Martin Clark

The morning after a jury—six women and six men—convicted Susie Scearce of shooting her boyfriend in the face with a shotgun, I walked down to the clerk’s office to see if you really could get married at age 12. That would be 12 years old … and married. Someone’s spouse when you’re in the seventh grade, when you’re still four years away from getting a driver’s license, six away from voting, and nine away from being able to buy a beer at the Circle K. I’m not sure how to do the regression math, but in today’s numbers, the best I can figure is these are the kids who are tying up their parents’ phone lines and pondering long division. I discovered that you can, in fact, wed in Virginia before becoming a teen-ager. Of course, you have to obtain a parent’s or guardian’s consent. Susan Scearce’s union was blessed by her grandmother; Susie’s mom had long ago hit the road, promising her mother that she’d be back when she caught up on a few bills and got some things straightened out. Oh. And you also have to be pregnant. Twelve and pregnant. If you string all that together, it’s so whacked out and sinister and farcical that the thoughts just bang into each other … the best a 12-year-old girl could do is imagine the baby’s daddy is A.J. from the Backstreet Boys or maybe Shaggy, the beatnik who hangs out with Scooby-Doo.

When Susie was being sentenced, her attorney told the jury that story, equal parts Dickens and Dickey. Married at 12, three kids and divorced at 17. The rest of the tale is sad and linear and freight-train ferocious—mean-spirited men with long, tatty beards … and hard liquor and dope and a dull, wizened consciousness that provided the backdrop for a second-degree killing. The shooting came at the end of a quarrel that had gone on in fits and starts over two or three hot days and was kept alive by beer and drugs and nothing you could put your finger on and every bad thing that had ever happened between Susie and Monroe.

On Friday, I received a letter from Susie, sent from the jail, written in good script, all the letters slanted to the left as if they were being blown backward. She got 38 years to serve for killing Monroe. In Virginia, those are real years. She went into the penitentiary at age 43, so she will probably spend the rest of her life there. She’s concerned because she has some clothes and knickknacks remaining at the dead man’s house. She would like them returned. She has been locked up for close to the next four decades, and she’s worried about jeans and trinkets. I consider what I should write back. I flash on a wire busted loose at the solder joint, the twisted copper core inside the plastic sleeve not touching anything, just swinging free, a buzzing yellow arc firing out of the disconnected end, going absolutely nowhere. I recall the photos of her slain boyfriend, lying on a mattress, and all the hues and shades and stains of red, from faint pink to black-crimson. I also remember the dead man’s frail, decent momma, how she flat-slid her feet on the carpet when she made her way to the witness stand to tell the jury about the morning her son got shot, where she was and who gave her the news.

And there you have it, the full-ratchet, bullish tension I get to sort through in one form or another just about every day: personal responsibility stacked up against an awful, impossible background. Susie’s is a sad, visceral story, but in the end, it’s a damn miserable thing to shoot a person in the face while he’s sleeping. By the way, one of Susie’s daughters showed up to watch her mother’s trial. She looked to be about 30 or so, has five kids herself. I’ll write Susie back in a day or two and tell her that I’m not able to do anything about her clothes and odds and ends.

All of the information contained in these entries is available from court files and public records. Nothing confidential or privileged is revealed herein. Any case mentioned is a concluded case, no longer before Judge Clark. While those familiar with the facts of various cases will recognize the individuals involved, fictitious names will be used throughout this journal.