The mothers you meet doing innocence work.
I was on a team that represented Julie, a young divorced mother imprisoned for murdering her 10-year-old son Joel. At her retrial we proved that someone else committed the monstrous act; Julie was not only acquitted but was found factually innocent.
Julie is one of two children of Jim and Jane, a pastor and his wife. Joel was their only grandson, and during Joel’s short life, his mother and grandparents showered him with love. Joel’s murder devastated all of them, and they were not prepared for the ensuing unfounded accusations against Julie.
Jane and Jim rose to the occasion, as devoted parents tend to do. They tried to protect Julie from the police; they testified at her trial; they unwaveringly supported her throughout the legal proceedings and her incarceration. Jane amassed a file of case-related documents that any detective or investigator would envy.
During the years I represented Julie, Jane was a constant presence in my life as well. She urged the Center on Wrongful Convictions to take Julie’s case. After we did, she constantly provided information and encouragement. She sent inspirational notes. She and her friends offered up much-needed hospitality when we were working on site, far from our Chicago home base. She hugged us frequently.
But Jane was also the fierce mama bear. She kept close tabs on the legal team and made sure we were properly representing her daughter. She called us out when we were not responsive. She fund-raised and galvanized public support for her daughter’s cause. No mother’s love could have been stronger than Jane’s constant efforts to prove Julie’s innocence.
After Julie’s acquittal, I was incredibly touched when Jane sent me a Royal Albert Old Country Roses English tea set, knowing how much I love my tea. I have few possessions as beautiful as this, or as dear to me. Over the years, on the anniversary of the acquittal, Jane and Jim have often sent additions to my set, over my protestations that it’s all too much.
I love this family – not because of the gifts, but because of their goodness and their love and loyalty to one another. I ache for their tragedy, which I can never truly comprehend. What I do know, though, is that I am incredibly fortunate to have met them through my work and to now have a lifelong connection to them.
On Mother’s Day, Julie will mourn the son who was taken from her. Jane and Julie will celebrate their special bond. And I will make tea for myself and serve it in Royal Albert china.