Two years ago, I was ambushed on a Baltimore street, two short blocks from my doorstep, on a still winter night.
I have not posted about this in months, and that is not a coincidence. An experience like that is something you can never forget or leave behind, but you must find ways to live with and keeping moving forward into each new day.
The criminal aspect of this case ended in June with a plea deal from Maryland Circuit Judge Wanda K. Heard for the man who attacked me. In exchange for pleading guilty, he received a sentence that essentially is equal to 12 years (in legalese, 30 years with all but 12 suspended).
You have to read the fine print to know that a 12-year sentence in Maryland is not really a 12-year sentence, due to the existence (as in many other states) of “good conduct” credits, also called dimunition credits, that reduce the amount of time left on a prison sentence.
(You can read much more about these credits in a Baltimore Sun article here.)
It is a case that in so many ways illustrates the failings and shortcomings of the judicial system.
I will write more about those eventually.
At a criminal trial, victims are given the opportunity to submit what it known as an impact statement. In large number of cases, including mine, it is the only opportunity for the victim to speak directly to the judge about how the crime affected their lives and the lives of those around them.
Because my case dragged on for nearly a year and a half as a result of a litany of delays and postponements, I was given the opportunity to write to two impact statements: one in the spring of 2014, and another right before it was settled in early June.
Last summer, I chose not to post the statements online for a few reasons. Foremost was the fact that the plea agreement came as a surprise and a major disappointment. But a crime victim has no say in whether a plea deal is offered, and if a judge decides to go that route, only the judge’s decision matters. I was given only a couple days’ notice that a plea had been offered, which was stunning to me after waiting so long with expectations that the case would go to a jury trial. So I had no choice but to accept that there would be no trial, and I had to move on with my life.
And with the help of my wife, our families and wonderfully skilled doctors, that is what I’ve done. Last month marked the final milestone in my physical recovery: I received the crowns to replace the three teeth that were knocked out from my bottom jaw. Like just about everything else, it didn’t go according to plan; on the day my crowns were to be placed (a process that is relatively quick compared to, say, having implants drilled), my dentist realized that her tool set didn’t quite match up with the specifications of the implant. But with a little industriousness and ingenuity, she modified the tools (possibly ruining them for future uses) to make sure everything got done that day and didn’t have to come back for another visit.
Getting that process finished brought a sense of relief, both physically and psychologically. As another part of the healing, I am now posting both of my victim impact statements here — starting with last year’s, followed by the one from June. They are very different in nature. Looking back, I can see how I felt like two different people as I wrote the first one compared to the second one. I have edited them in some spots because there is a civil aspect to this case that I don’t want to infringe upon.
I chose to read these statements aloud before the court, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It was emotional enough to write them, so reading them in front of a group of people who didn’t know me — including the person who tried to end my life — was intimidating.
There was no requirement for me to read these in court. I could have chosen to have the prosecutor read them aloud instead, or I could have submitted them directly to the judge.
But I wanted these impact statements to be true to their name. I wanted them to make an impact.
My life will never be the same because of what Mustafa Eraibi viciously did to me on a quiet Canton street on the night of January 14, 2014.
Please do everything you can to prevent him from ever hurting anyone else.
One moment, I was parking my car just two short blocks from my house, as I did every night after work. The next, I was fighting through the worst pain of my life, bleeding from my head and mouth. As I was placed on a gurney and taken to the emergency room, I didn’t know whether I’d live or die.
I have constant anxiety and have to visit a therapist weekly. I can’t stop thinking about the events of that night. My loved ones see that I’m not the same. Each morning, I am at the mercy of my anxiety – I don’t know when I’ll wake up, but I do know that anxiety will keep me from falling back asleep. I have less desire to go out in public, and my self-esteem is lower because of the physical injuries. Every night, I have to take sleeping pills in order to fall asleep. I used to love being outside at night; now I feel anxiety about a 10-foot walk from the driveway to the front door.
I worry about the long-term effect of the head injury on my health. As a healthcare worker told me when I was in the hospital, a head injury doesn’t necessarily cause disability right away – problems could come well into the future.
I am no longer the same person I was, and I am struggling to find ways to deal with that. I have difficulty with short-term memory and with focus, which affects my job as a newspaper editor. I have had to change my duties at work because I no longer can cope with the high-stress nature of the night shift that I previously had.
The physical injuries are a challenge I face every day. The most prominent are six skull fractures, a severe concussion, fingers broken in multiple places each and four teeth knocked out from the force of the brick hitting my head; two other teeth had to be extracted after I was discharged from the hospital.
I’ve never had a cavity in my life and had always taken great care of my teeth. Now every time I look in the mirror I am reminded of the attack and the trauma. I have been undergoing surgical procedures to fix the damage. It’s a painful process that takes many months, and there are no guarantees it will turn out correctly. My jaw is out of alignment and I can’t close it properly. My mouth will never be the same. The medical cost is likely to be upwards of $20,000, and there are no guarantees that my health insurance will help cover it.
I also have ongoing back in my lower back and right knee.
I was forced to miss work for eight weeks, a long absence that cost me at least $4,311 in gross pay. I no longer have any sick days to use this year and had to use up all of my banked sick time. I also have spent $4,431.33 out of my own pocket for my health care, and there’s still significant work to be done, including the dental implants. In addition, I had to replace my car, which was in good condition and had only about 40,000 miles on it.
