Isaiah 3:13 13 The LORD takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people.
Last week at our family reunion, people were telling stories, and I told one about one of my most memorable court stories – thought you might enjoy. When I graduated from court reporting school, I was able to get a job with George Scott, the judge here, and he also had Calhoun and Roane Counties. My first trial in Calhoun County with a terrible, awful case of a daddy who was a pedophile, and I believe it scarred me to this day. Every time I would drive to Calhoun, my stomach would start to hurt and I would dread not only the drive, but the possibility of more evil taking over my day.
Court reporters love trials, though, so I was excited when I heard we were going to have another trial about someone who tried to burn down the State Police barracks – how exciting would this be! There’s nothing like our system of justice, from the choosing of the jurors who will hear the case, to the tension that builds throughout a trial as all parties wonder who will come out on top. This particular defendant’s name was Daniel Dewitt. I’ll never forget it. He reminded me of a cartoon character, but I can’t for the life of me come up with the name of the cartoon guy. Anyway, we begin the trial, and the prosecution gives their opening statement: Daniel had gotten in some trouble, had forged and uttered some checks. And just FYI, if you’ve ever wondered, the “uttered” means he tried to use them, to pass them off as good. Well, Daniel got to thinking about his trouble, and he decided the best way to get out of this problem he had was to burn down the State Police barracks where the checks were being held. Get rid of the evidence, they’d have nothing to charge him with, right?
So he gets his plan ready, loads up his car, waits until about midnight and drives out to the barracks. Grantsville is laid out sort of weird, and to get to almost anywhere, you have to pass through the center of town, which he does also. He waves to the police officer sitting in his cruiser guarding the town, he proceeds out to the location, pours gasoline all around the building, breaks a window and pours some inside, climbs back out the window, makes a Molotov cocktail (pop bottle with gasoline in it and a rag you light), throws his Molotov cocktail inside, hears the whoosh of the gasoline igniting, jumps into his car and back home he goes – oh, of course, not forgetting to wave to the officer stationed in town.
When the State Police show up the next morning and find their barracks a little scorched but not burned down, the investigation begins. There are muddy footprints all around the barracks, tire tracks, the works. The city officer tells them about seeing Daniel Dewitt, so off to his house they go. They find Daniel still sleeping from his night of hard work, gas can still in the trunk, and like the nice son he was, his muddy tennis shoes were left right outside the door.
Are you thinking like I’m thinking? Case closed. Why are we here? Usually in the court system, if someone is guilty, they know they’re guilty, they know everyone else will know they’re guilty, they’ll just plead guilty, take a plea offer and make it quick and simple for everyone. I’m sitting there thinking, “What in the world can his defense be?” Comes time for Daniel’s attorney to do his opening statement, and he passes, says he’ll do it at the beginning of his case. Never heard about that in court reporting school, never seen it done, but okay, if I was his attorney, I’d probably be passing too. What in the world is he gonna say?
Well, we go through the trial, State puts on their case exactly as it was laid out in opening, time for the defense case and his attorney passes on his opening again, says he’ll just present his evidence. First witness is Daniel’s mother. She seems like a nice lady. He lays a little foundation as to their background, then he gets into “Tell us about Daniel.” She launches into a description of the best baby you’ve ever seen, slept through the night, sat up early, did all these great things, knew his letters before everyone else, talked early, up until about age three, and then she pauses and begins to look around the courtroom real dramatically and she says, “And then that’s when it happened!” The courtroom is silent, all of us waiting on the proclamation, leaning forward to hear better. She looks around and gets the jury’s eye, pauses some more and says very fast and loud: “He got bit by a black widder spider and he ain’t been the same ever since!”
You truly had to be there. I can hear her voice in my mind clear as a bell 30 years later. For some insane reason, I thought that was the funniest thing I had ever heard. I knew how inappropriate it was to laugh, but it kept welling up. I’m trying my best to tamp it down, my eyes are beginning to water, I am truly about to just lose it. Sue Oshoway was the clerk there, and she and I were close friends and had about the same sense of humor. I made the mistake of looking at her, and she was shaking, tears running down her face, trying not to laugh. Oh my goodness, it was about like getting struck with some hilarious moment at a funeral and knowing how awful it would be to laugh or even make a sound. The testimony has continued, but I swear, I don’t even know if I got it down, I was having so much trouble getting myself together. I don’t want to bore you with the details, but let’s just say the debacle ended when the judge called a break because his court reporter and clerk were both hysterical. We got a “talking to” but even being afraid of Judge Scott didn’t truly dampen the hilarity of it.
Daniel was found guilty after about five minutes of jury deliberation, and I have often wondered what happened to him. Now that I’m older and more compassionate, I can imagine if that were really true, what a nightmare his mother must have lived with. To think his reasoning ability had become so skewed must have made raising him a real chore.
And you wonder, how are you going to pull something spiritual out of that? As I thought this week about telling the story, it kind of reminded me of how we do God – we come up with these absolutely idiotic schemes to get ourselves out of trouble, tell lies and sneak around to hide our sin, when all along, God knows all of it. He not only knows what we did, he knows what our heart was feeling and thinking when we were doing it. We may be able to hide some of our evidence from other people, but God still knows. And how do we know He knows? Because if you are like me, there are things that only God knows I’ve done or thought or said, no one else even knew, but God began to take me to task over those things, just like a mother would force you to see the truth of your actions. If God is not all-knowing, all-seeing, how does He do that? He can do that because He is everywhere, with that eye that can see even what we are on the inside. There is no hiding from God. We might cover up on the outside, but when the vision is pierced to our very soul, the blackness or grayness or even dinginess can be seen. I’m so thankful for that! God’s omnipresence has kept me from doing all kinds of bad things, and his conviction has allowed me to seek forgiveness for things I still went ahead and did – He makes me a better person! If you don’t have a peace in your heart today, you still carry things you wish you could be forgiven for, you can! Stop hiding and running and fighting against it – a relationship with the Lord brings a peace that cannot even be described!
My name is Teresa Evans. I am a wife to Tom, a retired Circuit Judge, and I am a court reporter by trade, a mother by God's grace and a lover of Jesus Christ. I've grown up in a family blessed with many miracles, and have received multiple miracles myself.