Trial ends with no winners

Published 11:27 am Thursday, August 28, 2008

Some of you may have noticed that my column has not appeared in this space for the last couple of weeks.

That’s because for the last two and a half weeks, I’ve been sitting in the superior courtroom at the Hertford County Courthouse in Winton, covering the capital murder trial of Eric Alan Oakes.

As perhaps the only impartial observer in the courtroom, it was quite the educational – not to mention emotional – experience.

I’ve covered trials before, including the infamous PETA trial in 2006, but never a murder case – let alone one where the death penalty was on the table.

Naturally, family members and friends of the murder victim – Tyrelle Overton of Ahoskie – were present in droves, waiting to see justice served for their lost loved one.

On the other side of the courtroom, family members of the defendant sat and hoped and prayed for him to be found not guilty, or at the very least receive a light sentence.

To be completely honest, I went into the courtroom with the intention to be unbiased, as my job requires, but nonetheless with the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do so.

As the mother of a victim of violent crime myself, I empathized with Tyrelle’s mother before I even met her… and even more so when I saw the anguish in her eyes after I did meet her.

I can’t imagine how she must have felt to have to wait for six long years to see the person who killed her son be brought to trial.

However, as the days wore on and I talked to just about everyone sitting in the courtroom’s audience – on both sides – I began to realize there’s another family to sympathize with as well.

Because of his senseless act of violence, Eric Oakes’ family, including his 7-year-old son, will now be forever deprived of even the simple pleasure of sitting down to dinner with him.

All communications will be conducted from here on out through prison bars or a glass partition.

Certainly Tyrelle Overton’s family lost more – they no longer have him here at all to talk with, to laugh with, to watch him grow and mature.

As Assistant District Attorney Assata Buffaloe pointed out in her closing remarks, they will never see him find a girl and marry her, never see him raise a child, never see the man he would have turned out to be.

But Oakes’ family has suffered as well.

His son will never see his father at a football game, never have him attend a school function or a family event.

He will never play catch with his father, never go fishing, never be taught how to drive by the man who fathered him.

Their communications will be limited to letters, phone calls and 30-minute visits once a month, for the rest of his life.

I guess that aspect of violent crime is one that I’d never before considered – that the victim’s family isn’t the only one who suffers.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Oakes should have been punished any less.

He still did what he did and must be held accountable for that.

In this case, no one wins.

Tyrelle Overton’s life was already snuffed out prematurely six years ago.

Now the man responsible for that – Eric Oakes – must pay for that crime.

Yet he gets to live – albeit in prison, while Tyrelle has been long since buried.

Both families lose here… dozens of lives forever altered, all because of one man’s irresponsible actions.

How tragic.

Jennipher Dickens is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

For comments and column suggestions, she can be reached by calling (252) 332-7208 or by emailing