Millennial History

By Steve Jackson

And Justice for All?

 It took four years and nine months before Nikolas Cruz was finally sentenced for the murder of 17 people in the horrific Parkland, Florida massacre.

     Too much of the legal system focuses on fairness to the criminal, but the damage to the victims and their families as they wait for trial is tremendous.Those who have to testify or give victim impact statements must continually think about what they will say at the trial.There is also uncertainty about the verdict and whether the murderer will be punished.In the Parkland case, the victims were denied the closure of Cruz receiving the death penalty.

   We have seen the consequences of trial delays firsthand. Nikki Goeser helplessly witnessed her husband, Ben, murdered in front of her by her stalker on April 2, 2009. The murderer had long been obsessed with her. Nor was there any doubt about who the murderer was. Hank Wise shot her husband to death in front of 50 witnesses and was filmed on a restaurant’s security video. Incredibly, she is still dealing with the legal fallout from the case. The murderer has continued stalking her, and a new trial, originally scheduled for the third attempt on Nov. 8, 2022, now won’t occur until 2023. Fourteen years to live in fear for her life? Outrageous!  

    There was no doubt that Wise had carefully planned the murder in advance.The night before the murder, he had posted on social media: “Predator vs. Prey. I know who you are and where you run. Where will you work where I can’t find you? At home, at dinner, in your sleep, every (expletive) waking moment. This is going to be very painful. You’ve pissed me off now. You are about to see my bad side.What kind of life do you have now? You are forever un-forgiven.”

    In the stalker’s truck in the restaurant parking lot the night of Ben’s murder, police found two more guns, ammo, a baseball bat, binoculars, gloves, rope and a knife.This was a clear-cut case But the trial was delayed several times and didn’t happen until three years later, on April 9, 2012. Nikki knew she would have to testify. As each trial date approached, she had to prepare herself and relive the horrifying events. 

     Victims worry about whether they will do a good job on the stand.What Will the defense attorney do to them? Nikki couldn’t put it behind her. We can imagine the nightmares she had to live through. Nightmares that she has continued to live with to this day. 

     Unfortunately, the murderer didn’t get the punishment he deserved. He didn’t get the death penalty or even a life sentence. The death penalty is available in Tennessee, but the district attorney in Davidson County opposed using it. Despite all the evidence of premeditation and planning, the progressive judge reduced the sentence to second-degree murder.   

     The murderer is still obsessed with Nikki and she fears his release. He had her lawyer’s address and had been sending her letters before his 2012 trial. Nikki begged the prosecutors and others to stop him, but they didn’t help, so she told her lawyer to stop telling her about the letters. Then in 2019 when she released her book “Stalked and Defenseless,” she reached out to her lawyer and discovered that the murderer had sent many more”love” letters from prison—including Valentine’s Day and Christmas cards.

     She also discovered that the Tennessee Department of Corrections had awarded the murderer three and a half years  of early release/good behavior credits while he continued stalking her from prison. When she approached the TDOC about revoking those credits, she was told they would do nothing for fear of upsetting “prisoner’s rights groups.”

     Nikki pursued a new two-pronged strategy. Her lawyers spent $12,000 to convince prosecutors to bring stalking charges. She then spent $14,000 publicizing her book to help sway the TDOC. Despite the national exposure and her high-powered contacts nothing changed. Finally a federal prosecutor got involved when a local television news show in Nashville (WSMV-TV) broadcast her story in July, 2020, shortly before the statute of limitations was to expire.

     Part of the delay has been due to the murderer claiming insanity. His lawyer claims he is too obsessed with her to be reasonably responsible for his actions. His defense during the trial was that he had delusional disorder and erotomania, the delusional belief that their target of obsession loves them and that there is a relationship. The murderer has also made threatening comments about what will happen if Nikki finds another person in her life. Understandably, she is extremely fearful about his future release, knowing what he had already proven to be capable of.

   It has been over 13 years since her husband has been murdered by the stalker that she still must deal with so long as he has a breath to take. Trial delays may occasionally help to ensure a fair trial for the criminal but they always put the the victims and their families through a protracted and unnecessary hell on earth. Because of the present presidential administration these cases are being multiplied to an unsustainable level. When will Justice ever be blind in this country again? The short, dangerous answer is not anytime soon



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