The time for closure has come

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By Susan Sharp

 Last week’s ruling from the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in the Kenneth Bartley case wasn’t news- so to speak. What it was and still is disruptive and upsetting.

Pleas are meant to bring closure and allow people to move forward.

Bartley’s plea has done nothing of the sort. Instead it has been a legal volleyball from the moment it was entered.

Seated in the jury box that day watching the 15- year- old Bartley agree he was guilty of fatally shooting Ken Bruce and wounding Jim Pierce and Gary Seals, I was concerned. 

I had been watching the judicial rodeo leading up to the plea. 

I had watched jurors be questioned and then seated. 

I had watched the victims relive the most tragic day of their lives as prosecutors described the events of the day of the shooting.

And I had watched a scared young man be blindly led around the courtroom by his attorney.

What I didn’t see in any of this was Bartley’s parents joining their son and his attorney behind the closed doors. 

That bothered me.

This young man was facing a myriad of felony charges, including first-degree murder. At no point did I see Bartley’s attorney even give those two people a sideways glance.

In this state children can’t drive a car alone until they are 16 years old; can’t purchase tobacco until they turn 18 and can’t buy a beer until they are 21. However, on that day Bartley was allowed to agree to spend the next 45 years in jail without discussing the decision with his parents.

Starting to see why I was bothered?

Yes, Bartley needs to have consequences for his actions that day. 

Even he doesn’t dispute that. In the volumes of paperwork filed in this case Bartley has acknowledged he could end up with a longer sentence if this case goes to trial.

I believe he and his family just want whatever the punishment is carried out in the proper way. I would also venture to say the victims want this as well.

At the crux of this is case is one question- is it really justice if a scared 15- year- old kid agreed to a deal simply because he didn’t know what else to do?

Pleas are an effective method to bring closure for victims. 

In this case, the district attorney’s office did that. They made an offer and then navigated it through the court system. It is not the job of the district attorney to hold the hands of  defense attorneys.

To say this story has been a tragedy from the beginning is an understatement. It started with young man fraught with emotional issues who made a bad decision that snowballed out of control. The calamity was compounded when Bartley was effectively denied his day in court. That made the snowball bigger.

Yes, the ruling from the court of appeals was upsetting.

Again compounding the sadness was last week’s ruling was delivered on a day that should have celebratory for the Bruces. On Monday the school zone in front of Campbell County High School was named in memory of Ken Bruce.

At this juncture the only way to gain control of this case and find closure is to allow Bartley his time with jury.

All of the families involved along with this community have endured enough grief.