Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Justice Is Done, But . . . (Friday)

Wednesday Herb and I went to court with Jenny to observe the "Cow Case," otherwise known as "United States v John D. Owenby."  Thursday I returned to observe the rest of the trial.

I have always wanted to serve on a jury, so I was fascinated to be able to observe the entire jury selection process.  I must say, we were shocked later in the day, as the testimony about numbers and money rolled on and on, to see several of the jurors snoozing !

The defendant was being tried on five counts of selling property that was mortgaged to the US government and a sixth count of money laundering.  The facts of the case, according to the US Prosecutor, were that, beginning in 2001, Mr. Owenby borrowed $45,000 (I'm rounding numbers), $70,000 and $60,000 from the government to establish a business feeding and selling cattle.  In 2003 he began to fall behind on his payments.  He failed to provide necessary financial documents to restructure the loan, so in 2005 the FSA agent required him to sign a document that he would not sell any more cattle or equipment because they were collateral held by (mortgaged to) the government.  In 2006 when the agent asked for an accounting of cattle and equipment, Mr. Owenby's previous 400+ head were down to 58.  Mr. Owenby claimed that three truckloads of cattle had been stolen, but failed to provide a theft report from the local sheriff.  I'll spare you the details of the nine exhibits: copies of checks received from cattle feed lots, deposit slips showing he deposited the money in his bank account the next day, etc.  There was eyewitness testimony from a neighbor farmer who said he bought  $22,500 worth of equipment from Mr. Owenby after being promised that it was "free and clear."  Two years later the government tracked down the equipment and told him it was stolen from the government, and he ended up having to pay them $5000 more to settle their lien.

We had to admit that listening to the evidence pile up, it seemed damning.  The jurors were instructed to draw no conclusions until all the evidence was in, but it was hard not to.  At the end of the day the prosecution rested, and then the defense rested without offering a single word of testimony on the defendant's behalf!  (The prosecutor said the defense attorney did the best he could with what he had--nothing.)

On Thursday morning, the judge  instructed the jury that Mr. Owenby is presumed innocent, that he has no obligation to put on a defense, that they cannot infer guilt from his lack of defense, and that the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

At that point, the jury went out to deliberate.  An hour later, they returned with a verdict.  If you've ever watched "Law and Order," you'll be surprised to know that the court officer was the one to read out the verdict--not the foreman of the jury!  :)  The jury found Mr. Owenby guilty on all six counts.  The judge thanked them and then dismissed them.

My title for this post is "Justice Is Done, But . . ."  The reason for that is that Wednesday morning after the jury was selected, Jenny and I met the defendant's wife, Amy, in the restroom.  She asked Jenny if she was a student and found out that I was there observing with Jenny.  She said to me, "This is kind of exciting, isn't it?"   She seemed very upbeat and a very sweet person.  She told me that it had been her husband's dream to have a cattle farm and that he had terrible luck having his cattle stolen, but that no one believed him.  I told her about having my horses stolen and that at first the sheriff wouldn't believe me until they saw the tire tracks in the field and the cut chain on the gate.  I wished her luck, and we returned to the courtroom.

Later in the day on Wednesday, after much of the damning evidence had piled up, I passed her in the hall during a recess.  She looked shell-shocked and teary-eyed, and all I could do was smile at her in sympathy.  As Herb and I left, she and her husband were standing outside the courthouse, and it looked like they were arguing.  I think she had just found out all the evidence against him for the first time.

Thursday she was back in the courtroom and smiled when I came in.  I went over to wish her luck and tell her she'd been on my mind and in my prayers ever since yesterday.  When the jury was sent to deliberate and the court went into recess, she waited out in the hall away from her husband.  I never saw her speak to him once.  I couldn't turn to look at her when the verdict was read, but after the jury was dismissed and the judge was trying to decide whether to remand the defendant until sentencing or release him on bond, I could hear her crying behind me.  The judge ended up releasing Mr. Owenby, but said that the slightest infringement of the terms of his probation would constitute "flight" and that he would incur an automatic additional jail term.  Sentencing won't be until September, so he can be with his wife and two children until then.  His conviction could carry as much as a 35 year sentence in federal prison (although the judge tends to be lenient on sentencing from what I have heard).

So justice is done, BUT
  • our tax dollars that were loaned to Mr. Owenby will never be recovered.  No one knows where the money went:  gambling? women? drugs?
  • the neighbor farmer lost his $5000;
  • several other people lent money to the defendant and lost it all, though these cases were not presented in this trial;
  • a woman who mourned for her husband as she watched him lose his dream has found out instead that he was actually a cheat and a liar; 
  • and two more children will grow up without their father around.
It's hard to take satisfaction that "justice was done" when all you can think of is the stunned face and tearful eyes of a woman.

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