Thursday, September 27, 2001

Turmoil of April finally over - or is it?




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        It was over almost before it began.

        The last chapter in Cincinnati's biggest news story, Wednesday's decision by Hamilton County Judge Ralph E. Winkler, took only a few minutes.

        Because I got there early, I was able to find a seat right behind Officer Stephen Roach's family.

        It was a miserable place to be.

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        His grandmother and grandfather. His great-grandmother. His wife. His mom and dad. His in-laws. They looked sad and nervous. Somber. Officer Roach is less bald and much younger than he appears on television. A Kirk Douglas chin dimple. The guy who wanted to be a police officer from the time he was 4 years old.
       

No dramatics

        On the other side of the aisle, Angela Leisure waits gravely for the verdict. Dignified. As usual. This woman has repeatedly shamed those who would use her son's death as an excuse for violence. By her words. By her quiet anguish. Her misery.

        A month ago, they might have had to move this trial to a larger courtroom. But now the national television cameras are elsewhere. Three half-hearted protesters outside the Hamilton County Courthouse held “Prison for Officer Roach” signs early in the day. The signs were old. If convicted, Officer Roach would have spent at most nine months in jail on misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide and obstructing official business in the April 7 shooting death of Angela Leisure's son, Timothy Thomas.

        Inside, in Room 495 of the Hamilton County Courthouse, there was no drama. No histrionics. Not from the mother of the dead man. Not from the family of the accused. Not from the judge, who sounded remote and unemotional.

        Judge Winkler read his verdict in the case that turned Cincinnati upside down and inside out. Rioting. A curfew. Cincinnati became a synonym for racial violence.
       

Sleepless night

        “Police Officer Roach,” the judge said, “you have been found not guilty of the charges in this indictment. You are free to go.”

        And the judge repaired to his chambers. That same afternoon, he would consider a DUI case and one of domestic violence.

        “When I was assigned this case, I was kind of excited,” he said moments later. “That's the wrong word. I felt challenged. I knew this one was important.”

        A municipal court judge deals with everything from jaywalking to personal water craft tags.

        “Then it sinks in,” he says. “The sadness of the case, seeing Mrs. Leisure cry. Watching the stress on the Roach family. You are dealing with fragile human beings.”

        He says he didn't sleep much Monday night after the attorneys' closing arguments. Apparently, he's not so remote. Possibly more emotional than he appears.

        “Usually you have juries to help sort through things,” he says. This was a bench case, so “it was just me.”

        After he reviewed the evidence and the law, he made his decision Tuesday, and “I was more at peace.”

        At peace.

        Peace would be great, wouldn't it?

        Protesters moved toward City Hall chanting, “Justice, justice, justice.”

        Mrs. Leisure says she still doesn't have the answers she needs.

        Cameras and reporters swarmed, and I found myself again in the middle of the Roach family. Would anybody like to talk to me? No they would not. But someone said, “It's been hell.”

        And it's not over.

        Not for anybody.

       E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

Curfew to remain through Friday
Roach not guilty; city under curfew
Acquittals based on self-defense
Anger, fear, sadness felt on streets after verdict
Anger is there, but chaos isn't
Experts' opinions sealed verdict
Lynch: Ruling 'sets us back'
- PULFER: Turmoil of April finally over - or is it?
Q & A
Text of Judge Winkler verdict
Then and now: Race relations
Victim's point of view part of justice, too
       



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