It takes courage to make a victim's impact statement in court, which is basically a legal right afforded to people who have been injured by criminal acts.
In nearly 20 years of covering the courts, I've heard hundreds of adult victims pour their hearts out as the convicted criminals who caused them the physical and emotional sit a few feet away at the defense table.
Rarely, do children make victim impact statements because it can be so overwhelming to walk into a courtroom where tensions often run high, especially during a sentencing.
Today, a 14-year-old girl mustered up enough courage. She sobbed and cried and gave a detailed account on how convicted killer Justo Navarro changed her life when he murdered her uncle Gilberto Aguilera who she loved very much.
I was there to write what she said, and her remarks were compelling and powerful as she described the devastation caused by Navarro.
I wrote the story, adding many of her remarks.
But I got a call from my supervisor who said the newspaper couldn't publish the girl's comments unless we print her name. My supervisor had talked to the newspaper's editor, and he agreed.
We cannot use her comments unless we have her name, she said.
I said "What? Are you serious? "
She is a child who told the court that schoolmates knew about her psychological problems and taunted her. The girl said they tell her she is "mentally f-ed up."
She could possibly be subjected to more cruelty in school or by others in the community, I said.
We need to protect her identity.
I was told it didn't matter because she was in court to make a victim's impact statement, and the courtroom is open to the public. So everyone knows her name, my supervisor said.
We can't have exceptions not even in this case, I was told.
But we have exceptions, I argued. We don't use the names of victims of sexual abuse. Sometimes, we don't even use the names of career criminals in the witness protection program. Also we don't print the names of children who testify in court, I told my supervisor.
That is different, I was told, and unless we get her name we have to edit her comments out of the story.
This is about a victim who is child and who is speaking about how children are impacted by these horrific acts of violence. We need to give her a voice, and we need to protect her identity because she is a child, I said.
I even threw in the edict from the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Code of Ethics which states: "Give voice to the voiceless," including children who have the courage to tell a convicted killer what he did to her and her family.
I lost the argument. The story was published with the girl's quotes edited out.
That was sad.
I thought about the 14-year-old for the longest time after the sentencing, and I wasn't the only one who felt her pain.
Just outside the courtroom after the sentencing, the 14-year-old girl clung to prosecutor Rebecca Day and sobbed.
"He's not going to get out. He's not going to get out," the teary eyed Day reassured the girl.
I decided to give the girl a voice on my blog and print the story I sent to the newsroom.
I have her name but I will never use it.
By Raul Hernandez
Ventura County Star
The girl cried and told the judge that her life had completely changed
when her uncle was murdered nearly two years ago at a flower-growing
business in Somis.
"What happened to my uncle, it changed me completely. It changed
everybody in my family," said the 14-year-old. "Everybody is afraid of
me and what will happen to me. I want him to suffer for what me and my
family have suffered through."
Her uncle's killer Justo Navarro sat between his lawyer and a
Spanish-language interpreter at the defense table as the girl spoke.
He would later learn his fate - 40 years to life in prison for the
second-degree murder of Gilberto Aguilera, 36.
The girl told Ventura County Superior Court Judge Patricia Murphy that
she suffers from anxiety, has panic attacks and problems controlling
her temper. She said she engages in self-cutting behavior and is
depressed. So much depression, she said that it has even affected the
way she dresses.
"I would dress in color and now, I dress in black," said the girl who
was dressed in black jeans and a black jacket. "I am not really social
anymore. I have been getting sent to the (school) office because I
She said her classmates taunt her saying she is "mentally F-ed up."
She is going to teen-grief counseling program, the girl told the
In September, a jury found Navarro guilty of second-degree murder in
the shooting of Aguilera, a former friend and business partner. The
jury also found Navarro guilty of making criminal threats against
Javier Viorato, a friend of Aguilera's who saw the shooting at a Somis
nursery Feb. 1, 2011.
In addition, jurors found that Navarro, of Somis, used and discharged
a firearm during the crimes.
For these crimes, Judge Murphy tacked on another sentence of seven
years to the 40 years to life.
Several family gave victim impact statements or their letters were
read to the judge including one from Aguilera's daughter who sobbed and
wept throughout much of the sentencing.
"I will never see him and tell him how much I love him. I know that
this pain nobody can take away," she said. "I will never be able to
hug my dad."
The judge leaned forward with her chin resting on the palm of her hand
as she listened attentively as the victim's daughter and others told
her about the pain of losing a loved one.
Navarro, who was dressed in jail garb, asked for forgiveness for his crimes.
"I am sorry for everything that happened," he told the court. "I ask
for forgiveness from his family. I hope that one day they forgive me."
His lawyer Michael McMahon told the judge that he still believes his
client was guilty of voluntary manslaughter, saying it was
self-defense and committed in the heat of passion.
Prosecutor Rebecca Day told the judge that all the facts point to
murder in this case. She said Aguilera was a nonviolent, generous,
well-liked and hardworking person who had been tormented by Navarro,
who, Day described, as a fast-talking, manipulator.
The judge said this murder caused "wide and expansive harm" and was
"based on ego and revenge," noting that Navarro had two arrest for
violent crimes but no convictions.
Just outside the courtroom after the sentencing, the 14-year-old girl
clung to the prosecutor and sobbed..
"He's not going to get out. He's not going to get out," the teary eyed
Day reassured the girl.