When Megan Merkel was arraigned in Penfield Town Court last summer, she sobbed to the judge she had no one to bail her out. The bail was only $25,000 cash or $50,000 bond, an amount not out of reach for most property owners. She had no one in her life to help.
During that short hearing, it was revealed she didn’t have custody of her two children and had previous convictions for minor thefts.
I remember feeling sorry for this 23-year-old woman who’d made some very bad choices. Her young life was a train wreck and was about to get a lot worse.
After spending 10 months in jail, Merkel was found guilty of driving drunk, but acquitted of vehicular manslaughter. The district attorney took a big gamble with the manslaughter charge. Police said from the start Merkel’s friend threw Heather Boyum into the path of the car Merkel was driving. The jury’s decision was incredibly easy to predict.
Merkel has since given a public apology.
“I absolutely don’t accept her apology and I never will. There is not one courageous bone in her body. This is self serving so she could actually leave her house in this community. She’s the most hated person in all of Rochester, NY. Rot in hell, Merkel.”
In many online discussions, Merkel and her co-defendant have been referred to “white trash.”
I don’t find it so hard to have compassion for Merkel. I don’t find it so hard to want her to lead a good life. I don’t find it hard to accept her public apology.
If we don’t forgive her, who can we forgive? Several thousand people in our community are convicted every year of drinking and driving. If we don’t forgive their mistakes, for which they pay a hefty price, an awful lot of people would be friendless and jobless. Whether you know it or not, these are your family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Forgiveness is not the same as condoning the behavior.
Some asked if I would have so much compassion if Boyum was my teacher, sister, friend or mother. I’ve covered many trials and spoken to many heartbroken families. I think there is no real remedy when bad things happen to good people. What’s done is done. All we can hope is that the truth comes out and the system delivers an appropriate penalty. Nothing, however, can reverse a tragedy. We only have power over how we choose to grieve and move forward.
Even though reasonable people think otherwise, a jury found Merkel wasn’t responsible for Boyum’s death. She still faces sentencing for the driving infractions. But she has and will face a penalty for being “the most hated person in Rochester.”
As a community, we can do better.