The sentencing took five hours for our families to testify of the massive impact that Shawn and Sage's violent deaths had on them. The judge listened intently to each of our heart wrenching impact statements. The words they spoke, matched by their flowing tears, seemed to excavate a vacuous hole within, creating a sense of the immense emotional deficit that was created when Shawn and Sage were killed by the offender.
My eyes moved back and forth between the judge and the offender trying to ascertain if what was being said was impacting them in the way I hoped they would be. The judge reacted sympathetically and was very supportive of the lengthy and emotional process of being heard by the court. She must have known that being heard is extremely cathartic for the victims recovering from trauma. I watched the offender throughout the sentencing, since I knew he was hearing every word we spoke through a translator, but I was unsure how he was being affected since there were few visual queues. He barely moved; his head lowered in a respectful and penitent bow. After each statement concluded, his shoulders seemed to drop a little lower than before, and I could sense that he was emotionally unprepared for the amount and intensity that the impact statements leveraged against him.
I was last to give an impact statement from the families. I had written my statement out beforehand, struggling immensely with it, not only because of a recent traumatic brain injury, but I felt it didn't and couldn't convey the enormous loss and the terrible impact of what he had done. I stood up to give my statement, looking toward the offender and the judge before looking at my statement to read. My voice, somewhat different now because of the broken neck I had incurred in the crash, trembled as I read:
My daughter, Sage, just had her first birthday on September 18th. Oh how hard it was for me not to have her here to celebrate with her. I ache for Sage so much and miss taking care of her and seeing her cute smiles and hearing her sweet laugh. I am so thankful I got to be a stay-at-home mom so we could be together all of the time. I always think about and wonder what kinds of things she would be doing now if she were still here.
I am so thankful for May 11th, 2001- the day Shawn and I were married. Shawn was the most incredible man I have ever known. He brought more joy and happiness to me than anyone ever has. He always put me first in his life and sacrificed many things for me. He always made sure I was happy and had everything I needed. I really miss having someone to sleep with at night, someone telling me they love me, and someone to tell all my hopes and dreams to. I miss having someone wrap their arms around me and tell me I am beautiful and they are glad they married me.
He was my best friend and the only person that knew everything about me. But he acted as a best friend to everyone and all loved him. Shawn isn't just missed by me, but by everyone who knew him. I was in a coma for two weeks, so I wasn't at his funeral, but I was told there were over 2,000 people at it. Everyone loved Shawn and will deeply miss him.
While I was pregnant, Shawn wrote a beautiful song for Sage and would sing it to her while putting his face close to my stomach. I loved when he sang that lullaby to Sage after she was born. I really miss hearing him sing to her. I have missed hearing Shawn sing at all. He had a beautiful voice that made my heart melt.
Shawn was a Sunday School teacher at our church. After his death, all the kids in his class wrote me letters. One girl said, "He has such a strong spirit and I love that. I looked to him as an example of who I want to marry. He has all the qualities I want in a husband." I am so glad I was the lucky girl to marry him. I will always treasure the time I had with him.
It is weird to me that my life will go on without my husband and daughter. Sometimes I wonder how my life can go on without the two people I love the most. Sometimes I wish I wouldn't have survived the wreck, and sometimes I wonder why I did. The only thing I do know, is that I will love and miss my daughter and my husband for the rest of my life.
My sister had prepared a video presentation that I wanted shown before the court, and as I sat down, I motioned for the video to begin. I felt that seeing Shawn and Sage through a video presentation was the only way to give these courtroom strangers and the offender not only a face to add to the names being spoken, but an idea of who they were as people. Their value was infinite, and seeing them alive and interacting with each other communicated in a small part their worth to me and the many who loved them. In the video, a recording of Shawn singing the lullaby he wrote for Sage played while home video footage showed precious family moments we had together. We watched them on screen—full of life, full of love, and full of light, and the familiar pain of our separation stung my heart. Tears flowed freely down my face again as I longed to gather the two I had lost back into my arms. The video ended with Shawn kissing Sage as he holds her up in the air with the music slowly fading and finally dying. It was touching, and from the silence filling the courtroom with many of the people wiping their tears, I knew the video had delivered it's intended effect.
