Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Sentencing Prayer

The convicted person does not always speak at the sentencing hearing, much less offer a word of prayer. Yet a prayer is essentially what Moises Aguilar Nieves offered at his sentencing on February 27 for unintentional second-degree murder.

Nieves, a 36-year-old man from the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, received a 15-year prison sentence (with the final third to be served on supervised release) for driving his 5,000-pound GMC Yukon into David Ramirez, 46, in St. Paul last October. The prosecution argued successfully that Nieves did this in a fit of jealousy upon seeing Ramirez talking with Maria Rocha, 23, a former girlfriend of Ramirez’s with whom Nieves was in love — despite having five children with his longtime girlfriend.

At Nieves’s sentencing, a Spanish interpreter read a letter written by the longtime girlfriend, describing the suffering of the children without their father, particularly a 16-year-old son who had dropped out of school. A few feet away, a three-year-old son squirmed in his seat in the courtroom, not grasping the gravity of the scene unfolding in front of him.

When it was Nieves’s turn to speak, he asked for forgiveness not only from Ramirez’s family and his own, but from the Lord. He implored the judge for mercy, said he hoped one day to be free, and ended with “Amen.”

In fifteen years, Moises Aguilar Nieves will have served his sentence. But will he ever be free of the burden of the pain he caused? Even if his prayer is answered, neither God’s forgiveness nor the forgiveness of others can change the past. Nieves will have to learn to live with the sadness flowing from his decision to rev up his huge vehicle and take aim at his (supposed) rival. The mark of Cain was intended for protection, not a curse, but it has never been easy to bear.

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