Some of my thoughts after days spent in the courtroom hearing a murder trial.
I’ve been spending as many hours as I can find at the courthouse in New Ulm for the murder trial. This means that a lot of my other work is suffering a bit (please don’t find any mistakes in the paper this week.)
This entire story has been an education. Like anyone in Sleepy Eye I was aware of the incident since it happened. When I applied for this position with the newspaper, in February 2015, I was asked to write an article about the case—not for publication, for my interview. At that time I contacted both the County Attorney and the Public Defender for information. While I can’t say I am surprised, I really had no idea that the issue would not conclude for two more years.
I’m not surprised because murder trials seem to take a long time. The long time includes many months of investigation, motions, scheduling delays and other events. I overheard Amber’s father say something about “two and a half years” in the courthouse hall a few days ago. What a long time for him and the rest of Amber’s family to wait for the answer they expected—their former friend, almost in-law, and father of their grandsons/nephews, had brutally killed and dismembered their much-loved daughter/sister Amber.
The other family clearly suffered too. Vasquez’s mother and father were in court for most hearings and the entire trial. Their son, who they love, was accused of killing their grandchildren’s mother. They didn’t want to believe he did it, they wanted to believe him when he said he didn’t do it. They must have been confused by his claim of not remembering. I could see their sadness and resignation as reality took hold.
Both families cried after hearing the judge’s decision. The Lechuga family and friends hugged and cried—glad of the outcome, as her dad told me.
Miguel Vasquez’s parents stayed in their courtroom seats and cried. Throughout these proceedings I have felt their sadness and generally sat behind them, two people all alone, learning what their own much-loved child had done.
When Judge Docherty reconvened to give his verdict, he mentioned first his acknowledgement of how what a difficult case it had been for all involved. He thanked everyone for their demeanor, saying there were no outbursts (maybe those things that happen in TV trials, sometimes happen in real life also.)
So, even if the wheels of justice move slowly, I saw that the careful attention to all aspects of the murder trial and the fair treatment of the accused—which popular opinion may not have felt was warranted— resulted in a just decision.
We are bombarded with information about awful crimes daily. The stories we hear are what is known and relayed at the time. We often form opinions based only on initial news reports. Our country’s great judicial system examines accusations of crime in a thorough manner, based on many years of case law.
I observed the fair and careful court proceedings and came away with a true appreciation for our system. I felt the same way when I went through the jury selection process while on jury duty last winter. Rest assured, justice is done in the Brown County Courthouse.