The defense was then allowed to have character witnesses speak for the offender. It was difficult to hear them speak in his behalf. Ever since I had met with the prosecuting attorney, the image in my mind of the offender was of a dangerous criminal, with dark intent toward me and my family. These friends and loved ones that spoke for him created an image of a man completely different than what I had imagined. They told of a humble and hard working man who was helping to support his partner and their children. She (his partner) was crying as she spoke of her fear of raising their children on her own without the influence and support of their father. They all corroborated that this man who had killed my family was a good man—one who had made a very bad decision.
Before the judge announced the sentence of the drunk driver who had killed my family, he was allowed to stand and speak. He stood up, the weight of our testimonies visibly pressing down on him, and with the assistance of a translator, began speaking to us. He wrestled with his emotions, his face turned down toward the ground, ashamed and afraid to face the family he had hurt so badly, while he spoke about the immense pain he knew he had caused us because of what he had done. He motioned to his left arm (the hand had been removed because of the severe damage it had incurred in the crash) and told us about telling the doctor who was operating on his arm to not use painkillers so that he could feel the pain to punish himself. "The pain is much greater for their family, than me just losing a hand. If I could give my other hand to bring Shawn and Sage back, I would!" he said tearfully. "Mrs. Marti no longer has a husband and baby, the pain she must feel I cannot imagine, and I cannot do anything to help her but pray for her and ask her to forgive me for what I have done."
The judge ended the sentencing when she stood and said, “The circumstances of the crash were egregious. This is devastating for his family members who are suffering through no fault of their own. The court needs to have sympathy for Edgar too, but this case cries out for punishment. The sentence has to be substantial as anything else would depreciate the seriousness of the crime.” Finally, in a strong voice the judge proclaimed Edgar's sentence, “Edgar is charged with one count of vehicular manslaughter for Shawn Marti, one count of vehicular manslaughter for Sage Marti, and aggravated DUI for Natalie Marti. He is sentenced to serve a minimum of thirteen years with a forty year maximum.”
With the sentencing over, people began to stand up and mill around the courtroom, with the low sounds of multiple conversations happening among the families and many professionals needed for the sentencing. I kept seated for a few minutes, letting the results of the sentencing sink in. I felt like the court had provided the justice I felt was needed in our case, but with that fleeting sense of satisfaction, there was also a strong feeling of compassion that had arisen within me. I looked over at Edgar sitting at his table while everyone was leaving the courtroom and could see how broken he was. His head was still down, the burden of the sentence he was just given still sinking in.
In his testimony, he had accepted responsibility for what happened, repeated his deep sorrow for the consequences, and expressed his desire to do whatever was needed to make things better. The words he had expressed had provided great relief to my soul and transformed the way I saw him as a person. It was his repeated pleas for my forgiveness that pierced my heart and allowed compassion to fill me. This compassion combined with the thought that I would never have this opportunity again, pushed me to walk over to talk to Edgar. I brought my brother-in-law to `translate to make sure that Edgar would hear and understand what I was going to say.
I walked up watching Edgar's face as it rose to meet my gaze, surprise and disbelief crossing his face. Taking a deep breath and with a trembling voice I said, “Edgar, I forgive you. I hope you can find God through this trying time, and that He will comfort you and give you peace.”
Water filled his eyes as what I said was translated. I could tell he was deeply touched and relieved and after a moment replied, “Thank you, Natalie, for forgiving me. I pray every day for your husband, daughter, and you."
I walked with my family out of the courtroom contemplating what had happened today, and I was met by reporters who were covering the story. I gave a few interviews, trying to be present, but I was exhausted from the emotional and lengthy sentencing. This day had been been a shadow, looming like a storm cloud on the horizon, for several months now. Completing the sentencing had relieved my anxiousness and desire that justice needed to be dealt for Shawn and Sage, and much to my surprise, had completely transformed my opinion of the offender. This monster of a man that had been created in my mind had been completely replaced by the broken, suffering soul I had witnessed today.
As I pondered this great change, I had a thought-prayer to thank God for supporting me through this difficult day. My mind then reached out to Shawn and Sage, hoping they were approving of my testimony in their behalf. Finally I ended my prayer by asking God to support Edgar and his family through this terrible burden that they must carry. I was shaken and taken back by the realization I was praying for God to help the man who had killed my family. Just hours before, I would never have believed that I would feel the way I did right now—somehow lighter, and freer, and full of compassion toward Edgar. It was then that I realized that the greatest change that had occurred was not in Edgar—but was in me.