My journal entries for the months following Richard’s murder typically opened with “Today was rough,” “Another difficult day,” “ I went to bed sad,” “I woke up angry,” I felt awful all week,” “I still feel depressed.”
As the shock of homicide began to wear off, my emotions took on a life of their own, the intensity of which was alarming to me. Rage, depression, terror, acute anxiety—I never knew which would surface or when. I stopped dreaming, perhaps my mind’s way of protecting me from the emotional havoc of homicide-inspired nightmares. My sleeping patterns drastically changed; I’d wake up hours before the alarm, full of anxious thoughts about whether Bill would make his bail and leave town, never to be prosecuted for Richard’s murder.
I became so dangerously thin that my physician uncle warmed me that I looked like a concentration camp survivor. Even though I was eating, I had no control over my metabolism, which seemed to have changed overnight. The emotional stress unleashed by Richard’s murder was burning up all sustenance.
I was consumed with a relentless anger—anger at Bill, at the authorities for causing me more suffering and trauma, and at Richard for befriending Bill, getting involved with drugs, and abandoning me when I needed him most. Sometimes my anger spilled out in ways that now shock me. I remember, in particular, standing at a stoplight when a tough-looking teenager accidentally brushed against me. “Don’t you say ‘excuse me’!” I screamed. We eyeballed each other for two blocks. Although I was half his size, I felt ready and able, empowered by a rush of pent-up anger, to take him on. Sensing my rage, he surged ahead of me.
As capable as I felt of inflicting pain on someone, I was equally as fearful and hypervigilant about someone hurting me. One day a menacing street person followed me from the subway. At a more “normal” time in my life, I would have calmly walked into a store and bided my time, but my emotional fragility in the aftermath of homicide dictated otherwise. I rushed into the corner grocery, frantically screaming that someone was after me. Terrified, I crouched in the back of the store and did not budge until “my attacker” was gone and the police arrived. The police drove me the half block to my apartment.
And then there was the sadness. I did not welcome the spring that year. I saw Richard everywhere. Buildings where he once worked, the Garment Center deli where he had lunch, my neighborhood coffee shop, the theater where we saw our last movie, the F train to Queens, the Museum of Natural History, Chinatown—all assumed a kind of landmark status because of their association with Richard. I became painfully aware of couples. “I had that,” I’d tell myself. The whole world suddenly seemed coupled except for me.
I felt as if I was leading a double life. Plunging myself into my job (it was no time to change employment), I functioned during the day as if all was status quo. Then I would take the subway home, hiding behind dark sunglasses even if it was raining, and sit all evening, weeping or staring into space. I often just crawled into bed.
To cope with this overwhelming grief, I went back into therapy, took yoga, got massaged, freely talked about what happened to Richard, and developed a support system of a few trusted friends with whom I could share my thoughts and feelings.
At the encouragement of a friend who strongly believed in the healing power of rituals, I even created a ceremony with an offering to commemorate the forty days after Richard’s death, the time in esoteric circles when, I was told, the soul is believed to reincarnate. My offering was the soap-on-a rope I had planned to ceremoniously present to Richard the night of his murder.
Some friends and I drove to Bear Mountain, to the picnic area along the stream where Richard and I had spent many happy times. It was there that we buried the soap. As a friend held up an enlarged photograph I had of Richard, I said, “This is in honor of the fortieth day after your death, Richard. I think we should have a moment of silence.” Our silence barely lasted a moment, interrupted as it was by my uncontrollable, straight from-the-gut, contagious laughter. The absurdity of the scene—grown-up women, looking very solemn, holding up a photograph of a man and gaping into a hole—suddenly struck me as hilarious. “Richard’s laughing at us,” a friend said.
I was doing all the “right” things, yet I felt no lasting relief from the pain. Ironically, at this point, some friends and family members, expecting me to be getting on with my life, started to pull away. Some even stopped calling. An uncomfortable reminder of their own vulnerability to violence and even homicide. I was rejected as if I was a leper.
