Turnabout For Father Of Slain Youth Bryant In Hartford Officer's Manslaughter Trial
December 06, 2009
It was the day of closing arguments in former Hartford police Det. Robert Lawlor's manslaughter trial, so Lawlor and his family's waiting outside the courthouse Friday was nothing unusual.
What was unusual was the man amicably chatting with the family before shaking Lawlor's hand and calmly walking away.
It was Keith Thomas, father of the young man Lawlor killed and one of Lawlor's harshest and most vocal critics.
And probably the last person most would expect to see anywhere near the man on trial for shooting 18-year-old Jashon Bryant in 2005.
Despite hearing that the two men had recently begun talking, it was striking to see.
And clearly not just for me.
"Why are you talking to him?" Thomas' daughter nearly spat over her shoulder as she entered the courthouse. "He killed Jashon."
Thomas, who looked a bit sheepish at being chastised, seemed to struggle to find the words to defend himself.
"I'm trying to do what I need to do to heal myself," he finally said.
It was a remarkable difference from 4 1/2 years ago when Lawlor's court appearances were nothing less than showdowns between officers and the family, when grief and anger would spill from the courthouse and onto the streets.
And when the trial of a white officer who killed a black teenager tapped into years of ingrained mistrust between cops and the community.
So, what did this difference mean, I wondered.
This surprising reconciliation between the father of a dead teenager and the man who killed him, the eerie calmness surrounding the trial?
Did it mean the anger had gone away?
That people had lost interest?
That they cared less, maybe remembered less?
Did it point to an end to the us-against-them mentality that seemed to seethe through the community just four years ago?
Maybe, though I still sense some of that as I walk through the city's neighborhoods. And it was clearly evident at a rally officers held outside the courthouse earlier in the week.
A lot of people are wondering what will happen when the verdict comes in.
If Lawlor is acquitted, will the community take to the streets? Will Thomas' fragile truce with Lawlor come to an abrupt end?
All it takes is one person, one incident — one verdict to spark generations of mistrust, frustration and anger.
Or maybe, I wondered as I recalled watching Thomas shake Lawlor's hand, a father could set an example for some healing — whatever the verdict.
After lawyers finished presenting their closing arguments Friday, I walked out of the courthouse with Betty Bryant, Jashon's grandmother. The decision was in the jury's hands now.
Bryant wasn't sure what to make of Thomas' newfound treatment of Lawlor, and she wasn't sure what the reaction to a verdict would be.
"I've heard a lot of ifs," she said.
"But who knows."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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