Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of the story of Alexis Verzal who was shaken by her daycare provider. Read Part 1 and Part 3 here. News coverage of the trial can be found here.
After we left Scott and White Hospital in Temple, Texas for Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska things on the investigation side slowed down. A majority of the time we had no idea what was happening on the “justice” end of things. We were so busy focusing on Alexis and what she needed that most of the time it didn’t cross our minds until someone asked us what had happened to the daycare provider.
It took 85 days after Alexis was injured for the daycare provider to be arrested. She was charged with “knowingly causing serious bodily injury to a child.” This, in Texas law, is considered a first degree felony. I thought that a document from the University of North Texas explained it best.
(a) An individual adjudged guilty of a felony of the first degree shall be punished by imprisonment in the institutional division for life or for any term of not more than 99 years or less than 5 years.
(b) In addition to imprisonment, an individual adjudged guilty of a felony of the first degree may be punished by a fine not to exceed $10,000.
The daycare provider’s bond was set at $25,000, but she bonded out of jail less than 40 minutes after she was booked.
It took 582 days from the day Alexis was injured for the trial to start.
Being a part of a trial like this is very confusing. Your natural thought is that this is going to be about the victim. However, cases are not about the victim, they are about the defendant. The trial is about finding holes in the State’s case, working only to make sure that the State cannot prove the charge “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
That concept is really hard to grasp for any victim. It was especially hard because it was our baby, and we knew she was going to live with disabilities for the rest of her life.
There were a lot of factors that made this difficult thing, even more difficult. We were in Nebraska, moving on with our life and working hard in therapy with Alexis. The lawyers with the district attorney’s office were not sure if they wanted Alexis there and that made it extremely difficult to plan a strategy for keeping her going with rehabilitation.
On October 29, 2009 Brandon, Alexis, and I boarded a plane bound for Texas. We arrived at the courthouse and met with the attorneys who would be trying the case. We unpacked into a hotel room, not knowing how long we would be there.
The District Attorney’s office (DA) eventually decided Alexis could not be in the courtroom because it may have too much emotional pull on a jury. So we called my parents, rented a car, and met them in Oklahoma City for them to take Alexis back to Lincoln. They ended up taking a week off of work to take her to therapy and doctor’s appointments.
In the meantime, the trial was slated to begin, but one of the jury members ended up being sick. So it started a couple of days later than expected.
Erase everything out of your mind about what you have ever seen on television, because a trial is nothing like that.
After sitting in a hotel room for what felt like an eternity, the trial started. We walked into a little courtroom and sat in the front row. Most of the seats were taken by church members, friends, and family for the daycare provider. They held their Bibles out in front of them and prayed while they glared at us as if we had caused this event to be taking place.
That went on day after day, as we sat silent and expressionless because that is what we were supposed to do. We listened to the 911 call. We listened to the EMT describe what Alexis looked like when the ambulance got there. The more we listened, the more we relived, the more it felt like we were being kicked in the face over and over again.
We would watch reporters sit in the back of the room for a couple of hours, and leave before they heard the whole story. We were recorded walking in and out of the courtroom by the local news station. We had to call our parents at night and rehash everything that was said.
By the time I took the stand a few days in, I was mentally and physically exhausted.
Brandon had to sit outside while I testified. I don’t remember a lot about it, honestly. Except I felt so bad because I never cried, I don’t know if I showed much emotion at all. The whole thing was just so sad and overwhelming that I knew if I let myself cry, I was terrified that I may never be able to stop.
I was appalled by the way that people lied on the stand. I was appalled by the way that some “Christians” conducted themselves. I was appalled that you can pay “doctors” thousands of dollars to testify about a topic they know nothing about. I was appalled by what we call the “justice system.” I was completely and utterly disgusted by the values and morals of people I thought I knew.
This went on day after day. Lying, cheating, this trial had it all.
And somewhere in the midst of all of this, Brandon’s parents took off work and headed to Lincoln for week two of taking Alexis to therapy.
Finally, at the end of week two, the DA’s office decided it was time to bring Alexis back to College Station. Brandon’s parents got on a plane with Alexis and flew her to Houston. We picked her up from the airport, and Brandon’s parents got on the next flight back to Omaha.
However, the trial lasted longer than they had expected. So Brandon’s sister, Jen, and a few of our friends took turns taking off of work and babysitting Alexis at the courthouse.
The jury never saw Alexis.
What they did get to see was the daycare provider day after day. The jury got to see her daughter with autism run to the stand as she testified and ask if her mommy needed a snack. I guess children belong in courthouses and not school?
But like I said before, it was never about us. It was never about Alexis. It was never about the thousands of hours she has spent in therapy. It was never about the millions of dollars that this injury will cost us and taxpayers for the rest of her life. It was never about the fact that Alexis is medically a triplegic, it was never about the fact that she will NEVER EVER live in a body that works. It wasn’t about the surgeries she will have to have or the pain that she lives with.
You see, that kind of stuff would cause a jury to act emotionally.
When the closing arguments were done, we waited with our friends in a tiny little room. The jury was split 10-2, and then they were split 7-5. They deliberated for 16 hours. Finally on November 19, at 7 p.m. they delivered the verdict.
They found the daycare provider not guilty.
The only subsequent comment we heard from any jury members was that they knew “the Verzals could handle it either way” (not that the ability of one side “to handle it” over another should have any weight on a decision). We also heard the jury got hung up on whether or not the provider “knew” she would cause “serious bodily harm” when she allegedly shook and threw Alexis.
So what happened to the daycare provider? Nothing.
We didn’t pursue a civil case against the daycare provider because she didn’t have business insurance, and she didn’t have enough money for us to sue her. One lawyer has estimated that an injury such as Alexis’s will cost over 10 million dollars over her lifetime.
Thankfully, we had friends and family who have held fundraisers and given to the Coach G. Foundation to help offset medical bills. Most of the medical bills today are currently covered by the State of Nebraska’s disability waiver.
But the money wasn’t the issue, and neither was the verdict. Even if she would have been found guilty, Alexis’s injury was never going to go away. The verdict doesn’t erase the past.
We follow stories like ours all over the country on a regular basis, and we’ve learned that this a common occurrence everywhere. Since there is no witness, it is the word of the daycare person versus the medical evidence. The most disgusting thing is the rate of conviction in these cases is high for men and minorities, but extremely low for white women.
One theory Brandon and I have is that people that commit these acts are typically described as “monsters.” Then when a 5’2” 110 lb. woman walks in the courtroom, it’s impossible for the jury to picture that person as a “monster.” Most of these people are not monsters, they just committed a monstrous act in a moment of anger and frustration.
I learned a lot during that month:
The value of a relationship. Our parents once again went above and beyond to help Alexis heal. Our friends in College Station, once again, went above and beyond and became our family and source of strength. We needed them, and they were there.
The worst type of hypocrisy. I saw the ugly side of desperate people, the ugly side of a church and people claiming they are Christians without thinking about the consequences of their actions.
The thing we had going for us is that we got to leave it behind. Other families whose children have had similar injuries don’t get to do that. Some have trials and verdicts that go through appeals. A lot of babies are hurt by a parent or family member this type of senseless act destroys a lot more than a child’s brain and body.
God has a plan and a reason for things like this. It’s not our job on earth to question what happens.
And God is good.
God will take evil and make something good.
And that is exactly what He did.