by | Sep 18, 1994 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

She rarely cooks anymore. She barely eats. Sometimes, over the smallest little aggravation, maybe someone taking too long in a checkout line, she feels like she will choke, scream, go crazy if she doesn’t get out of there.

How does justice feel? Marlene Piasecki stood in a courtroom a few weeks ago and saw the man who killed her husband declared guilty of murder. Then she stood in a courtroom and heard him sentenced to life in prison. The rest of the world, which had followed this tragic story, tallied up the score and nodded with satisfaction. “She won,” they said, “justice is served.”

And they cleared out, the way a stadium clears after a baseball game, quickly, in a hurry to beat traffic and get on with life.

How does Marlene Piasecki get on with life? How do her children go off to college or jobs, as if things were normal, except when they come home, their father is not there, not now, not ever. This is not a minor detail.

“It’s strange, but when the trial was going on, terrible as it was, I had something to attend to,” says Mrs. Piasecki, now a 48-year-old widow. “When it ended, I woke up and had to ask myself, ‘What do I do now?’ “

What does she do now?

With all the noise at murder trials, does anyone ever answer this question? Loss of father, brother, husband

Joe Piasecki was an American boy, a Norman Rockwell sketch. When he was 11, he played catcher on Hamtramck’s 1959 Little League World Series team, a team that looked like kids, played like men, and won the championship. Joe and his friends gave button-popping pride to their factory town that summer. They went all the way to California and even got on the Lawrence Welk show.

Joe became a teacher and, later, a principal. He was beloved and respected, right up to the afternoon last December when Stephen Leith, a teacher in Chelsea High School, walked into the room and shot Piasecki full of bullets.

One story ended. Countless others were altered. A mother lost her son. A sister lost her brother. A wife lost her husband. Children lost their father.

Amidst enormous shock and grief, these parties had to organize a funeral, meet with police, deal with the press. When the trial began, they saw souvenirs of the murder, bloody clothes, ruined furniture. Marlene Piasecki managed to bite back tears through all of it, until the jurors passed around a picture of Joe. Then she wept. “I realized all he could ever be to them was a picture. How could that be enough?”

Joe and Marlene were college sweethearts, married 25 years. They still went on “dates.” He’d come home late from a meeting, they’d dash off to a movie, hold hands, eat popcorn. After Joe’s death, Marlene avoided movies. Months passed before she finally allowed friends to drag her out. They saw “Grumpy Old Men,” figuring it was harmless, except there’s a scene where someone says, “Don’t you die on me and take Christmas away.” Joe died right before Christmas. Marlene couldn’t help it, her tears started flowing.

She doesn’t go to movies anymore.
‘My smile is seldom used’

Justice is served? She still can’t bring herself to return to work. Her magazines pile up, unread. She buys groceries, they rot in the fridge. “I can’t sustain conversations, unless it has something to do with Joe’s case. I used to be so driven by having order, paperwork, now those things don’t seem so important.”

She has to deal with money matters — Joe used to take care of it — and there is less money than there used to be. She sees a therapist twice a week. One day recently she wrote her feelings on 3-by-5 cards.

“I am sad and depressing to be around. . .

“My smile is seldom used. . .

“How do I bear my loneliness?”

We do not print these things to feel sorry for Marlene Piasecki. She does not deserve sympathy.

Sympathy is not enough.

What she deserves is things as they were. To have her husband back. That would be justice. But this? A lunatic has a gun. A good man is killed. Then the killer is locked up? How good can that make you feel?

In the coming days, the O.J. Simpson trial will begin. And people will get into heated arguments over dinner as to who is guilty and who is not. But for the families involved, this is real life, real blood, real empty rooms where someone’s voice used to carry. No matter what the verdict, the truth of killers is that their bullets keep firing, nicking the souls of the survivors.

“Our lives were like a storybook,” says Piasecki, “with a Steven King ending.”

How does justice feel? Not the same as it looks. For the world, murder trials may be box scores. For the victims’ loved ones, the box score only says tomorrow has been rained out. Tomorrow and all the tomorrows that follow.


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