I remember attending an obligatory family function shortly after Richard’s death and being greeted by certain relatives with hearty hellos, smiles and “how are yous” as if nothing had happened which made me feel worse. Other family members casually excused them on the grounds that “they probably did not know what to say to you.”
Fortunately, I was extricated from my growing isolation and anguish when, three months after Richard’s murder, I was referred to the Survivors of Homicide Group, a support group run by Manhattan’s Victim Services Agency.
The prospect of joining a group whose common bond was the uncommon experience of homicide was at first off-putting. However, as soon as I met the members of the support group and we began sharing our stories, any hesitation or trepidation fell away.
Their stories, like mine, never made the headlines, but they will always be etched in my memory: Jane’s landlord father strangled by a tenant who kept his corpse in her apartment for three days; Angel, mother of six young children, whose husband was shot eight times for refusing to relinquish their home to drug dealers; Helen’s son murdered by another boy playing with his father’s gun; Eileen and Wilma’s cab driver husbands killed by their passengers; and poor Lizzie whose son was murdered a few months after her husband’s sudden death. Surprisingly, all the senseless destruction of human life I heard about did not overwhelm me and make me want to run away from the group. On the contrary, I instantly bonded with these people whose paths might never have crossed mine had we not shared the experience of homicide. Emotionally, I felt more at home with these “strangers” than I did with my family and friends.
Like me, these survivors also experienced intense, uncontrollable mood swings and thought they were crazy for feeling the way they did. What a relief it was to learn that our overcharged, distorted emotions were healthy, normal responses to an abnormal situation. We were all suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), a common response in the aftermath of homicide.
Within the circle of my support group, I found that I could express my pain, rage, helplessness, phobias, frustrations with the criminal justice system, and rejection by family and friends without anyone judging me or telling me how I should feel. I could even tell the group how I hoped Bill would commit suicide, be murdered by other inmates or better yet, contract AIDS in prison. A slow, painful death would be my sweetest revenge. People on “the outside” would shudder and think ill of me for voicing such malevolent thoughts, whereas the members of my group understood and accepted my feelings even if they no longer subscribed to them. The survivors who were further along in their healing process had apparently worked through their feelings of revenge. I admired them and wondered if I would ever reach that point in my recovery or, for that matter, even recover at all.
Victim Services also offered emotional assistance in dealing with the criminal justice system, particularly the court process. This offer of support helped alleviate my anxiety, which only intensified as the trial drew closer.
I had already been in contact with Assistant District Attorney Landau who would be prosecuting the case against Bill. An attorney with a no-nonsense, impersonal approach, Landau let me know early on that he was running the show and did not want any interference from me. Whenever I asked questions, offered any personal insights or volunteered additional information I thought relevant, he seemed annoyed. From his perspective I was just one of the sundry witnesses he needed to win his case.
In criminal cases, it is always the people of the state versus the defendant. The district attorney is the advocate for the state, not the victim. Because of this reality, the victim all too often becomes a non-person in our criminal justice system. I was determined not to let that happen to Richard.
At my first meeting with Landau, I pulled out my enlarged photograph of Richard, a remarkably candid shot that captured the kind of person he was: vibrant, animated and fun loving. To my surprise, Landau and his investigator just stared at Richard, mesmerized, unable to believe their eyes. The investigator, a big, burly man, gingerly stepped forward to take a closer took. “The homicide” had suddenly become human.
As the trial hovered over my summer like a thundercloud waiting to burst, I was beset with new frustrations and anxieties. A mysterious blonde from Long Island had suddenly appeared, offering to sell her house to meet Bill’s bail. Obsessing over the possibility of Bill’s release from prison, I agonized that he had not suffered enough. Fortunately, there was a lien against the house and the bail offer was denied.
Marlene, who was out of prison on bail, was still not talking. The authorities were sure she knew more than she cared to admit. As Bill’s realtor, did she know about the condo he offered to Richard as collateral for his drug debt?
