Mark Caldwell distraught over son’s
November 7, 2007
By Isabelle Zehnder
I spoke to Mark
Caldwell this evening. I knew by the sound of his voice that the
news was not going to be good.
His first words
were, “they found Justin guilty.” I hoped it wasn’t true.
But it didn’t
take long for me to hear the despair in his voice, to know that what
he was saying was true.
will be on November 27th,” he said.
distressing to see the three witnesses, youth from Dozier where
Justin was abused, brought into the courtroom in hand-cuffs and
ankle shackles. “That was
not necessary,” Mark said.
“The jury seemed
confused,” Caldwell said. “It seemed they didn’t understand they had
the option to charge Justin with a lesser charge of simple battery.
I don’t think the jury comprehended that they had three choices."
Caldwell, they could have charged Justin with battery on a detention
facility staff which is a 4th degree felony punishable by
up to five years in state prison. They could have charged Justin
with a simple battery on a detention facility staff which would have
been a misdemeanor, or they could have found him not guilty.”
The jury came
back after deliberating for about 30 minutes with a charge of
battery on a detention facility staff.
So what does this
mean for Justin? “He will have a felony on his record for the rest
of his life,” Caldwell lamented, his voice getting heavier with each
word he spoke. "He could spend five years in a state prison."
“This is what
happened to Christopher Sholly,” he recalled.
We had hoped
history would not repeat itself.
Justin both spent their entire adolescence in the DJJ system. They
were both accused of battery on staff, and they were both convicted
of felonies. Both boys were beaten, their arms and noses broken.
Both suffered wounds to their heads and both suffered emotional
Chris spent one
year in a state prison where he was repeatedly beaten. Justin is
facing up to five years in a state prison.
two have never met.
“All I can hope
for,” Caldwell said, “is that the Judge will have seen today that my
son is a good person. I think the Judge knows my son did not hurt
anyone. The best I can hope for is that the Judge will sentence
Justin to one year or less and that the eight months he has spent in
the adult system will be applied to his sentence.”
“This is just not fair. Nothing about the past five years has been
fair. Nothing about DJJ is fair when it comes to the kids.”
He went on to
say, “If things had been the other way around, if it would have been
a detention staff who had been charged with battery on an inmate the
staff would be charged with a misdemeanor.”
“But when it’s a
kid who is charged with battery on a detention facility staff the
kid is charged with a 4th degree felony. That just
doesn’t seem right.”
“These kids live
behind a chain linked fence and razor wire. Their stories and the
truth are locked behind the parameters of those fences”, he
“They came back
and found my son guilty of battery on a detention facility staff
when in fact my son was innocent. The state witnesses had eight
months to plan and rehearse. It sounded like they were reading from
the same script.”
He ended with,
“when kids get entangled in the DJJ system it’s nearly impossible to
get them out, they’ve had my son for five years.”