But the impact hasn’t been on me alone. My family and my girlfriend’s family have had to help bear the burden. In the hours after the attack, my parents, who are both in their 60s, were forced to rush from their home in New Jersey to Johns Hopkins Bayview, not knowing what had happened to their son or whether he would live through the day. That is something no parent should ever have to do.
When I was released from the hospital, I could not care for myself for weeks because I was suffering from post-concussion difficulties and my hands were in casts. My girlfriend’s sister moved back in with her parents so we could stay at her house, which is a major inconvenience for her. Psychologically, I could not stay in Canton anymore. My girlfriend and I have been in the process of moving to a new house, and every time I have to return to Canton I feel like I’m drowning in anxiety. Each trip back to the city dear to me – a trip I must make every day for work – is a fresh reminder of this crime.
Please consider more than my injuries and the impact on me and my family. Consider that this assault was a heinous, malicious act. He took my wallet, bank cards and my laptop computer, and he could’ve been satisfied with those and left. But they weren’t enough for him. Eraibi came to Canton not just out to rob someone that night – he was out to do great harm to someone. To kill someone.
If Eraibi ever walks free again, people’s lives will be at risk. I ask that you sentence him to life in prison. This is the only way to prevent him from doing anything like this to anyone else.
I’ve spent some time talking about myself. I’m incredibly lucky, and without the help of countless people — many of whom I will never meet — I wouldn’t be here today.
That is not to say it has been easy. What I have been through, just in terms of recovery and healing, I would not wish on anyone. I still feel the effects every day: I am still waiting to have the three teeth on the bottom that were knocked out replaced, meaning I have to be careful about what I eat. I have had bone grafts done on my top and bottom jaws and five implants drilled into my jawbone — very painful processes, as you can imagine.
I have had to relearn the mechanics of speaking several times after the loss of six teeth. I still talk with a lisp and stumble over words, which frustrates me especially because I used to pride myself on my public speaking skills.
I have tried so hard to forget what this person did on that January night. But I know I will never be able to forget it. What he did stays with me every day and will be with me for the rest of my life.
But I’ve realized that I’m not here to talk about just myself. I’m here to represent all victims. I’m here to represent those who have gone through worse than I did, those who never had the chance to talk as I am today, those who had their lives taken from them.
So when you look at me, Your Honor, I don’t want you to see just one human being. I want you to see all of the victims in this city that has seen such a horrifying amount of violence and hate and chaos, especially this year.
And I want you to know that I don’t think this plea agreement is justice.
As of yesterday, there had been 128 homicides in this city in the calendar year 2015. Last year, there were 211. It frustrates me to talk about each of these people as just a number, but if this troubled person had had his way, I would have been No. 212.
What is the price of each of these lives? None of us has the right to say. But those people who want to take lives — as this man wanted — they do put a price on life. And to him, a life was worth $301.63. Three hundred dollars and sixty-three cents.
After he took my wallet, my laptop and my car, that’s the amount of stuff he bought at a series of 7-Elevens in this area as he joy-rode around. Then he ditched the car and attempted to cover his tracks by setting it on fire and leaving it in a back alley just three blocks from where he stole it. … Does this sound like someone who deserves leniency from the justice system? This is where I stand up for victims everywhere: I say NO, it does not.
And to have waited almost a year and half, through all the delays — the number of which I lost count of a long time ago — and to see this criminal receive a plea deal, that is extremely frustrating, Your Honor.
Can you imagine what it takes for someone to want to kill over the thrill of stealing someone else’s car, laptop and wallet? What it takes to be going on inside someone’s head for that to not only seem doable but desirable?
The wallet itself, which had belonged to my late grandfather, was irreplaceable. But what this person took from me was much more than money, a computer and a car. It was a feeling of safety of security that I’ll never get back. Now, when I go out of my own home at night, I feel a compulsion to look around me, behind me, in the shadows, to make sure nothing is lurking. Even during the day, when I’m walking around and I get the sensation that someone is behind me, I have to stop and move to the side.
Your Honor, after I was attacked I suffered from depression caused by post-traumatic stress disorder. I tried to tough my way through it for a while. After I got out of the hospital, I was living at a house outside the city; I had to move out of the house I was renting in Canton because there was no way I could live there anymore and feel safe. After moving, I would park my car directly across the street from the house where I was living at the time — directly across the street, a minute from the front door — and I still didn’t feel safe. I decided to see a concussion specialist because this was my second serious concussion; he diagnosed me with PTSD. To follow up on what I said earlier about not being able to work at night, I still do not — or at least I have not been able to in the way I used to. This has been a major complication at work, and my duties have had to change. In my field, much of the production occurs at night, especially late at night, but since the attack I have never felt I could return to those hours.
But again, I want to emphasize that this is not about just me. I feel in my heart that I am speaking here today for so many others. In fact, Your Honor, I want to talk for a moment about a case that I read about in the pages of the Baltimore Sun, a case that you presided over. I’m sure you remember it — seven years ago, a middle-schooler named Timothy Oxendine fatally stabbed a classmate to death on school property.
The Baltimore Sun published a short article on the sentencing of that boy. It said that as part of the sentence, you wanted to see him regularly in your courtroom to monitor his progress. When I read the article, the last paragraph of the article really stood out to me. It quotes you as saying, “I don’t think that as a judge, your responsibility ends when you sentence someone.”
Your Honor, I believe there is a lot of wisdom in those words, and I ask that you keep them in mind as you preside over this case.
Thank you very much for listening.