It was wonderful to see so many people travel to Mountain Home to be beside us for this day. And to know so many others from the valley and across the country were with us in spirit. The most amazing sight to see for this Grandma though was seeing all the officers - Mountain Home Police Department and the two officers from Ada County Sheriff's Department come into the courtroom. Our Angels in Uniform. I never got a chance to talk to or hug the Ada County officer who was such an amazing gentle soul at the hospital, helping my daughter through her first sight of Joey at St. Alphonsus, for standing guard for hours outside Joey's room at St. Luke's. I hope to hug each and every officer involved in this case eventually and to thank them. And the other wonderful sight was to see Candy Man - an incredible man with a heart of gold from Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA).
There was a potential that the sentencing would get delayed because of a request made by the Pre Sentence Investigator, however the Judge decided that she was not going to order that request. So we knew very early into the day that we would have a sentence handed down that day! Justice was close!!!!
After some administrative items that needed to be handled, a discussion from the judge to the people in the gallery as to how the day would go and her sincere conversation to both families (while she tried to contain her own emotions) the day got under way.
Tina, our amazing Prosecutor, called only one witness - Detective Nelson of the Mountain Home Police Department. A family friend, a great police officer and a man that took time away from his own family situation to be there in court for Joey and Erin. It broke my heart and made this Grandma want to just go up and hug him while he was testifying and looking at two pictures of Joey laying on the living room floor that awful day.
The Defense put on (I believe the final count was:) 17 character witnesses! One by one they were sworn in and got on the stand to talk about Mr. Laubach and his good nature, never aggressive, never having a temper, so kind hearted and helpful to everyone. Loved everyone, great with kids, great with animals, and had such an incredible bond with Joey. Was so great with Joey. Loved Joey as his own son. On and on and on and on and on.................................. yes it dragged on from early morning to the lunch hour, broke for lunch and then started back up again at 1:00 for the last six character witnesses.
But because these people were sworn in and were placed on the stand as witnesses this meant that the Prosecutor got to cross examine them if she so desired. And she did desire to do just that on some of them. And when she did ask "just a couple" questions she rocked it! Such a pro, it was amazing to watch her in action.
It was hard to watch and listen to a lot of the testimonies given because they were all working for the same script, saying the same things over and over again and taking their opportunity to look directly at Mr. Laubach and say "I love you" or "We're so proud of you". I get it, I really do, this is their family member, their friend, and he's going to prison. But it wasn't the "Richard Ryan Laubach, A Star is Born" show. IT WAS A SENTENCING HEARING FOR A CHILD MURDERER!
I did feel compassion and my heart hurt for the grandparents as they took the stand and spoke about their grandson. While listening to them my heart hurt even more because they only know what they have been told by Mr. Laubach's parents. So of course they believe it was a tragic accident. And the same for all those other people filling up their side of the courtroom. But I also wondered, when Tina made her argument for sentencing would any of these people soak it in and take a step backwards, realizing what they have been told for the last 18 months versus what they heard in court about Joey's injuries were vastly different? I don't think we'll ever know.
Mr. Laubach's parents were the last two to testify. I won't go into details of either of their testimony but let me say this of Mrs. Laubach's testimony, both while being questioned by the Defense Attorney and by the Prosecutor, I cannot fathom how any parent could make their other child, the one NOT being sentenced to prison for murdering a child, as the evil seed. To place blame on that son for everything negative that was said about Ryan. My heart ached for Ryan's brother while listening to her trying to place blame on him over and over again. School records must have gotten mixed up, Ryan would never do something like that, it must have been the "other" Laubach kid, they were confused. I was shocked and sad.
The defense finally rested - it was now after 2 p.m., we took a short recess and then it would be my and Erin's turn on the stand - not as witnesses, but to read our victim impact statements. It was overwhelming and difficult to listen to Leanna and Richard Laubach testify, thank God we were given a little time to calm down and prepare ourselves to get up and read our statements.
I have never been more proud of my daughter then that moment she sat on the stand and read her statement to the Judge. I know it was one of the hardest things she has had to do since saying goodbye to her son. But she did it, she got through it, with tears and emotions overflowing she did it, for herself and for Joey!! And then holy smokes now I had to wipe the tears and go read mine! Through my tears and a throat that felt like it had been rubbed with the roughest sandpaper ever made I read my statement. Looking primarily at the Judge, but also to our amazing Prosecutor Tina and a couple of times to my daughters, son and daughter-in-law. When I sat down I felt the comfort of the Lord wrapping his arms around me and giving me the ability to speak.
Did our pain and destroyed lives come through? Did the Judge understand how this man while yes admitting guilt by pleading guilty to First Degree Murder still took no real accountability for his actions and causing severe injuries to our Joey. Not just tossing him in the air and one time he fell and hit his head and died. Not one time Joey fell from the arm of the couch and hit his head and died. Not one time Joey jumped off the coffee table, or the arm of the couch and fell and hit his head and died. Not one time that Ryan was holding him and Joey jumped backwards out of his arms and fell and hit his head and died. See these are some, but no means all, of the stories Ryan gave to what happened to cause Joey to die.
After Erin and I gave our statements the Prosecutor - the wonderful and amazing Tina, stood up and addressed the court. So composed and direct. She was impressive to say the least. She spoke of Joey's injuries - not one impact to the back of his skull but three -- THREE distinct impacts to the back of his skull, the brain stem severed, the swelling of his brain, the severe damage to his retinas, the bruises to his hips, his back, his abdomen, his rib cage, his arms, his leg, his throat, his jawline, the scrape on the front of his chin, the previous healing abrasion and knot to Joey's forehead now gaping with a deep laceration, the bruises to his face among other injuries. I couldn't take my eyes off of her, even though her back was to us mostly as she spoke directly to the Judge. She spoke at great length about many things and walked through the guidelines for sentencing giving her input to each of these items, describing in detail how specific sections pertained to this case. When she finished she asked the Judge to hand down a sentence of Indeterminate Life with 15 years fixed.
