Sunday, August 6, 2006
The life of June Marie Jeffries bears endless and final witness to nihilism, violence and despair. She prosecutes people who kill children, the darkest form of murder. She has prosecuted them for more than two decades.
She is an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, the specialized cases unit. She could do anything she wants. She chooses child slayings, the thing nobody else wants to touch.
Beaten to death before her second birthday.
Aarius Daniel Cassell?
Seventeen broken ribs. Bleeding optic nerves. Punctured lung. Dead at the age of 53 days.
Glenn Kirschner, chief of the homicide division, a man who looks at dead bodies as part of his trade: "I have a hard time looking at autopsy photos and hearing about the injuries inflicted on children. I'm chief of the division, but I wouldn't want to pick up infant homicides. I'm not the best person for that. June is."
How to believe, how to endure, in such a profession for so long?
One way is, you might believe that now we see through a glass darkly, that we will understand it all better by and by. You might believe that you can walk on through, in sunshine or in shadow, but then you get to this corner of homicide where there is no end to the spiral fractures and subdural hematomas and the calls from the coroner's office saying, you coming down for the autopsy or what? Because you can believe in God or you can be an utter apostate, but they are doing the infant's autopsy in about 15 minutes. That's what you can believe in.
Jeffries, 52, a mother herself, goes to such procedures. For the humanity of it, she says; to see the physical remains of how life was lived, to see how death was caused.
"I don't dream of dead children," she writes in one e-mail. She says she doesn't cry about "my victims."
Jeffries says her real fear is aging to the point where the only thing left in her memory banks will be "reliving autopsies that I attended 50 years earlier." It's a joke. Sort of.