The pre-trial hearings were under way. When I asked Landau if I could attend a hearing for which the phone company had to submit my phone records, he told me that the judge would probably bar me from the courtroom because the hearing would prejudice my testimony at the trial. Based on the fact that someone in my group had been a trial witness and attended pre-trial hearings, I questioned the validity of Landau’s assumption, but I refrained from pushing my case. I did not want to alienate him for fear that he would compromise his efforts in prosecuting Bill. To help prepare for the trial, I had a private counseling session with the facilitator of my support group. A veteran of many murder trials, he pulled no punches. When I expressed my fears about the defense attorney’s cross-examination of me and his probable defamation of Richard’s character, he agreed, “Yeah, one notch above child molester.” He acknowledged that it would be difficult for me on the stand.
He also gave me articles to read about survivors’ experiences with the judicial system, among them Dominick Dunne’s blow-by-blow account of the trial of the man who murdered his daughter. The stories were informative yet depressing in their depiction of a criminal justice system skewed in favor of the criminal at the expense of the victim.
As much as I dreaded the trial and the emotional roller coaster it would
re-activate, I welcomed the closure it would give me. I had to know what happened in Richard’s apartment that afternoon before I could ever move on with my life.
I knew the odds were stacked against an easy conviction. The evidence against Bill, although compelling, was circumstantial. There was no eyewitness, confession, bloody clothing, or murder weapon. And Marlene still refused to talk. Yet I chose to remain hopeful and believe that justice would ultimately prevail.
I received my subpoena to appear on September 4th as a witness for the prosecution. Due to delays in the trial schedule, I did not testify until September 16th.
During the two weeks I waited to take the stand, I felt like a human yo-yo. Whenever it seemed certain that my day in court would finally come, I would call Landau’s office only to be told that my presence was not yet required, and that I should call back the next day.
Given all the last minute changes in my court date and people’s work schedules, I knew that I could not rely on friends to accompany me to the trial. I had also decided that I did not want an audience of friends and family; the jury, attorneys et al. were enough to give me stage fright. That decision was one that I still regret. No one should have to go through a murder trial alone.
I was relieved when finally, after all the setbacks, the trial moved forward according to plan. My emotions steeled in anticipation of the ordeal I was about to face, I kept reminding myself that the trial would soon be behind me.
Because I was a witness and the proceedings could prejudice my testimony, I was barred from the courtroom until it was time to take the stand. For four hours, I sat by myself on a bench outside the courtroom anxiously waiting to testify.
When the trial broke for a short recess, I came face–to-face with Defense Attorney Rosenberg and his entourage of women, among them a blonde who, according to Landau, was Bill’s current girlfriend, Bill’s sister and a younger woman Landau identified as Rosenberg’s daughter who had just finished law school.
Obviously aware of my identity, Rosenberg cast a contemptuous glance in my direction. Our eyes locked in mutual hostility as we checked each other out. I braced myself for a rocky cross-examination.
I was amazed at how calm and unintimidated I felt as I walked into the courtroom and was sworn in as a witness. Once seated, I discreetly placed a photograph of Richard on my lap. I had asked my support group if I could bring Richard’s photo with me for support when I testified. No one thought that would be problematic as long as I kept it out of sight.
Looking down at Richard’s smiling face, I felt his vote of confidence in me. Bolstered by his support, I was ready to take in the scene and its players: the jury, a mix of whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians of various ages, who averted their eyes when I looked at them as they would throughout my testimony; Judge Haifetz who I hoped would be fair and forceful enough to keep Rosenberg in line if necessary; Landau, looking serious and intense; Rosenberg assisted by his daughter at the defense table; Bill’s women; and Bill. Bill looked well-rested, fit and healthy, as if he had been to a spa; it was hard to believe that he had been incarcerated for six months.
My composure and bravado proved to be just a facade. A feeling I experienced as mild discomfort during Landau’s brief, cursory examination escalated into a debilitating internal panic once Rosenberg began to question me. Suddenly I found myself groping for answers, my memory failing me, my mind unable to focus on what I was being asked. In exasperation, I turned to Judge Haifetz and tried to explain, “I’m sorry, but I think I’m really nervous. I’m starting to draw blanks.” He immediately dismissed the jury and asked a court officer to bring me a glass of water.
