I know I’ve only had this newspaper of mine for eight years (almost nine). I had a little news reporting experience before that, but not a whole lot. So I don’t pretend to be a “seasoned” reporter yet. I’ll accept that moniker when I hit the 10 year mark with the paper, I think.
Meanwhile, I can say with certainty that I have learned a few things with this gig. When I started the paper I thought it would be a fun little gig with coverage of the parades and festivals and meetings. I knew the meeting coverage could get feisty, even nasty. Hell, we had one school committee member call another the “c” word once, and the barely five-foot-tall woman slapped her bear-like fellow committee member and he actually took her to court and charged her with assault. Sources say the DA asked him if he really wanted to go in front of a judge and say he was threatened by her. And, of course, he deserved that slap.
So, it’s no surprise that politics in Fairhaven has the reputation of being a blood sport. It still is. I’m always chasing down stupid rumors about politicians and ex-politicians.
But that’s politics. That’s fun stuff. That goes with the territory.
I didn’t expect a whole lot of murder cases. Inside of six months of starting the paper in January of 2006, Fairhaven had a murder. Young John Garrett Blomgren had a fight with his friend, Fairhaven high school football player Thomas Reynolds, and young Thomas died from knife wounds sustained in that fight. Garrett (he went by his middle name) received a sentence of 15-17 years.
A few months later, in November of 2006, David Ford knifed Dwayne Lassiter to death over a dispute about a parking space.
That same summer, we had the notorious hazing incident involving Fairhaven football players, including my neighbor.
Since then we’ve had three more murders in Fairhaven, all Fairhaven residents: In 2008, Joshua Fitzgerald was killed in a knife fight by Brandon Callender of New Bedford; in 2009, young Kalibe Correia killed his father Keith in a fight; and now Joyce Howland, whose assailant has not yet been identified.
A few other court cases of various natures have sent me to the court house looking for records, straining to hear as lawyers and judges clearly do NOT respect the spirit of the law as to what “open court” means. It means the public has a right to know. But they mumble, they whisper, they do their best to keep us from hearing. It’s infuriating.
But it’s absolutely maddening to the victims and their family members who also have to sit where they can’t hear what’s going on.
After a couple of years of this, I learned one thing, something I share with victims whenever they ask me what they can do to help their cases along. I tell them to go to court, every, single time. Do NOT miss a court date even if the Assistant District Attorney handling your case tells you that you don’t have to go; even if your DA victim advocate tells you not to worry, nothing is going to happen that day; even if you’re sick of the whole thing because they keep continuing it.
I’ve been there when the DA and defense attorney have been mumbling in front of the judge. I’ve seen the judge look up and ask if the victim or anyone from the family is there; then the judge, DA and defense attorney will all turn and look at the benches. No one raises a hand. Suddenly the case ends. Boom…dismissed, some sort of plea with a very light sentence, or none at all.
Victims blindsided. Victims boiling mad. Victims victimized again.
You can hear it all the time, too, if you watch documentaries about murder and rape and other horrendous crimes. The detectives often say that it was the family member who called and called and called, or went to court every single day that made the difference.
Joyce Howland had no siblings, no children; just a couple of cousins that she obviously wasn’t that close to. Joyce definitely had people who were clearly close to her, good friends, her Goddaughter, and others I’m hearing about as the days pass.
But it’s been 11 days since her body was found and there hasn’t even been a death notice in the paper (which is free).
So, I wonder, who will be there for Joyce? Who will get up early and miss work countless times to be Joyce’s presence in the courtroom? Who will sit there among the accused thieves and assaulters and twitching, sniffling drug offenders for Joyce? Who will be there to speak up when the judge looks up and the ADA and defense attorney turn around looking for a family member?
Who will speak for Joyce?