Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lindsey Bonistall & Justice Delayed

We hear much too frequently about prosecutorial misconduct, but the conviction in a rape-murder case of special interest to me has been thrown out because the defendant's lawyers did not allow him to participate in his defense.

Although I covered a fair number of murders in my time, including the infamous Nicole Brown Simpson-Ron Goldman double homicide and subsequent trials, Lindsey Bonistall was different than all of them.

Lindsey was a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Delaware. In a chilling instance of serendipity, she sat right in front of me when I guest lectured a journalism class at the university in late April 2005. Seventy-two hours later Lindsey was raped and strangled by a man who broke into her off-campus apartment and set fire to her body and apartment to cover his tracks after defacing several walls with racist graffiti.

Few of the students I lectured that afternoon seemed particularly engaged. But I did notice Lindsey, who was attentive and took down my pearls of wisdom in a notebook. I learned later that her goal in life was to write "with purpose and passion," as her father put it.

I had told her classmates the same thing in sharing my blunt bad-cop mantra for aspiring journos: "If you don't have purpose, passion and an insatiable curiosity, don't waste your time in journalism, because you'll just be wasting my time as a reader."

I didn't realize that Lindsey was who she was until her photograph appeared with a newspaper story two days after her murder. I had a little boo-hoo when I made the connection that the young woman looking up at me from the paper was the same person. My tears were both for Lindsey and because I have a daughter the same age who also lived in an off-campus apartment, although at a faraway university.

In another weird confluence, I had spent a considerable amount of time in the apartment building where Lindsey was murdered when a friend lived there many years ago.

* * * * *

There is no question that 38-year-old James E. Cooke was the perpetrator and jurors had no difficulty in convicting and sentencing him to death following his month-long trial in 2007.

But what jurors were unaware of and the Delaware Supreme Court has now weighed in on is that Cooke wanted to plead innocent, which was his right, but his public-defender lawyers instead argued that he was guilty but mentally ill.

And so the state's high court, in a 3-2 decision, declared that Cooke's constitutional rights had been violated, which they indeed were, in ordering a new trial.

In the meantime, Cooke will remain behind bars.

* * * * *

Lindsey was from White Plains in Westchester County, New York, which has sent many students to the University of Delaware over the years.

Her parents, Kathleen and Mark Bonistall, could have dried their own tears and gone back to their daily routine, but they have turned her passing into a crusade. Kathleen and Mark are not interested in seeing Cooke fry. In fact, they are against the death penalty.

No, the Bonistalls' crusade is to remember Lindsey by helping others college students learn how they can live safer lives through their PEACE OUTside Campus program.

1 comment:

Annie said...

I just ran the 5k in Purchase, New York today with the proceeds benefitting the Peace Outside Campus Foundation/Initiative. I was amazed at the composure of her mother as she spoke prior to the race and impressed with the way the community still rallies around this family.

On a side note, as an avid runner, I was incredibly impressed with the structure of the race as it really encouraged the community to talk interact one another.

I now have a vested interest in the case as well as supporting this amazing and very important initiative.