On Watch

Who's Sorry Now

Posted: Feb 20, 2013 1:46 PM ET Last Updated: Feb 20, 2013 1:46 PM ET
"Sorry seems to be the hardest word."

I hate sappy ballads like the slice of 70s cheese that spawned the above lyric. But I've been sitting in courtrooms a lot lately, listening to a lot of apologies. That made me think of that treacly song.

You see, there's a window of opportunity, after the accused has been found guilty, after the lawyers have haggled over an appropriate sentence but before the judge actually imposes a sentence, when the accused gets to speak. Some - perhaps wisely - chose to err on the side of caution and remain silent. Most, however, take the opportunity to offer some form of apology.

It's not always clear to me what they're sorry for. Sorry they got caught? Sorry they could be facing a significant prison sentence? Sorry to their families? Their victims and their families? It can be an interesting character study to sit and listen to these apologies.

Take the case of Susan MacDonnell, who was convicted of aggravated assault for starving her infant daughter almost to death. The court heard she did it to get attention for herself. Her statement at sentencing seemed to reinforce that notion, as she talked a lot about herself and only mentioned her victim in passing. "I am loved," MacDonnell said.

Chaze Lamar Thompson, on the other hand, used his statement to profess his innocence.  Thompson had sat in the back of taxi, casually assembling the pieces of a handgun before shooting the cabbie once in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Thompson was convicted of first degree murder. He told the court he was "wrongfully accused, wrongfully convicted" and he described his mother as a "true black Nubian queen." That mother he saluted was overcome by grief at the life sentence her son got. Her pained sobs could be heard echoing through the halls of the courthouse.

At his sentencing for a series of brazen armed robberies, Jermaine Carvery seemed to strike just the right note. "I'm sorry for the pain and discomfort I put them and their families through," he told the court, speaking about his victims. Carvery's voice was choked with emotion and he had a Greek chorus of family members sobbing in unison. The only thing working against him was his record. He executed four carefully-planned, high-profile armed robberies and a daring escape from custody. He was described by one of his victims as the "polite robber." But he is still a career criminal.

In contrast, Tyrone David only made one mistake, but it was a big one. The former sheriff's deputy agreed to be a drug mule for a criminal gang leader. At his sentencing hearing, the crown noted that David's pre-sentence report suggested he wasn't showing much remorse for his crime. "I'm very sorry for what happened," David told the court. "I made a mistake and hopefully society can forgive me for that." David also had a lot of family supporters with him in court, and he talked about how he hoped to give back to his community in the future.

Both Tyrone David and Jermaine Carvery are waiting to learn exactly how much prison time they will get for their respective crimes.

Then there's Melvin Skeete Junior. He was convicted recently for murdering his girlfriend. He stabbed her 104 times. At his hearing, he didn't wait for his chance to speak. He interrupted the judge as she was sentencing him to launch into a tirade laced with f-bombs aimed at the judge, the police and the system in general. Ironically, his outburst came just after the judge had complimented him on the progress he had apparently shown while in custody awaiting trial. Talk about a squandered opportunity.

This is just a sampling of what people say when they're put in this very uncomfortable spotlight. They reveal a little bit of themselves, but frequently shed no light on what compelled them to break the law in the first place.
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About the Author

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.

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