Two of the jurors looked genuinely irritated at having to get up and leave the room. How I wanted to say to them, “This isn’t easy for me. How would you feel if you were in my place?” The only ones who showed any understanding of my predicament were the court officer who smiled sympathetically when she brought me the water and the court stenographer who whispered, “Don’t worry. You’re doing just fine.”
My nerves in jangled disarray, I knew I had to recover fast. Convinced that seeing Bill again “in the flesh” had spun me into the panic, I walked to the front of the courtroom where I could stare him down. He squirmed under my fixed gaze, but I did not flinch. I was determined not to let him have power over me again. By the time everyone was called back to the courtroom and Rosenberg resumed his questioning, I was feeling more relaxed, centered and intact.
Rosenberg’s style—his flamboyant delivery, the booming cadences of his voice, his exaggerated gestures, his coddling of the jury, always a smile on his face—bordered on the theatrical. I wondered if the jury bought into his act or whether, like me, they could see through to the defense attorney willing to stop at nothing to win his client an acquittal.
Armed with his own barrage of questions and new ammunition supplied by his daughter who constantly passed notes to him, Rosenberg kept me on the stand longer than any of the witnesses who testified, including the detectives. Such star witness treatment took me by surprise, especially since I had not been privy to the details of Richard’s murder. It was as if Rosenberg had a personal vendetta to settle with me. For over three hours, I sat there, defenseless, as he went for my jugular.
When I started to testify about asking for a Valium the night of Richard’s murder and being told by Marlene that Bill had finished “the last of it,” Rosenberg cut me off, shouting “Mistrial! Mistrial!” and throwing his arms about like a child in the midst of a temper tantrum. I could not help but roll my eyes at his theatrics. It was blatantly obvious to me that he was grasping at any “off the wall” excuse for a mistrial. I was sure the jury realized it, too. But then again, as someone once told me, “Don’t ever try to second-guess a jury.” Judge Haifetz denied Rosenberg’s request for a mistrial and ordered my candid remark about Bill stricken from the court record.
I had to be careful of what I said about Bill; Rosenberg would construe any negative truth as grounds for a mistrial. On the other hand, Rosenberg had “carte blanche,” to the point of even lying, to malign my character and undermine my credibility as a witness.
At one point he waved around a mysterious piece of paper with my name purportedly on it, requesting that it be admitted into evidence. Although Judge Haifetz did not grant his request, I wondered what questions Rosenberg managed to plant in the minds of the jury: What was on that paper? Why was her name on it? What did Rosenberg know that he was barred from divulging? Could she have been involved in some shady drug deal or maybe even her boyfriend’s murder?
In an attempt to portray me as a substance abuser with emotional problems who might have traveled to Queens to kill Richard during my lunch hour, Rosenberg asked the name of my therapist, what tranquilizer the doctor prescribed, the location of my job, especially vis-à-vis Richard’s apartment, and a host of other “loaded” questions. When Rosenberg wanted to know if I felt “friendly” towards Bill and I frankly answered, “No!,” he tried to depict me as vindictive enough to lie under oath. “Isn’t it true that you would lie on the stand to get a conviction that would send my client to jail for 25 years to life?”
As offensive as these questions were, Rosenberg’s most devastating personal attack came when he actually sneered and said, “Are you sure you were never in a mental institution?”
Although Landau voiced immediate objections to Rosenberg’s questions, all of which were sustained by the judge and stricken from the record, Rosenberg had already cast his “seeds of doubt” in the minds of the jury. Moreover, once the objections were raised and sustained, I had no chance to respond to Rosenberg’s vicious attacks and set the record straight for the jurors who were no doubt confused by his lies and implications.
It was inconceivable to me that the jury could have believed Rosenberg’s out-and-out lies about my life and character. Yet, when I inconspicuously tried to read the jurors’ reactions, I only encountered blank expressions, empty stares and avoidance of any eye contact with me.