Then it was the Defense's turn to argue their points for sentencing recommendations. Talking at length about the people that testified about Ryan's character, his love for others and so forth. He talked at length about how their two experts showed how our two doctors (forensic pathologist and child abuse expert) used antiquated science to reach their conclusions about Joey's injuries. He argued that the 589 page Pre Sentence Investigation Report was slanted and painted his client in a negative way, (My son Stan summed it up best in his statement "... couldn't get over the defense attorney saying that the 600 page document painted the defendant in an unfair/slanted light. People that murder toddlers typically aren't painted to be outstanding citizens".) But the biggest thing was how he explained that Ryan is a good man and he asked the Judge not to sentence Ryan based on a window of a few minutes of his life when something bad happened. And finally asked the Judge to sentence him to the minimum the statute allowed which is 10 years fixed on a life sentence.
We were then given a few minutes break before Mr. Laubach would be allowed to speak to the court before the Judge made her decision. When court resumed Mr. Laubach was allowed to speak to the court before his sentence was handed down. It was pretty dramatic to start because of his standing and spinning around to look directly at my daughter and begin to speak. The Judge stopped him as soon as she saw what was happening (she had been looking down as he began to stand). He said his piece about hoping Erin and Joseph could some day accept his apology and that he has regretted every day what happened. And then he went on to thank his mother for moving there, quitting her job that she went to school for and moving here to support him, thanking his family and friends for coming today and how he was sorry that their "gathering together" was under these circumstances -- really this wasn't a "gathering together" -- it was a SENTENCING HEARING!!!!
The Judge then spoke. She took time to go through everything and eventually got to the heart of the matter. She even used the defense attorney's statement that this was a small window of a few minutes in Ryan's life - but, she said, that small window of a few minutes of his life ended Joey's life. And then she got to how he should have known from previous admissions of handling Joey to roughly, holding his face to harshly, that injuries, even worse injuries could happen. And she talked about the severe injuries that Joey suffered. That this was not a one time hands on injury. But that this was multiple hands on injuries to Joey. And sentenced him to Indeterminate Life with 15 years fixed. With having served 18 months in the county jail he would eligible for parole in 13 1/2 years. She address both families again, expressing her sadness for both sides. And how she hoped that we could begin to grieve for Joey now and that we could begin to move forward. And with that court was dismissed and the officers removed Mr.Laubach from the courtroom.
It was over! It was late in the afternoon. I was ready to collapse. The emotional roller coaster and my mind spinning were still going though. The adrenaline still coursing through my body but JUSTICE FOR JOSEPH WAYNE GRAHAM III had happened!
Erin and I hugged and talked with family and friends outside of the courthouse. We hugged Nicole and Penny, the Prosecutor's Assistants and we waited for Tina so we could head over to her office to decompress as we typically did after many of the hearings.
I know in the Laubach and friends blogs. FB posts and such there will be many comments and derogatory statements made about myself, Erin and our family and friends, against the Prosecutor and her assistants, against the officers and anyone else involved in this case. Say what you want, say what you will. You stalked my daughter's house the few days before court (and previously we know, we just never caught you then) but you didn't scare us. I pray that some day you will be able to accept and truly understand what your son did to my grandson. And that nothing he says, no matter how long he spends in prison it will never change the fact that 22 month old Joseph "Joey" Wayne Graham III's life ended at the hands of Richard Ryan Laubach on March 12, 2013.
To my friends, the friends of Erin's, Stan and Kasandra's, Melissa and Morgan's, Crystal and Richie's, Lawrence and Jaime's, Joseph's, Kim's, Stevie's, Steve and Jordan's, Debbie's, Alexander's, Derrick's and Dana's - thank you for being there, for standing beside us and helping us through the last 18 months. We all know that sometimes it's hard to hear, that it's hard to know what to say - just being a friend, talking, laughing and crying and just knowing someone is there even without talking, has helped immensely.
To the Paramedics from Mountain Home, the flight crew of Air St. Luke's, the doctor's and staff at St. Alphonsus and St. Luke's Children's hospital thank you for taking such amazing care of my grandson and for your compassion and caring of my family during our time at your facilities.
To the law enforcement officers of Mountain Home Police Department and Ada County Sheriff Department - I have always had a love and admiration for law enforcement officers and the work they do. I pray you never have to have another ride like this one but I am so thankful you were on this one for us. You mean the absolute world to Erin, me and my family. Stay safe and stay proud of the work you do, you are all amazing and will forever hold a place in our hearts.
To Tina, Nicole, and Penny - words will never be able to express my gratitude and love for each of you. You are three solid rocks which we were able to rest upon. We could not have gotten through every single day without you and you will ALWAYS and FOREVER be a part of our lives.
To my children, my grandchildren, and every member of our extended family - you all amaze me and I am so thankful for each and every one of you. This has been the worst nightmare anyone can ever imagine happening in their lives and while we have had some rocky points along the way we are strong and I love each of you more than you will ever know.
To the Lord above - I have asked many times "Just how big do you think my shoulders are?" because everyone says you never give us more than we can handle. I guess they were big enough. Thank you for lightening the load on them and I know final justice will be in your time.
Hug your children, kiss them. Cherish every moment. Get down on the floor and see the world from their perspective. Laugh with them, play with them, love them, teach them. And give them an extra squeeze from me.
Rest in Peace Joey. You are loved and dearly missed. I will forever tell your story and try to make a difference in other children's lives in your name.