Posted by: kathyhugs | March 5, 2010

Three Bottles of Ginger-ale!

God is good. Today we felt God’s presence while we were in court. This morning as we prepared for court I was over the anxiety and the only thing left was my anger for the defense motions. I had calmed down since last night but I was still upset that we were walking into a situation that we didn’t have a clue to what was going to happen. So once again we had to turn it all over to God and trust that He knew what was going to happen. The prayers of everyone surrounded us as we drove to Lisbon. We arrived at the courthouse and Rick and I were amazed at some of the things we both noticed. The guard on duty who watched us go through the metal detector without even asking our names acknowledged that he understood that it was going to be a tough day. We didn’t even know his name. We went up to the prosecutor office and before we could press the bell to get in the secretary buzzed us in and took us back to the library to meet with Lynn.

Lynn talked with us for a few moments and then said he needed to finish his rebuttal to the motion that Hartford had filed. So we just waited and went over our notes for our statements. Rick got coffee and we waited. I received a text message from my dad when they arrived at the courthouse. Tammy, the assistant prosecutor, came in to let Lynn know that her case was over and to say hello to us. Lynn left to head into the courtroom and told us to wait for about 10 more minutes. Pastor Jeff called and said that he had arrived at the courthouse. I was so glad that we had asked him to be with us. Tammy & Kerry escorted us down to the second floor waiting room until it was time to go in. Jeff, Tammy, Kerry, Rick and I had some sweet moments of stories and prayers. It was a calming moment.

Rick and Jeff surrounded me as I went to sit down in the courtroom.  Now comes the hard part. JC is already there when we come in. The news cameras are set up and we are escorted to the first row. The three ladies from Columbiana County Victims of Homicide support group were there. My family was there. So many more that it just didn’t register.

“All rise for the Honorable C. Ashley Pike” and it began. The judge read the case numbers and asked Lynn if he wanted to start. Lynn went over the decision process he went through from last July until January. He described the meetings and the final joint decision to agree on an 8 year sentence. He made a point to say that we were in the courtroom and wished to make a statement. He addressed the different points in the defense motion and gave the state’s version of the details. He talked about the discrepancy in the time of death. He talked about the discrepancy about the gun found in Tonia’s hand. He challenged the expert witnesses that Hartford quoted. He closed by stating that in the county he is from that a handshake between two gentleman was a binding agreement. He addressed the judge saying that he was standing by the agreement but that he understood it was ultimately up to the judge.

Then it was Hartford’s turn. He defended his actions in the motion as just his way of preparing a pre-sentencing brief. He tried to sit down when the judge started questioning him. Hartford defended his evidence and his witnesses and then stated that of course it was up to the judge and that he was just trying to be helpful. The judge asked him if he would have been upset if Lynn had filed a motion asking for a tougher sentence? Hartford said no and sat down.

Now it was our turn. The judge asked Lynn to escort us over to the podium. We introduced ourselves and Rick went first.

Your Honor, thank you for this opportunity to address the court.  I would like to publically thank Mr.  Grimshaw. He has been a gift from God to us during these last 32 months. His compassion and understanding has allowed us to grasp the needed details of the legal proceedings.  Thank you and God Bless you Mr. Grimshaw!

But, my intent was to talk about Tonia.  It is difficult to put a life into perspective in such a short amount of time.  The Lord brought Tonia into our lives for many reasons; many of which we will never know.  Tonia was not a perfect person, but she was truly loved.  Tonia loved.  She loved animals, she loved people and most of all, she loved music.  Tonia brought a light and a song into our lives that can never be extinguished.

When she was a little girl, Tonia would sing and dance everywhere.  We were blessed to see her forever dancing and singing down the hall or along a path in the woods and in countless other areas.  Her smile was contagious.  Her giggle, infectious.

We saw Tonia through many challenges in her life.  Physical challenges early in life, emotional hurts throughout her life.  Yet through it all, Tonia maintained her spark.  In the midst of the challenges, it never ceased to amaze us how she would find it in her heart to help others.  Whether it was helping to clean someone’s house who was unable to do so, or picking up a stray animal to nurture, Tonia loved to help.  She brought a light into many lives.

