Luis Negron was back in court this week, a short appearance where he pleaded not guilty in the hit-and-run death of Angel Arce Torres.
His supporters slipped into a front row, just in front of the Torres family. A man who looked a lot like Negron sat rigidly while the young woman next to him cried. Their presence, as far as I could tell, went unnoticed by Negron.
Right now, all we know about Luis Negron is that he is a 33-year-old Hartford resident who allegedly mowed down an old man on Park Street in an incident that became emblematic of the city's apathy.
It strikes me as odd, how little we know about this man.
Not that if we knew he was a good father or had a tough childhood it would — or should — change many minds about the callousness of what he's accused of doing.
"I know, he's a monster," a friend who grew up with Negron said, repeating what she knows most are thinking. "But he's not; he's a good kid who had a rough life."
What that meant, she wouldn't say.
But part of the answer may lie in his history with the Department of Correction. Negron is no stranger to prison. He's been in and out of jail since 2000. He admits in correction department records to being addicted to heroin. A daily user, intake reports note. Despite his record, he was a low level inmate with a handful of disciplinary violations for not taking orders very well: in the wrong area, giving someone a haircut without permission. Being too loud — all things that would amount to being a knucklehead on the outside, actionable on the inside.
Around 2005, something seemed to change. An intake report notes he's on methadone, apparently as part of a treatment program. And then there are his mug shots. Then, thin and gaunt. Now — relatively healthy looking.
Turns out he was well-known around Park Street, a popular barber who worked at several shops in the area, the last one Ricardo's Barber Shop on Broad Street.
"He was a decent guy," said Jose Munoz, who was getting his hair cut the day I stopped by. "What happened?"
That's the question, isn't it?
Did Negron, if he did it, just panic? Did he realize when he drove away and no one came knocking at his door that he got away with it and just decide to go with it?
Is he that monster?
His lawyers, of course, say no. They've questioned the confession. They've repeated rumors of a relative of Torres being close by during the interview. If Negron is guilty of anything, attorney Carmine Giuliano says, it's of bad judgment.
OK — but for a year? Torres was hit in May 2008. Negron was arrested a year later, confessing after police say the mother of his child gave him up.
Negron isn't the only one with questions to answer, though.
Were the people who just stood by as an old man lay dying on the street scared, the way so many insist? Did they just figure someone else would deal with it? Or, as Police Chief Daryl Roberts suggested at the time, does the city have a toxic relationship with itself?
It'd be easy now, Negron in jail, to forget that those questions have never really been answered. We've got someone to blame. The heat's off of us.
Except it isn't.
Even if we find that Negron is guilty, how much less so are the rest of us, the ones who stood by, the ones too scared, too self-involved, too hateful to act?
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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