The cliché "time stood still" never had much literal meaning to me until that moment. I relived my entire love affair with Dee as that flimsy piece of paper that contained the fate of several lives flitted in casual silence to the woman who would read aloud its contents. I saw myself from outside my body, arms around Dee's mom and in shameless tears, fighting to keep my lips from trembling out of control as I stared at my lover and tried to will into reality the words "Not guilty."
The moments after hearing "Guilty of first-degree murder" are a violent haze. Over the din of reporters running from the room, cell phones beeping on, I heard the judge say that the jury had ruled that Dee did not wield the weapon to participate in the murder, and so this charge against her was dismissed. We were at least dazedly aware that this would be of huge importance later, in appeals and, eventually, parole.
All three of us -- Dee, her mom, and I -- managed to keep our faces turned from the cameras, so the cameramen switched them off, hurriedly packed them up, and followed their fellow scurrying rodents out into the noisy hall. The bailiff led Dee off to a side room, and I saw her turn and mouth "I love you" to her mom and me before she blurred indistinctly on the other side of my tears.
The jurors were allowed to leave through the judge's chambers, but Dee's mom and I were refused this courtesy. A line of sheriffs formed a sort of cop tunnel out of the courtroom and into the hall. At first I thought it might be a cordon to protect us from the pressing media, but the line ran out after 40 feet, and beyond the line, about 40 reporters and camera crews gathered in a tight, anxious clutter. It was a static moment. The well-trained troops didn't move toward us. The TV army simply waited there, poised between us and the elevators around the corner. I don't think I imagined that several of the cops were grinning, like those mean neighborhood kids who love feeding mice to snakes, but I'm way too biased to be sure.
I gave Dee's mom the same drill I'd run when I played bouncer and bodyguard to strippers and porn stars, before I met Dee. It wasn't hard to equate the twitchy reporters at the end of the hall with a bar full of drunk, horny Texans who think that every time a centerfold winks, they've been invited backstage with her. We stop for nothing; keep your head down; don't look back; if I get stopped, you just keep going -- I'll catch up, and if I knock somebody down in front of you, don't trip over him.
As she covered her face, I draped one arm over her shoulder and put my other elbow out, assuming full defensive block position. There was no real opening in the crowd. We moved slowly down the hall, beyond where the cop line ended, before where the reporters began, listening for the ding of an elevator opening. Camera lights came on, flashbulbs popped, reporters began shouting. Once we heard the ding, we were off and running.
Some of the reporters and crews attempted to move aside, if only to save equipment, but I still bumped and elbowed a few things and people along the way. The brief footage that ended up on the news looked a lot rougher than it felt. Rounding the corner tightly, we got through the final flank of about 20 reporters in front of the elevators and into the open car. I hit the button and told Dee's mom to keep her back to the doors, but just as they closed, one reporter ducked through them. I put one arm out to reopen the door and used my other arm to block him from stepping any farther in. I told him we wanted to be alone. All of this was videotaped, but as shot from the hallway (and aired on TV with no sound), it looked as though I were shoving him out of the elevator.
The doors closed and we were alone, but just as Dee's mom turned, they opened again -- one of the reporters had hit the button -- and more photos were hurriedly snapped. This gross behavior still stuns me. Finally the doors closed again and we made good our escape, leaving the reporters to sniff out the prosecutor, who never seemed to tire of hearing his own voice and seeing himself on TV.
I was too numb to be surprised that two vanloads of reporters followed our car down Highway 78, honking and waving past the first few exits as if they thought I'd suddenly pull over for a press conference. It felt like a Wacky Races cartoon. Eventually, I was home and alone, in a house Dee would not likely share with me for a very long time.
Dee was sentenced to 25 years to life in a California women's maximum-security prison. That was over 4 years ago.
Seeing a loved one on trial, seeing her lose her freedom, and then choosing to stick by her, you can't imagine what this is like just by reading about it or watching TV courtroom and prison dramas. Law and Order it ain't.
Dee's first parole hearing will likely be around 2016. We know she won't get out on her first or second try. The California parole board has a history of refusing to release inmates convicted of capital offenses, no matter the individual circumstances. According to current law, those convicted of murder can be denied parole for up to five years at a time, although denials for shorter periods are also granted.
The governor gets a yea or nay in the parole process as well, hence my newfound interest in who's governing this state. Between 1998 and 2002, according to Parole Board Survey 2002, the California parole board decided to grant parole to 225 people convicted of murder. The governor reversed all but 5 decisions.