. In the First Degree Had the bullet’s trajectory veered half a foot to the right, It might not have extinguished the life of this innocent youth Who had just turned eighteen. The Grand Jury moved fast to indict The young killer. Detectives parsed statements to get at the truth. Two years later the trial was set so that Justice might reign. We were summoned to sift through which evidence should be believed Grimly trapped in a jury box fighting off anger and pain And despair for the victim, his family, all those who grieved. But our mercy was limited. What could we feel for the thug Who was charged with this crime as a man although only sixteen? He had bought and sold contraband arms. He loved crime like a drug. He was cocky though only in high school and bantamweight lean. We were told many times that his innocence must be presumed But the facts made it clear that this conscienceless boy coldly killed. He was itching for power. He boasted his foes were all doomed. With a loaded three-eighty he damn well could do what he willed. There were eighteen young witnesses, each of them now linked by hate. There were sheriffs. The coroner. Diagrams, all we could bear About teenage anatomy. DNA. Perjury. Fate. And we learned about malice---not words, but a cold, fishlike stare. It was first degree murder---a judgment which could not console. How the victim’s poor grandmother wailed when the verdict was read! She had raised her one grandson from birth. How could this make her whole? On conviction the murderer’s eyes didn’t blink. They seemed dead As if bored by the news that he’ll live out his life behind bars. There were cameras rolling, reporters. The judge thanked us all. Then the marshal escorted us out of harm’s way to our cars. I went home. Much too weary to weep, I just stared at the wall. In my heart I believe God’s Commandment that Thou Shalt Not Kill. But I’m shaken. I know now of people who can. And who will. . . Regret a rondeau I never thought about the laws I often broke. But I sure pause To think that unattractive snitch Betrayed me! She was filthy rich And well-played passion hid my flaws. I worked the handsome smile that draws The lonely. When a cold heart thaws, Gold flows. That she might raise a hitch __I never thought. I stole her cash. She bared her claws. My looks are worthless now because Of charges pressed. A novel switch: My freedom stolen by that witch! Well, my whole life I’ve clutched at straws. __I never thought. . . Redemption That I inflicted people so with pain Is now the cross I bear. No smirking smile Or smugness rules me now. I pace. I stain These concrete walls with tears---and for awhile I’m numb---until dark recollections haunt me. At night I hear their agony and fears, The lives destroyed, the ghosts which bleed and taunt me! Compelled now to endure these endless years I must eschew serenity in death, Accept my guilt and shun all soulless lies. But why should I now value my own breath? Forever caged, is aging even wise? God knows. I’ll read and pray. Before I burn, There’s much about this life that I would learn. . . Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.