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Sunday, June 26, 2022

She worked in the courts of Colorado. But he resigned after experiencing the justice system for the first time after the murder of his daughter.

Teresa Grimes spoke softly when she finally got the chance to stand on the podium and talk about her daughter, Destiny.

Teresa told the silent court that before she was shot and killed, Destiny Litt-McGhee was the easy kid, she was sweet, she was smart. Fate taught himself to play the guitar and piano and graduated with honors from Manuel High School. Destiny was Teresa’s youngest child and was the only one who called her “mother”.

Teresa wanted the judge, the lawyer, and the man who killed Destiny to finally find out who was at the center of this court case that dragged on for two years. His voice filled with anger as he spoke.

Teresa told the judge that she spent six years and tens of thousands of dollars to obtain a degree in criminal justice, that she worked as a juvenile probation officer for the Colorado Judicial Branch. She understood how the system worked – she sat in the courtroom every day.

And yet Teresa could not believe that the man who killed her daughter had been found guilty of murder, rather than murder, that she would face a maximum sentence of six years in prison. That the peace, instead of closing, the court process had left him in more pain.

“Where is the justice here?” Teresa asked, her husband Troy standing behind her in support. “Shame on you! Shame on the judges! Shame on the defenders of the public!”

In television shows, in movies, in everyday conversation, the criminal justice system is crafted to help victims and their loved ones, to help them shut down. The mission statement of the Colorado Judicial Branch states that one goal of the court system is to “facilitate the compensation of the victim and the community.”

But it’s not like it works for everyone. Dozens of families who have lost a loved one to violence in Denver courts each year. Some, like Teresa, are drawn to the tricks of the system that is going to work on their behalf.

“We have been told that the court doors are about to open (after the trial) and we will walk through them and everything will be better, justice has been delivered,” said Patricia Venscunas, founder and CEO of the Crime Survivors Resource Center. “But it is not the reality.”

Nothing particularly went wrong with Destiny’s case, her family said. The police and the prosecution and the victim’s advocates treated her with kindness and respect. The shooter was indicted, though on lesser charges. Everyone did their work.

But the trial itself – and the speed of the court process that led to it – left Teresa more crude than before. He listened to the shooter’s defense attorney and tried to cast doubt on Destiny’s character. He held the hearing for six days as lawyers and witnesses described the details of that day. Destiny was not in that courtroom, Teresa said, and those who knew her best could not speak on her behalf during the trial. At the sentencing, the judge also admitted that there was nothing she could do to restore the family.

Instead of treatment, Destiny’s murder and the court process that eluded Teresa from a career in and around the criminal justice system that spanned more than a decade. Even before she spoke during the October sentencing hearing, Teresa wondered if she could go back to her job. Four months later, he resigned.

“The front knocked me down again to see something like this,” she said. “I lost faith in an unjust system.”

As she finished her testimony during the October sentencing hearing, Teresa sang a song that reminded her of destiny.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” Teresa sang as she concluded her testimony.

Her voice staggered, she fell into Troy’s arms, and she wept.

Hyung Chang, The Denver Post

Teresa Grimes maintains a memorial for her daughter, Destiny Litt-McGhee, at Grimes’ home in Aurora, Thursday, June 16, 2022. Destiny, 23, was shot and killed on August 9, 2019.

“Nobody Had It Right”

Niyati spoke quietly but loved very much. As a child, she was the peacemaker between her siblings, as well as the pressure Teresa could exert on the child.

In high school, she played basketball, softball and joined the cheerleading squad. She was the sister his brothers and sisters called for advice. The parents of all his friends saw him as one of their own. She was a caregiver – the only granddaughter who looked after her grandmother’s feet. When Teresa went back to college, Destiny taught her math.

She showed up early every Thanksgiving to help her mom cut vegetables, her family said in interviews. She was self-conscious about her slender height, the size of her arms and legs, but Teresa loved her for exactly those things.

Teresa said, “She was just me again.” “She worked hard, she worked hard, she learned to work for what she wanted.”

“She was really coming into herself before she died,” Troy Grimes said.

But Teresa and Troy maintain that Destiny’s personality and legacy were not honored during the criminal proceedings against the man who murdered her.

Destiny died on August 9, 2019, at the age of 23, when a neighbor argued with Destiny’s husband and shot them both, according to the shooter’s arrest affidavit. Destiny’s husband survived the shooting, though he died last year in an unrelated incident.

During the trial, much of the testimony centered around the conduct of the shooter and Destiny’s husband, whether or not they had drugs. The shooter’s defense attorney tried to question Destiny’s character, which angered her family. It felt like a drug trial, Teresa said, rather than a trial about the death of one’s child.

“Day by day we had to sit there and listen to these stories about who they were,” Teresa said. “Nobody had it right. But all we could do was listen to these stories by leaning on each other to pause.”

Prosecutors charged the shooter with first-degree murder, but the jury acquitted him of that charge and found him guilty of murder instead.

First-degree murder charges require prosecutors to convince a jury that the defendant intended to kill the victim, or acted with such disregard for the value of human life that he knew or should be aware that his act posed a serious risk of death. With a charge of murder, jurors only have to find that the defendant acted negligently, a low legal standard.

The decision stalled.

Teresa and her family then sat during the sentencing hearing and the shooter’s defense attorney described him as a “great” and “honest” man with a “bright future”.

The judge sentenced the shooter to six years in prison — the maximum allowed — and three years of parole, ordering him to pay $7,500 in restitution. The automatic punishment for a first-degree murder conviction is life in prison without parole.

Denver District Court Judge Jennifer Torrington, acknowledging the Grimes family’s pain, announced her sentence, saying, “There is no sentence that restores you.”

Teresa was not naive about the criminal justice system – she was always interested in it. She wanted to be a police officer and tested for positions with the Denver Police Department, but she was a single mother with kids in grade school at the time and couldn’t work the training and testing program. He earned an associate’s degree in juvenile reform, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration, and began his master of science in psychology in 2021.

Instead of policing, she worked in security at Denver public schools for 15 years and then for five years with Denver Juvenile Probation. She loved work and her co-workers.

But in February, she resigned from her job with juvenile probation.

“It’s all wrong,” she said. “We have it all wrong.”

Teresa Grimes Stands With A Memorial Placed In Her Home For Her Daughter, Destiny Litt-Mcghee, At Her Home In Aurora, Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Hyung Chang, The Denver Post

Teresa Grimes stands with a memorial placed in her home for her daughter, Destiny Litt-McGhee, at her home in Aurora, Thursday, June 16, 2022.

“You have a different way of crying”

Most of Teresa’s family doesn’t like to think about the trial, the whole court process.

Troy told the judge, “I know the process is for reinstatement, for the victims to have their voices heard.” “None of this makes sense. You can’t do us justice. Neither this court nor any of the people in it were designed to do that.”

Venascunas of the Crime Survivors Resource Center said some victims find the court process fine. This may help close, helping to sew up a small section of the damage rag. He said that every victim is different and the definition of justice is different.

“But when it doesn’t go smoothly, it’s like throwing acid on the wound,” Venscunas said. “It could be a system that completely resuscitates the victim.”

Since sentencing and leaving her probation job, Teresa has been spending more time in treatment. Almost three years have passed and every day the lack of destiny is felt. But Teresa is back from the brink. Defeat is never easy, but becomes manageable, she said.

“The justice system is what it is,” she said in March. “Our healing is up to us.”

World Nation News Desk
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