Wendy Murphy: And Justice for Some: It’s always someone else’s child

Wendy Murphy

It started out like any other “court tour.” I called ahead to make sure an empty courtroom was available. The kids I worked with had been through so many scary things already. They didn’t need to bump into a convicted murderer in leg chains.

Ani spoke little English. She was quiet and had one of those whippet thin bodies. If you lifted her up, she’d nearly fly through the air because she was so much lighter than you expected.

Ani wore red pants and a black sweater that hung crooked on her little body because it was much too big. The pants were those stretchy ones you buy in bulk. Three for $10. They were so short I could see the tops of her pale pink ankle socks. There were dark stains on the knees, not because they weren’t clean but because they were old. After a while, some spots just don’t wash out of cheap clothes.

Ani walked between her mother and me as we made our way down the narrow brick path that led to the courthouse. My arm kept hitting Ani’s shoulder but she didn’t seem to mind. I think she felt safe around me – though she never said so.

Ani kept her eyes down. I couldn’t see much more than the top of her head. I wanted to see her face. Was she crying? I didn’t lean forward to find out. Maybe I didn’t really want to know.

Ani’s mother held tight to her daughter’s hand. None of us said anything. I thought about telling a joke – but I couldn’t figure out what would seem funny to a 7-year-old child who was probably thinking about dead mice. He always put dead mice in her underwear after he was done. It kept her quiet. Ani was more afraid of mice than what he did to her.

Ani’s mother never looked me straight in the eye. She had long ago left the boyfriend who tortured and abused her little girl – which was more than I could say about a lot of mothers of abused kids. But I still wanted to shake her and tell her what an idiot she was for leaving her children with such a monster. How could anyone date the type of man who could rape children and terrorize them with dead mice?

She tried to explain it to me once – the day she came in to watch the video of her daughter’s grand jury testimony. I popped in the tape and there was little Ani, sitting at a small table drawing pictures with oversized crayons. She talked about choking. She said she didn’t like it when she couldn’t breathe. And she put her hands up to cover her ears when she described how much it hurt when he gripped her head to control the rhythm of his attack.

Through quiet sobs, Ani’s mother told me she was sorry. “He said he loved my children. He wanted to take care of them. I had no money for a baby sitter. He cooked dinner for us and put the children to bed when I went to work.”

I didn’t offer her any comfort. I wanted to slap her.

I wanted to tell her that I would have known better if Ani had been my child.

That’s what I was thinking – but I didn’t say it out loud.

Walking to the courthouse months later – with the trial only days away – I still felt the same way – and I knew the jury would, too.

I thought hard that night about what I would say to the jury.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the defendant is the only one responsible for his actions. Nobody else is to blame. It really doesn’t matter that Ani’s mother shouldn’t have left the defendant alone night after night to care for her defenseless little girl.

“It really doesn’t matter that you, members of the jury, think she was a bad parent. The defendant is the only one responsible for his actions.”

It sounded good – and I was 100 percent correct about the law. But it didn’t feel right somehow and I wasn’t sure I could say the words persuasively when the moment came.

Lucky for me, the defendant pleaded guilty and I never had to know the answer.

I still think about Ani’s mother, and I still feel like slapping her – because I still need to believe that she’s nothing like me. As long as I keep telling myself that I would never date a dangerous man or choose the wrong baby sitter, I can pretend that what happened to Ani could never happen to my children.

Wendy Murphy is a leading victims rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst. She is an adjunct professor at New England Law in Boston and a radio talk show host. She can be reached at