While I was on the witness stand, I felt compelled to suppress my feisty nature and not react to Rosenberg’s assaults—out of fear that I would become too emotional and lose control. I had been advised by my support group and professionals who worked in the victim treatment field that no matter what Rosenberg would say to antagonize me, I had to keep my anger under wraps or I would appear unstable and lose the jury’s sympathy and my credibility as a witness.
If Rosenberg had hoped to provoke my anger for the jury to see, he met with considerable opposition from me. I had numbed my emotions to the point that I barely even looked at Richard’s photo on my lap or thought about him during my testimony. I would later feel guilty for having relegated Richard to the background as if he were a non-person, but, at the time, I had no choice but to let my responsibility as a witness take precedence over my feelings for him.
I almost lost my “emotional cool” when Rosenberg asked if I kept a personal journal. When I acknowledged that I did, he asked if I would bring it to court to be presented as evidence. When I refused on the grounds that his request constituted a violation of my rights as a person and as a writer, he pressed Judge Haifetz to order me to do so. “No, I will not order her to bring in her journal!” the judge said. But Rosenberg was relentless in his demands to secure my journal. In the end, the judge succumbed. When I started to protest, he silenced me, shouting that he alone would read its contents and rule on its admissibility as evidence. I reluctantly brought in my journal the next day.
The court proceedings that morning were delayed as Judge Haifetz read my journal in his chambers. Although he ruled that my journal bore no relevancy to the trial, it pained me that someone who knew nothing about Richard and me had been privy to my most personal thoughts and feelings.
As everyone waited in the vestibule for court to resume, I riveted my attention on the women who had come to support Bill. As we exchanged dirty looks, I suddenly remembered Maureen, the sister-in-law (Jerry’s wife) who used to visit Bill. Richard had once described her as blonde, attractive and trim with a slightly perceptible twist to her mouth caused by a stroke. The description matched the appearance of the blonde who Landau had identified as Bill’s girlfriend. It struck me that this woman had participated in Bill’s deception of Richard and his trumped-up stories about “The Family.” Had she been involved in Richard’s murder, too?
I also saw Marlene who had come to testify after me. At the eleventh hour she had made a deal with the district attorney’s office and the charges against her were dropped in exchange for her testimony at the trial.
Marlene and I glared at each other. I could not help but notice the warm smiles and acknowledgement she extended to Rosenberg and Bill’s women. When I told Landau about her friendly rapport with the defense, he shrugged, “We know she’s still helping him.”
Since my testimony was over, I returned to court the next day to sit in at the rest of the trial, but Landau opposed the idea on the off chance that I might be called back to the stand. When I asked if my friend, a woman from my support group who had accompanied me to court that day, could attend the proceedings, Landau warned that her presence could provoke a mistrial should Rosenberg say she told me about what transpired. When I protested that Bill’s supporters had been there from Day One, he told me in no uncertain terms that the defense could do anything they wanted while his every action had to be above reproach. Not wanting to further antagonize Landau at this critical juncture, I deferred to his wishes and waited outside with my friend. I also planned to purchase a copy of the court transcript after the trial, so I could always catch up on what I missed.
When I heard that Rosenberg had put Bill on the stand, I felt hopeful, taking it as a sign that the trial was moving towards a conviction. I speculated that it could only be a last ditch effort to win an acquittal that Rosenberg would allow Bill to testify. Defense attorneys generally do not like to put their clients on the stand, and in Bill’s case, such a move posed an inordinate amount of risk. Bill would inevitably trip himself up as he did the night of Richard’s murder and any holes and contradictions in his testimony would surely be exposed during Landau’s careful, no-nonsense cross-examination.
Although I welcomed Bill’s testimony, I was also bitterly aware of the inequity inherent in the situation. As a witness, I was kept out of the courtroom before and after my testimony while Bill had the right to be present from start to finish even though he would testify after hearing all the evidence presented by the prosecution. As someone later pointed out to me, “that’s why it’s called the criminal justice system and not the victim justice system.”