Although Tonia has been taken from us here, we are continually encouraged by the understanding that it is a temporary separation.  We will see Tonia again when we go to be with The Lord, as she was when we knew her here.  God is sovereign.  Nothing happens without His knowing.  While Tonia’s time here with us is over,  far too soon in our estimation, His Word tells us that we will meet again.  Tonia was not just another statistic in the papers, killed in anger by a lost and desperate soul, she was a loving, caring, beautiful woman.  She continues to be dearly missed by many.  The world is darker without her light and song.

I am so proud of him. He was so articulate and passionate.

Then it was my turn. I had been shaking but as I started speaking an incredible peace came over me. Rick told me later that he could feel God’s peace wash over me. I was relaxed and my voice could be heard. Amazing.

Your honor,

Who was our daughter, Tonia? Tonia had a heart so big that is almost couldn’t be contained in her body. She loved people and animals. She always had animals around her; strays that she would pick up and care for, ones that she adopted from a shelter and ones that friends would have her take care of. Even more than animals she loved people. One story that keeps coming to mind happened when she was in high school. One of our neighbors received a diagnosis that traumatized her.  She would end up in a wheelchair and depending upon others for her daily needs. When she started to become dependent Tonia was the only one she would allow to come over and help her. Tonia would clean her house, wash her clothes and take care of her. This went on for months until our neighbor became comfortable with allowing other people to help her. She once told me that she knew that Tonia would take care of her and that she wouldn’t treat her any differently. That was Tonia.

Tonia loved to care for others. She took care of her mother-in-law, Barb Amato when she needed help. She took her to the doctor, to the emergency room and to the store. She would help Barb with her medications and she helped her cope after Marcus’ death. Tonia would buy groceries for her neighbors and take them to their appointments. She loved to help everyone in her life. She could not hurt anyone or anything, even a spider. When she was at camp one summer, she went from tent to tent gathering up all of the spiders and releasing them so that they would not be killed.

Tonia loved the holidays.  She wanted to start singing Christmas carols in July because she loved Christmas so much.   Christmas time was always tremendous because Tonia was there.  I also remember her telling me about her excitement for her first Christmas together with JC.  Now, Christmas has lost one of the lights in our house.  We try to replace that with the ornaments she loved, but nothing can ever replace the light of her smile and giggles Christmas morning.

When JC killed Tonia, so many people lost: they lost a friend, a granddaughter, and a niece. We lost our daughter. Our son, Sean, lost his only sister. He will never hear Tonia’s children calling him Uncle Sean.  I will never get a phone call saying. “Mom I’m pregnant, you are going to be a grandmother!”  We will never get to hold her children in our arms.  I will never get to throw a baby shower for her.

The fact is that Tonia is the winner in this situation. She is spending eternity basking in God’s love while we continue to live here trying to do our best to love others as God loves us. JC she has won and you have lost. You lost a woman who loved you and defended you and did everything she could to get you some help. You lost your biggest fan. You lost your wife and now you are losing the life you once knew. You made a vow to protect her and to love her when you were married and you broke that vow. She trusted you.

I do know several other things about Tonia. Just five days before her death, Tonia called me at home. Her voice was filled with excitement as she shared with me how she had downloaded several messages of Pastor Jeff’s.  They had given her so much joy. His series on “The Truth about Heaven” had given her a reason to question her salvation. She talked about witnessing to JC, looking for a home church, and calling me were all parts of her decision to accept God’s gift of mercy, forgiveness and ultimately salvation. She continued the conversation with these precious words – words that I had longed to hear for years, “Mom, I’ve never felt this close to God in my life.

JC, she was praying for you. She wanted to share her excitement and her new found faith with you. She talked about how she and Tracy could go and look for a church together and that maybe you would come with them.  That was who she was, a woman who cared so much about others and wanted to take care of them.

I wrote this on July 17, 2007, just days after Tonia’s funeral and I want to read it to you now.

JC,

Tonight as I write this letter my heart is breaking wide open, both, for missing my beautiful daughter, Tonia, but also for you.  I have no idea what happened on July 1st and I may have to wait until I get to Heaven to get this question answered. But I do know that Tonia loved you and we welcomed you into our family.  I don’t understand what happened between you, or how she can be dead, but I do know that she is in Heaven right now. We are praying for you! I am struggling with the confusion I am feeling but I know you are probably dealing with even more conflicting emotions. The pictures I see are the pictures of your wedding and the last Christmas here at our home and the phone conversation I had with Tonia when she asked me to pray for you.

