No, I didn’t report on the trial for the murder of Leslie Pinkston. That was expertly handled by Enterprise reporter Lauren Keene. But did I read Lauren’s stories, and got angrier and angrier with each one. The shock and trauma I still carry with me from the day a woman was murdered in cold blood at the doorstep to my office started giving way to fury.
I called Lauren after the defense and prosecution rested, and she told me that closing statements and possibly a verdict would happen the next day.
“I think you should go,” she said.
I hadn’t attended the trial yet. For one thing, I didn’t have anyone to cover for me at work. For another, it would just be a duplication of effort, and besides, Lauren was the best person for the job. But another reason was that I just didn’t want to be propelled back to one of the worst days of my life — the first time I ever experienced horror. I keep trying to forget it, but it follows me around like an unwanted shadow. The last thing I wanted was to let it catch up with me.
But then I got mad.
It started with Lauren’s story about how Gardner stalked and terrorized Leslie over many months, and while in jail on stalking charges, he was allowed to make over 1,000 phone calls to Leslie in the span of 24 days. This is nuts. Why isn’t each of those phone calls a count of harassment and stalking? How about muscling up stalking laws: If someone is incarcerated for stalking, if he contacts the victim from prison, each incident carries an automatic extra year of incarceration. For Gardner, that would have landed him a thousand years behind bars.
And Leslie would still be alive.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, and again and again: Our stalking laws must change.
If only there was a way to keep Gardner alive for a thousand years, just to extend his misery. I want him to suffer. Endlessly. Yes, I’d make a lousy Buddhist. And no, it’s not a pretty thing to admit. Here’s something even less pretty: I hate him. Hate isn’t a familiar feeling to me. But, there it is. And that’s what compelled me to follow Lauren’s advice, and attend the closing arguments and wait for the verdict. Unlike Lauren, I didn’t have to wear my cool, objective reporter’s hat. I wore my columnist’s hat to court. Lauren can write about the facts. I’m writing about the feelings.
If ever anyone deserved the death penalty, William Gardner did. He is a cold-blooded executioner. For whatever reason, D.A. Jeff Reisig chose not to pursue it. I give myself solace in considering that life in prison may actually cause Gardner more grief than a quick execution. In his closing arguments, Reisig reemphasized how Gardner controlled and manipulated women, commanding them like obedient, frightened dogs. Imagine the stress it will cause for him to be forced to wear the collar for the rest of his life. It will be torture, every moment of every day, for as long as he lives.
May he have a long and healthy life.
Although she did not speak much during closing arguments, attorney Deanna Hays played a significant role in prosecuting William Gardner.
But Reisig’s blistering closing statement was airtight. He annihilated any hope for Gardner’s defense attorney, J. Toney, to proclaim his client’s innocence and, frankly, Toney didn’t even really try. Maybe Mr. Toney isn’t like other defense attorneys — maybe he has a soul. Maybe he couldn’t look himself in the mirror knowing he’d spoken any words that might paint Gardner as anything but a monster.
Yes, Reisig was on fire in his closing statements. He’s an elected official, you know, and he has won my support forever. He’s the Man Who Brought William Gardner Down. He’s got my vote. He batted those guilty verdicts home. When the first was read — guilty of first-degree murder — I wanted to jump up and scream “yes!” But the audience was ordered by the bailiff not to cheer or show joy when the verdicts were read, so each verdict was met with stony silence … except for the sobbing of Leslie’s friends and family.
I started looking around the room at them, their weeping faces in their hands, their shoulders heaving, and considered the magnitude of the pain caused by one person. So much agony. So much grief. William Gardner shattered all of their lives and left a little girl without her mother. Besides Leslie, he assaulted Leslie’s friends and family, emotionally and psychologically. In a perfect world, he would have been charged and convicted of emotional assault for each and every one.
Beyond this first circle of harm and assault, Gardner is responsible for traumatizing the entire Winters community. Most people knew Leslie, and if they didn’t, they know someone who did. Six degrees of separation? Not here. Two, tops. We’re all connected here, some way, somehow. Leslie’s murder touched us all. And, it touched our town.
Winters isn’t a place where people are gunned down in broad daylight. The sound of gunfire is so unusual to Winters residents that some didn’t even recognize the sound. Bad things just don’t happen here. Winters is Mayberry and Shangri-La all rolled into one. Our little town is warm, welcoming, friendly — innocent as a kitten and safer than your grandmother’s arms.
William Gardner changed that forever. Everything we believed about our town shattered on Nov. 18, 2013, like the window on Leslie’s car. Everything we knew about our lives lay in pieces on the ground. The day he shot Leslie in the head, he shot the entire community through the heart. We may heal, but we’ll always hurt. And we’ll never forget. And we’ll never be the same.
One man — William Gardner — caused all this incalculable pain. May karma be his cellmate until he draws his last breath.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at email@example.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com