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Prosecutor Notes ‘Bittersweet’ Court Victory; Maxwells’ Lawyer ‘Did The Best We Could’

Troopers lead Lindsey and Lynn Maxwell from court Saturday night, headed to the county lockup because their bail had been increased.
Troopers lead Lindsey and Lynn Maxwell from court Saturday night, headed to the county lockup because their bail had been increased.

Lynn and Lindsey Maxwell walked out of Palermo Town Court Saturday night with State Police escorts.  They moved — in Lynn’s case, slowly, using a wheeled walker for her bad back and leg — with a group of reporters and past the several dozen members of the community who had sat through nearly every minute of the two week trial.

“What’s your reaction?” one reporter asked Lynn Maxwell.  “How you feeling right now, Lynn?” asked another.  The Maxwells had spoken often with reporters on breaks in the trial. Tonight, no answers.

The Maxwells had just been found guilty of endangering Erin’s welfare by having cat feces and urine odor in the home and by having locks on the outside of her bedroom doors.  Justice Robert Wood increased their bail because of the conviction.  It meant they’d have to spend at least Saturday night in jail before they could each make the $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond bail.  When they’re sentenced October 12, they could spend up to two years in prison.

“I said to them, ‘We did the best that we could’,” defense lawyer Sal Lanza said of the Maxwells. “They agreed.”

In the crowd, a few dabbed at tears at this moment that had been coming since Erin Maxwell, 11, died last August 30 after what police allege is a sexual assault and murder at the hands of stepbrother Alan Jones.  The death touched off a furor.  It was the prime topic of conversation in diners and workplaces.  It caused a public justice movement to spring up.  It engulfed the county Social Services department, which investigated claims of neglect at the home but said it never found enough reason to take the child away.  An independent report found that social workers did nothing wrong, but said the department needed more bodies and better oversight. Jones will be tried in September.

Most people knew how they felt before the trial; the testimony confirmed it. They held their tongues as they watched the Maxwells take what journalists call “the perp walk”. Most people – but not everybody.

“Suffer, Lynn, just like that baby did,” one said. “I’m so ashamed of you.”  One called Lindsey a “little weasel”  Another urged him to “burn in hell.”

“There’s a lot of emotion here,” said Lanza.

The police vehicles pulled out and the biggest trial — maybe the only one ever — in Palermo history was over.  Onlookers, some of them part of a group called Justice For Erin, hugged and congratulated prosecutor Mark Moody.  “Nice job,” one told him. Another one thanked him.

He called it bittersweet. “You can’t ever (forget) that the underlying facts are so horrible and so tragic that you celebrate something that is overall a tragedy and really, that’s what this is.”

In court, during his closing argument to the jury, he coined a new word to describe the conditions in the home: Maxwellian.  He told the six jurors and one remaining alternate that none of the other available words — horrific, disgusting, cruel, inhuman, deplorable — captured the essence of living in a home with some 50 cats shut up in the master bedroom, messes everywhere and a child he said was locked in her room every night.

“They treated Erin like they treated their cats,” he said to the jury, summoning an anger that had not been present through most of the trial.

“This is a big case for the town of Palermo,” Lanza said in his closing comments to the jury. “To them (the Maxwells), this is everything.”  He asserted this was not a criminal case of endangerment; at worst, it was neglect.

“People failed my clients,” he argued, such as social services workers, teachers, even a family member.  “Many people.”

“Someone should have helped them.”

Lanza said he will prepare an appeal — “we have a number of issues” — while the county prepares a report on the Maxwells that the judge will read before he sentences them to up to two years in prison.  On October 12, everyone will come back to Palermo Town Court one more time.  They’ll hear the final judgement of Lynn and Lindsey Maxwell. By that time, Alan Jones’ trial should be over.

“Time heals all wounds,” said Moody. “It’s not something that’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day.  It’s going to take time.”

2 Comments

  1. PEOPLE FAILED THEM??? WASN’T IT THEM WHO REFUSED THE HELP OFFERED?
    DID ERIN HAVE THE OPTION OF SAYING “YES I WANT HELP.YES,I WANT TO HAVE A CLEAN PLACE TO LIVE AND SLEEP.YES, I WANT ENOUGH FOOD TO HAVE 3 MEALS A DAY.”?

    I FEEL THAT DSS COULD HAVE AND MOST CERTAINLY SHOULD HAVE DONE A BETTER JOB. I FEEL THOSE FROM THE SCHOOL COULS HAVE AND MOST CERATINLY SHOULD HAVE MADE AS MANY PHONE CALLS AS NEEDED TO GET THIS CHILD HELP AND MAYBE GET HER OUT OF THAT HOME.

    RIP ERIN.JUSTICE MAY NEVER BE SERVED AS I DO NOT BELIEVE THE RIGHT ONE WILL GO TO TRIAL FOR YOUR DEATH BUT I DO BELIEVE IN KARMA.

  2. I just wanted to thank you Dave, I’m wiping the tears away as I type this. Your article is the best written one I’ve seen. You certainly described it well. Saturday was as described,” bittersweet”. Tears ran down my cheeks last night as the verdict was read. It wasn’t about vengence, as we all sat there. It was about keeping a little girl’s memory alive, telling her story to all who would listen. It was about being there for Erin, a child most of us had never met in her short life. The time will come soon, to sit on hard chairs and listen to things more horrific than any of us can imagine an eleven year old should ever have to bare. We won’t quit, we still seek “Justice for Erin”. I found a quote that sums up how we all feel, “The dead cannot cry out for justice, it is the duty of the living to do it for them.”

    Lois McMaster
    Bujold

    Thanks again for your great story, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you in September.

    [Thank *you* for the kind words. -Dave]

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