I can only imagine the pictures you are carrying around in your head. May God come into your heart and free you from that pain!

JC, tonight I can only say that no matter what happened on July 1st, we will continue to pray for you. Tonia would have wanted that.  Pixie, her puppy, is living here with us and she is bringing some joy and a little bit of healing into our lives.  God has been lifting us up and surrounding us with His peace and calmness.

This letter is just as true today as it was on July 17, 2007. I don’t know what has happened to you but you have made some very bad choices in your life. Two choices have had severe consequences; your actions with your first wife, Tara and then with killing Tonia. I pray that over the next eight years you take the time to listen to God. It is only through his help that you might be able to get out of jail and find a way to live an honorable life.

The other thing I know for a fact is that we have forgiven you. That doesn’t mean that my heart has not been torn wide open with the loss of Tonia. I will miss her every day until I see her again in Heaven.

I bought a bible for you over a year ago but I couldn’t figure out a way to get it to you. I have it with me today. I prayed for a long time about this decision but I want to give it to you now. (I handed the bible to the bailiff, Linda). I hope you accept it in the spirit it is being given to you. My heart will always have a deep pain because of the loss of Tonia but my gift from God is one of hope. My way of honoring her memory, her hope and her love for you is to give you this bible.

Your honor, I thank you for allowing me the time to read this.

We were done. I was crying so hard and I was shaking.  Pastor Jeff grabbed my hand and whispered that it was fantastic. He had tears in his eyes and he was visible shaken. It was a sweet moment. And then…. the judge begins speaking. He asks if JC wants to make a statement. JC nods his head yes and he is escorted to the podium by James Hartford. He was in his orange prison suit and he was in shackles. He asked the judge if he could address us and the judge allowed it. Rick was holding my hand on one side and Pastor Jeff was holding on to my other hand. They had surrounded me and put up a wall of protection around me.  JC began talking to us “I lost my best friend; I lost my wife. … I know ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t even begin… There was no hate in my heart when that happened. It was a total reflex. If I could take it back, I would. Thank you for your forgiveness.” He said that he had nothing further to add. I was bawling, my body was shaking. Rick and Jeff kept holding onto my hands.

What a heart wrenching moment. JC said he was sorry, that was huge to us. I still don’t like the fact that he insists that Tonia shot at him first! NO WAY that happened. But I will accept the fact that he is feeling repentant.

The judge then talked about the legal system and the how a sentence is decided. Then the words that gave us such a sense of relief were spoken…. you are sentenced to 3 years on the weapons specification, five years for the voluntary manslaughter charge and you will be held to a 5 year post release supervision!

It is finished! No more delays, no appeals, no early release possibility. JC will be in jail until January 14, 2018.

We were then given the opportunity to escape to the prosecutor’s library so I could pull myself together. Pastor Jeff prayed for us and told us how proud he was of us. What a wonderful thing to hear from someone we love and respect. After a few more interviews with the media and we were able to leave the courthouse.

Just before we left the office I got to see and hug a true hero. Former Wellsville police officer Mike Garber, who has been serving in Iraq, showed up in the prosecutor’s office.  Mike Garbor was one of the first officer’s on the scene. But the more important thing to me was the fact that Mike was one of the officer’s who drove to our home to interview me. He came to our home so that I would not have to go to the station. He was gracious and kind under a horrible set of circumstances. This experience absolutely shook me up but he made it so much better than it could have been. I was able to hug him and thank him for that day and for the service he is providing to America. God Bless you Mike Garber. You will be in our prayers!

The most thoughtful thing happened as we left the courthouse. I had mentioned in passing that I wanted to stop and buy a ginger-ale for my stomach. Rick and I even laughed about it and he told me we could stop at the same gas station that we had stopped at before. When we got to our car there were three bottles of ginger-ale waiting for us on the roof of the car! An angel heard me and took the time to buy them, find our car and leave them for us. Whoever you are, this was such a blessing. It was the beautiful ending to this event. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

God hears prayers! Thank you for being a part of our journey. This chapter is over and now we can turn the page and see where God wants to take us. God is truly good! FROG!

PS: Later on we discovered that Pastor Jeff was the one who had put the bottles of  gingerale on our roof. He had to search for our car since it was hidden in the back lot. This was a gift from his heart to mine. Thank you God for putting such a Godly man into our lives.

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