"Dear Judge Peeler," the boy's victim impact letter, which has gone viral since it was shared exclusively with local Ohio news outlet WLWT, begins, "I feel that my mom should stay in prison because I seen her stab my dad clean through the heart with my sister in his arms."
The now 10-year-old Bradyn wrote those words in the hopes that they will appeal to the judge who will preside over his mother's early release hearing and convince him to keep Shannon Smith, who killed Bradyn's father six years ago, in jail. Smith maintains that she stabbed Robbie Takach in self-defense, but a jury in 2010 found Smith guilty of voluntary manslaughter, which carried a sentence of 10 years.
Now she's up for parole after serving a little more than half that sentence, and her son is begging the court to not let her out, as the letter he wrote goes viral.
"I think it would be better if my mom stayed in prison," Bradyn pleads, "because I am afraid of her. I have seen what she did to my dad."
This statement is important, because it speaks directly to how Bradyn's life would be impacted if Smith were allowed to leave prison before her sentence is fully served. It's hard to even begin to imagine the full consequences that witnessing a brutal murder can have on a child's mind; the fear that he felt in the moment he lost his father must have been immense. The kind of violence he describes in his letter, written as though he were twice his actual age, is stomach churning by itself. Most adults couldn't come away from witnessing a stabbing unscathed, and neither has Bradyn. He is afraid.
We know he is afraid because he says as much, and it's these kind of impact statements that allow victims — because Bradyn is a victim of his mother's crime — to make that knowledge possible. Without them, we can only speculate on the consequences of issues like early parole and sentencing changes. We can make arbitrary judgment calls about what's right and wrong, but to truly understand the impact those decisions have on the people who must live with the consequences, we have to listen to what people like Bradyn have to say.
Victim impact statements give courts a very important tool in the legal process: insight into areas they might not otherwise have. And these statements do — or should — carry weight. The judge can and likely will read Bradyn's letter and take it into consideration as he makes his decision. It isn't just a practice that's meant to tug at the heartstrings or bring drama into a courtroom; it's a legitimate part of our justice system, and in 1982, the attorney general recommended that judges take them under serious consideration when making their decisions.
These statements serve another purpose as well, in that they can be very beneficial to the victim. It can offer them some semblance of control in situations where their wants and needs have been stripped away. It can help them heal, and it can ensure that their voices are heard when all the focus is settled firmly on the perpetrator.
A 4-year-old should never have to witness what Bradyn witnessed, and a 10-year-old should not have to deal with the fallout of such a horrific event. Let's hope that Judge Peeler, the subject of Bradyn's heartfelt letter, can see that when it's literally spelled out right in front of him.
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