alex for as long as it takes.
Published on Still Standing Magazine 10.12.2019