STICKS and STONES and BROKEN BONES
Detroit, Michigan - April 1981
As I sat waiting with my attorney on a bench outside the Wayne County courtroom, no one would have recognized me. The attorneys did their job preparing me for the wrongful death civil case to go to trial, right down to the last detail with a conservative hairstyle and wardrobe.
Though Tommy had been dead nearly eight years, I still, had to look the part of a grieving widow.
When it was time to start the jury selection process, an attorney from the other side made a hand motion for Joe to follow him into a room. In a matter of a few minutes, a final offer was made. Their $100,000 offer jumped to $1.3 million to walk away. I expected nothing less than my day in court. “No.”
For most people, civil lawsuits are about money. Imagine turning down a million bucks. Imagine the price you pay if you settle for anything less than the truth. This is what I was waiting for: to tell the truth. I was going to let ’em have it for killing my husband, twenty-four-year old Thomas Eugene Holstin. Killed by a Grosse Pointe Park police officer.
History is written by the perception of those in power, the world’s political winners. Our family’s history would not be determined by lies and misinformation. It was my duty to be Tommy’s champion, as he done for me in the past. I would clear his name from any fault for the record. Unarmed, Tommy was gunned down in front of me by a Grosse Pointe Park police officer. I was out for justice.
It doesn’t matter what type of lawsuit is filed, whether or not it involves a defective product or a wrongful death suit—people sue because an injustice needs to be corrected. Most civilians don’t have a clue how the process works, or the length of time you will live in limbo. It was seven years after Tommy’s death when this civil case was finally brought to trial.
Seven years living in fear, living lies of omission to protect my family. I learned to live a lie in my daily life to tell the truth in court. I was more than ready to have my day in court. The lawyers had their own agenda to settle.
Most times, it is easier and profitable to settle out of court. Attorneys have their payday and the insurance companies love it. No public record. However, settling has restrictions. The facts may never be discussed. The records are sealed, along with the mouths of witnesses; something I could not live with. My state of mind depended on it. Too many times over the years I was told to keep my mouth shut about the case for fear of retaliation. I needed my day in court to free me. Turning down the million-dollar offer surprised everyone, including the judge.
Visibly caught off guard, my attorney asked me to “seriously consider” the offer on the table. “Guaranteed,” he emphasized, “that’s an awful lot of money to turn down.”
Seven years living for this day to come, just to be forever silenced by settling out of court for the sake of a “sure thing?” Hell, no! How could I heal? How could I move forward, reliving that day over and over without seeing it through to the end? No one understood this wasn’t a healthy situation for any of us.
Thomas Eugene Holstin’s death wasn’t going to be dismissed. His children’s tears would not be ignored, and they needed to know their father did not deserved to be gunned down. Tommy was worth more than any amount of material wealth.
Everyone behind the scene believed I would call it quits and settle. Instead, I challenged the powers that be, including Judge Michael Stacey. All of them believed I would take the money and run. I repeated, “It’s not about the money.”
The exact reason why Judge Michael Stacey instructed the eight alternate jurors to participate in the award verdict decision, I don’t recall. However, in a few short hours, the jury made a decision. A moment of silence. Holding my breath as I stood there with my attorney. It was surreal, but I heard it. Loud and clear “in favor of the plaintiff.”
My knees were knocking, my stomach was queasy, a hand gently rested on my shoulder, and I heard my father’s voice, “Breathe, Linda.” Tommy was all I hoped for in a man. A.357 Magnum took him away. One gunshot and our future disappeared. The man I loved and trusted with all my secrets from the past now carried my heart with him to the grave.
Without the comfort of time to set my broken heart, it had shattered into particles of dust when the trigger was pulled. I have lived with this flashback everyday, coping with emotional scars one episode at a time. The impact from witnessing Tommy’s death was a magnitude level near extinction. This event triggered many emotional episodes. Dark days from the fallout were ahead—there would be no light to search for the remnants of my broken heart. Eventually, I would have to crawl out of hell to find these pieces of history that are part of my human condition.
The jury had found Tommy was “unnecessarily shot” by a Grosse Pointe Park police officer using excessive force. After the verdict was read, I thanked the jurors. Daddy hugged me as we walked out the courtroom. Joe said the defendants may file an appeal, but he had his doubts.’
Since the day the wrongful death suit was filed in the mid-seventies, it never crossed my mind I would lose. It wasn’t arrogance—I just knew. On that particular day when Joe called to inform me the papers were filed, a childhood memory came to mind. I was begging God to make me rich so I could give the money away to the poor. That’s what a good Catholic is supposed to do—care for others. “Linda girl... you hit the mother lode,” Daddy said. “What a shame it happened this way.”
Excerpted from "Sticks and Stones and Broken Bones: What a Charmed Life I Lead" by Linda Lee King. Copyright © 0 by Linda Lee King. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.