When Landau emerged from the courtroom, I expected him to confirm my expectation that Bill had blatantly perjured himself throughout his testimony. Instead, Landau, looking far from triumphant, reported in disgust that Bill had cried on the stand. What if Bill’s tears had aroused the jury’s sympathy? I had to believe that no jury could be that gullible.
With all the testimony in and hence, no legal obstacles to exclude me from the proceedings, I returned to court the next day to hear Landau and Rosenberg’s closing arguments. I took a seat in the front where I would be fully visible to the jury. I wanted the jury to remember throughout the summations, especially Rosenberg’s, that Richard was a real person whose life and death profoundly affected those who loved and cared about him.
Landau was clearly distressed by my presence in the courtroom. He admonished that any emotional reaction from me, even a roll of the eyes, could be grounds for a mistrial and Bill would walk. His “ultimatum,” as it were, scared me off. Since I could not guarantee emotional neutrality in these circumstances and did not want to cause a mistrial, I had no choice but to leave the courtroom. I still could read the closing arguments in the court transcript, which, I concluded, would be emotionally healthier for me to do within the privacy of my own home, where I could cry, scream, curse, feel whatever I wanted to feel.
To pass the time, I attended the trial of a gang of alleged rapists down the hall. Repulsed by the spectacle staged by their defense attorneys, I left after a short while and returned to “my bench” where I had waited so many hours before.
When the trial recessed for lunch, I cornered Landau in the hall to ask how the case was going. He was unwilling to even hazard a guess. The outcome would all depend on the jurors who would receive their instructions from Judge Haifetz after lunch and then deliberate until they reached a verdict. The jury had heard much testimony over a three-week period and would certainly want portions of the proceedings read back to them before reaching a decision.
I went home that afternoon feeling more confident than depressed about the prospects for a conviction. It seemed inconceivable to me that the jury could render anything but a guilty verdict.
At eight o’clock the next morning, my phone rang. To my surprise, it was Landau. I had not expected to hear from him until the verdict had been reached.
Never one to mince words, Landau got right to the point: the jury had delivered a not-guilty verdict the night before. I was too stunned to react. Not guilty! How could the jury have rendered a verdict, especially an acquittal, after only a few hours of deliberating? Incredulous, I listened as Landau reported that the jurors were unwilling to convict on circumstantial evidence, even though all had indicated the contrary at jury selection.
Landau rambled on about how he liked a tough case, but that he would have been a hero had he won this one. He speculated that maybe if the cops hadn’t picked up Bill so quickly, they might have come up with more incriminating evidence.
Landau’s ruminations on why he lost the case were not in the least consoling to me. He could afford to rationalize away an unjust verdict; this case was merely one in a caseload of potential winners. But I only had one case, one chance to convict Bill of murdering Richard, one irreversible verdict.
Not being able to cry or scream, I just started calling family and friends. I needed to share what I had just heard. Once I started articulating the painful reality that Bill had gotten away with Richard’s murder, the initial shock wore off and the rage and grief came flooding over me.
I kept envisioning Bill, his family, Maureen, Marlene, Rosenberg and his daughter reveling in their victory over the justice system, while I sat alone in my apartment, plunged into the agony of defeat. Powerless to change the scenario, I wanted revenge. I vowed that I would get a contract out on Bill and have him “rubbed out.” Worried that I would do something rash and regrettable, people called throughout the day to check up on me. One friend even rushed over to my apartment as soon as she heard the news.
That afternoon I had my regularly scheduled therapy session. For 50 minutes non-stop, I vented with abandon. Running the gamut of human emotion, I ranted, raged, roared, cursed, sobbed, screamed, and swore bloody revenge.
The emotional release was cathartic for me, but like a Band-Aid, it only helped until my wound reopened at my Victim Services support group, which, coincidentally, met that evening.
The meeting was an especially emotional one for me. As if there was a competition as to whom could obtain the best punishment for the murderer of their loved one, I could barely listen to the “success story” of a family for whom justice had been served. It was agonizing for me to have to tell my group that Bill walked out of the courtroom a free and happy man.
