Monday, October 14, 2013

The Slow Grind Of Justice

It has been over three years since Natasha McShane was beaten on a Chicago street. At the time, the County Armagh native thought her life was just beginning. As it turned out, her life was ending.

Ms. McShane was about to start coursework at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and like all the young people in the city, she sampled the vibrant nightlife in a trendy area. Because she was a small woman, in company with another woman, she was a target for a thief who could have robbed her quite easily. He chose, instead, to beat her head in with a baseball bat before stealing her purse. She didn't have much by way of valuables or cash. She was a university student, living on a budget.

After years of wrangling between prosecutors and defense attorneys, the case is going to trial.

What defense can lawyers for Heriberto Viramontes mount? The other woman who was with Ms. McShane, who was also beaten, is prepared to stand in the witness box and testify that Mr. Viramontes was the perpetrator. She will point him out to all those present in the courtroom and swear that he is the one who took Natasha McShane's future.

Mr. Viramontes had a helper who drove him away from the scene of the crime. She has turned on him to protect herself from jail time, and she is prepared to stand in the witness box and assert that the man standing accused is the one who left Ms. McShane with such severe brain damage that she is unable to walk or talk or take care of herself at all.

Defense attorneys will argue that the witnesses are all very much mistaken.

They have no other option.

They have, as they must surely realize, very little chance of seeing their client acquitted.

Those trying to keep Mr. Viramontes from jail time on this particular charge (he's been in jail before, several times, and is no stranger to a courtroom) were unable to keep DNA evidence out of the trial, and so they cannot say that the bat in question was not used to crush Ms. McShane's skull. Her mother will testify about the extent of the injuries and the jury will sympathize with the victim, and the defense lawyer will stand up and insist that he can prove that the horrific injuries were caused by someone else other than his client because you can't trust your eyes. The witness who was also beaten is not reliable because she was traumatized and therefore easily mistaken. The accomplice is not reliable because she struck a deal to benefit herself.

Then the jury will weigh the testimony, will think about the videos of Ms. McShane as she is today, incapicated and brain damaged because she was hit over the head in a robbery. They will think about what was taken, next to nothing, and what was lost, everything.

Mr. Viramontes will then go to jail, again. The family of Natasha McShane will go home, knowing that justice was done, but their daughter is still broken and will never be made whole. But at least they can get on with their lives, knowing that the man responsible will not have another opportunity to destroy another young life.

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