A grieving nurse moved a courtroom to tears as she delivered a powerful statement of the power of forgiveness to transform hate into healing.
Hera Edwards' partner of 10 years and the father of her three girls, Ricki Cobb, died when he was hit by a jackknifing trailer towed by Donald Stewart Wills, 64, near Greytown, on November 5, 2011.
Yesterday's sentencing hearing in the Masterton District Court followed a restorative justice process.
The victim impact statement that Ms Edwards read out in court yesterday was hailed by Judge Bill Hastings for "rising above the aura of hatred" to produce instead the "healing power of forgiveness".
Judge Hastings read out a paragraph of a letter Wills wrote offering reparation for emotional harm totalling $25,000. Of that, $10,000 was to be paid into a trust fund set up for the education and welfare of Mr Cobb's children, with the rest in cash.
Police prosecutor Garry Wilson said outside court that this was "far in excess" of what would normally be ordered by the court in such a case.
Wills, an engineer, of Morrisons Bush, also promised to supply frozen meat and produce to Ms Edwards, 35, and the family on an ongoing basis.
His heavily laden trailer hit the guardrail on the Waiohine Bridge and jack-knifed into the path of Mr Cobb's motorcycle. Mr Cobb died instantly.
In her statement yesterday, Ms Edwards thanked Wills and said she would accept his offer "because of the children" - daughters Lexus, 9, Rhion, 6, and Huntah, 4.
"We didn't ask for anything," she said. "But I accept [the offer] particularly for our youngest child, who has no memories of her daddy."
She told Wills: "We come from different worlds, you and I," but she had seen the good in him, and forgave him in the name of her partner: "Ricki was a good man, who had the capacity to forgive."
Outside court, Ms Edwards said the children were too young to understand entirely what had happened, but she hoped they would grow up seeing the outcome as a lesson in not giving in to pain.
"It's not about forgetting any of it, the hurt and pain and what happened. But you can hurt without it turning into hate."
Wills said last night that he was grateful for the "wisdom, grace, humility and courage" shown by Ms Edwards and her whanau.
"I was a bit slow on the wisdom, but I eventually got there."
It did not seem remarkable to him that he had offered more than the maximum for the offence.
"I just figured I had to do the right thing. I didn't put weight on the maximum fine because I figured there's a lot of young children there that need access to help.
"It was necessary for all of us to heal the hurt. It was necessary for me to make that gesture."
He said the experience of being looked in the eye by Ms Edwards as she said she forgave him was important. "It was an acceptance and forgiveness that she was able to offer back to me. The key for her was to forgive and not forget."
Ms Edwards said she had coped through the support of whanau, friends and colleagues, and because her children needed her.
"It was affecting them, me being in such a grief-stricken place. When you have a 3-year-old bring you toilet paper every day to dry your tears . . . you can't imagine how hard it is to push all that stuff down into your toes, smile and get your babies off to sleep."
She said Mr Cobb, who loved motorbikes so much he used to write "motorcycle enthusiast" on official forms, was "a hard man" who turned his life around to build a family with her. "These girls were his absolute life and he would have laid down his life 10 times over for them.
"He was a man who believed in second chances, because he got plenty of them.
"When the kids are old enough I want them to be proud of me, that I forgave - I'm sure that's what Ricki would want."
Judge Hastings convicted Wills of careless driving causing death, disqualified him from driving for six months and ordered emotional harm and ongoing support reparation according to the terms offered.
Wills and his wife, Jeanette, who have five adult children, said the experience of restorative justice, which in their case was facilitated by Presbyterian Support Service, had been positive.
"The mechanism is there, it's independent, and it allows people to say what they think and to share. It's a vehicle to allow the emotions to work their way through the different steps.
"The restorative justice people are there to facilitate and be a neutral vehicle in a safe environment for both parties."
However, he and his wife said they wished the encounter with Ms Edwards had occurred sooner. "I wanted to do the best for her and her family, earlier rather than later, and somehow it wasn't easy to do."
He hoped the process could become more flexible. "Every situation is different, and it needs to be flexible and fluid enough so that anyone can figure out [a solution] for themselves."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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