The next day I contacted Crime Victims’ Counseling Services in Brooklyn and arranged to attend one of their support groups.
With the trial behind me, I expected my life to proceed on a normal, undisturbed track, but my experience with the criminal justice system only added to my emotional woes. The closure I thought the trial would bring eluded me when Rosenberg filed a motion to have the court transcript sealed to protect his un-convicted client. I was no closer to the truth about why Bill murdered Richard than I was before the trial.
I blamed myself for not having been more aggressive with Landau in upholding my right to be present at the trial. And it galled me that I was still the victim of Rosenberg’s indignities and humiliation. Not only did he win Bill a conviction but he cheated me out of the closure I needed to get on with my life.
Emotionally, I felt as if I had been pushed back to square one. A vindictive anger pervaded my thoughts. For months, I entertained a recurrent fantasy of revenge against Bill and Rosenberg. I imagined them jubilantly leaving the courtroom with Maureen and Marlene in tow as I scream out “You’re a dead man, Bill. Watch your back. And Rosenberg, we’re gonna get you, too. No, on second thought, we’ll get your daughter. That would hurt you more.” Then I turn to the jury and say, “You just let a murderer out on the street. I bet they didn’t tell you that Marlene had been indicted for obstruction of justice and was helping Bill. Well, now you know. See what you did!”
I even contemplated calling up Bill and Marlene, badgering them with hang-ups and intimidating them with threats of physical violence. Of course, my vigilante musings never materialized into action. Unrequited, my anger and desire for revenge stayed with me, taking a powerful emotional toll as I struggled to heal.
Not only did I rage against the obvious “villains.” The people who were supposed to be on my side—the cops, Landau, Judge Haifetz, the jury, and friends who did not understand or acknowledge my pain and anger over the verdict—also incurred my wrath for betraying my trust in them and violating my expectations.
Fused with my anger was a profound sadness. Feeling alone, vulnerable and alienated from people, I experienced Richard’s absence more keenly than before. I dreaded weekends and regarded holidays and our birthdays as personal affronts I was forced to endure.
Even though I missed Richard and thought about him constantly, I was still unable to grieve his loss without lapsing into thoughts about what Bill had done to him. Even at a concert or movie, my concentration would suddenly break down, my mind lured into obsessive ramblings about Richard’s murder. Homicide was still ruling my life.
Contrary to what friends and family expected, my move to a new larger apartment and change of jobs did nothing to lift my spirits. I felt locked into the past, unable to enjoy the present, cynical and hopeless about the future.
Ten months had passed since Richard’s murder and I still felt stuck emotionally. At every opportunity, whether it was with my support group, therapist, friends, relatives or even strangers—whomever would listen–I would air my feelings and grievances: my hatred for Bill and Rosenberg, the unfairness of the verdict, the impotency of the criminal justice system, and my frustration with people who expected me to have already put Richard’s murder behind me. Yet, despite all my “unloading,” I didn’t seem to be making any progress in resolving the issues hindering my recovery. I still found myself angry, depressed and powerless to change the way I felt. I would say to people, ”I just feel so murdered out. When is it ever going to end? Why can’t I have a normal life again?”
Tired of dealing with homicide and its emotional fallout without any breakthrough in the offing, I seriously considered dropping out of my support group.
Ironically, at what I expected to be my last support group meeting, the facilitator, the survivor of a kidnapping and brutal assault, spoke about how we could use our experience to benefit the crime victims’ movement. Her proposition to constructively channel our anger—by counseling other survivors, lobbying for legislative recognition of crime victims and their rights, writing or speaking publicly about the crime victim experience—somehow resonated with me and I felt mobilized and ready to respond to her “call to arms.”
I left the meeting that evening, as my facilitator later told me, “flying like a kite,” fired up and full of purpose and direction. I did not know exactly what I could personally do to help the crime victim cause, but I was determined to get involved and make a difference—for my sake and for Richard’s.
After the meeting, I took the subway from Brooklyn back to Manhattan with a friend from the support group. The trip was one of those long, protracted, irritating subway rides with the train either crawling or halting between stations. As the train came to yet another standstill, I wisecracked to my friend, “What are they doing? Giving the tracks a rest?” Apparently, my words fell within earshot of the other passengers in the car and everyone, including myself, started breaking up with laughter. Suddenly realizing that my sense of humor was back, I knew that I was going to recover.
My connection with crime victim organizations and activists began when I volunteered to help plan and publicize the annual Candlelight Vigil held in New York City to pay tribute to the victims and survivors of violent crime.
Recalling the impact that Richard’s photo had on Landau and the investigator, I introduced the idea of asking participants to bring photos of their loved ones to the Vigil “to give a face to violent crime.” Another Vigil Planning Committee member suggested that we have a “photo board” to display them. Since then, the “photo board” has become a Vigil tradition, a focus of the TV cameras that cover the event, and my reward for choosing to get involved rather than languish in my anger and despair.
My “new friends” in the Crime Victims Movement, each with their own horrific tale of violent crime to share, graciously welcomed me into their ranks, motivating and supporting me in my healing process. They also encouraged me to set up a meeting with the Queens District Attorney’s Office to learn the details of their case against Bill.
My meeting with Landau and his boss, the Deputy District Attorney, proved disappointing and so uneventful that I cannot remember anything substantive coming out of it.
Feeling like “the attorney” in the situation, I asked numerous questions to which I received terse or vague responses. They could not (or would not) say who told me that Richard had been murdered. When I inquired if I had been a suspect, Landau shook his head as if I was being foolishly paranoid. Feeling more at ease when discussing the difficulties inherent in proving Bill guilty, they could not emphasize enough their painstaking, heroic efforts in prosecuting the case.
The meeting, however, did serve a purpose. For me, it signified the end of what I could possibly do to learn the truth about Richard’s murder. With the realization of that reality, no matter how painful, I felt free to move forward.
Within a few months of that meeting, I became actively involved with Victims for Victims, the self-help group for victims of violent crime that was founded by actress Theresa Saldana after surviving a near-fatal stabbing by a crazed fan (like Richard, she had been stabbed ten times.)
Stuffing envelopes, writing letters and assisting at fundraising and other special events ultimately led to my appointment as Editor of the Victims for Victims’ newsletter and a member of its Board of Directors.
Through my volunteer activities, connection with other recovering crime victims, and much personal growth work via therapy and New Age spiritual pursuits, I felt empowered to regain control of my life. As my emotional wounds began to heal, my peace of mind, which I thought had been lost forever, once again became part of my reality.
Many years have elapsed since Richard’s murder. Fortunately, for my own mental and spiritual health, I have worked through my rage and vindictiveness.
Although I still regard Rosenberg’s tactics unsavory and excessive, I can now understand that he was doing his job as a criminal defense attorney by aggressively defending Bill even if at my expense. And although I will always hold Bill accountable for Richard’s brutal death and my pain, I do not hate him as I once did. Strangely enough, I feel sorry for him. After all, he watched Richard die the violent death wrought by his own hands. How can he live unscathed by the memory of that experience?
I have also come to accept my lack of closure in dealing with Richard’s murder. My experiences with other survivors have shown me that with homicidal death, no matter how the courtroom drama unfolds, there are no satisfactory endings. Even if the trial had revealed the details of what transpired, even if justice had been served and Bill was locked up for 25 years without parole, the senselessness of Richard’s death would have remained unchanged. Nothing could have eased the agony of that truth.
While I still miss and think of Richard every day, my healing process has taken me to the point that I can do so without feeling overwhelmed by the violent aspects of his death. That is not to say that I do not have my moments when the painful memory of Richard’s murder suddenly breaks through without warning, unhinging and setting my emotions churning.
The stories of homicide on the nightly news can flash me back in an instant to that emotionally devastating time. I always want to cry out to the stunned mourners, “I’m so sorry. I know exactly how you feel. Someone I loved and cared about was murdered, too. I’ve cried your tears and suffered your pain...and survived.”