WOBURN — What a bizarre mix of contrition and blame-shifting we saw in Middlesex Superior Court Tuesday. What a spectacle of the depths to which people can sink. What a vividly detailed map of the wasteland brutality leaves behind.
Standing in that low-ceilinged, fluorescent lit courtroom, Jared Remy called Jennifer Martel, the woman he murdered with gruesome force at least partly witnessed by their 4-year-old daughter, “an angel.”
He’s the one at fault for killing her, he said. No share of the blame should go to his parents, who his lawyer said had been unfairly maligned, held partly responsible by some for not doing more to rein in a violent son who had been spiralling blatantly out of control for years.
“Blame me for this, not my family,” Remy said in his statement to the court. “They thought of Jen as their fourth kid. . . . They . . . loved each other, and I’m the bad apple. And if you ask my family, they’d rather have me dead instead of her.”
What Jared Remy did Tuesday is rare and remarkable: Pleading guilty to first-
degree murder, guaranteeing he would spend the rest of his life in prison without parole. He could have taken his chances with a jury. And though those chances were slim — there were multiple witnesses to the mind-bending violence of that August night — he might have argued drugs or mental illness were mitigating factors.
But in addition to accepting responsibility, Jared Remy also brushed some of it aside.
For a man surrendering to fate, he was maddeningly defiant. He said he murdered Martel after she picked up a knife and violated a clear rule he said he had set.
“I always told Jen she could leave,” he said. “But do not threaten me with my child. That night, Jen had a knife in her hand and threatened me with my daughter, so I killed her. I don’t think it’s right when women use their kids against their fathers.”
It was chilling, appalling, this matter-of-fact assertion of cause and effect. His twisted invocations of his rights as a father — he mentioned it once on the stand and again in his statement — mocked all of the lofty talk of accepting responsibility that preceded it. Even as he sat in handcuffs and leg chains, admitting he had done something unspeakably awful, he was blaming his victim.
Jared Remy didn’t get it then. And he doesn’t get it now.
The events of that night were laid out by the prosecutor in sickening detail. Remy attacked Martel with enough force to kill her many times over. He stabbed her repeatedly, turning on those who tried to save her. When she clung, improbably, to life, he knocked her unconscious and continued to stab her, plunging a knife into her body with two hands. Then, apparently satisfied he had killed her, he shrouded her battered face with his tank top.
When you are guilty of that level of insane violence, you don’t get to say your victim did anything to make it happen. Ever.
Outside the courtroom, Remy’s attorney Ed Ryan said his client had not meant to shift blame, that he was accepting full responsibility. He said Remy was remorseful, but blocked from expressing emotion by his limitations and his depression medication.
We certainly saw plenty of his limitations Tuesday. Remy seemed confused by the judge’s question about whether he really wanted to change his plea. He read his final statement without feeling, except for the part where he upbraided two unidentified people for using Martel to make themselves look better, and scolded critics of his family. More blame-shifting.
In some ways, it’s over now. Lawyers on both sides will move on. So will the crush of media attention. Remy will be in prison until his dying day, and the world is better for that. Watching him shuffle out of the courtroom, you couldn’t help rewinding the tape, longing for it to have happened sooner: Before he came back to the apartment that night; before Martel changed her relationship status to “complicated” on Facebook a little earlier; before he terrorized her two days previous; before they had ever met.
But for all of the misery he has caused, the brute who pleaded guilty Tuesday, averting a drawn-out trial, has at least spared those who loved Martel a little pain.
Just a little.
The most moving words of the gut-wrenching morning came from Kristina Hill, Martel’s dear friend and neighbor and a witness to her murder. As she spoke, her curly-haired son, not yet 2, slept soundly in his stroller, his body slumped forward, his tiny hands clutching a blue sippy-cup.
Martel was going to be that little boy’s godmother, Hill said.
“I don’t know . . . if I touched her in the same way she touched me . . . but she was my best friend,” Hill said.
She spoke of the doubt and sense of guilt that plagues her every free moment. She wondered whether Jen understood the dire warnings from her loved ones, whether Martel felt alone or was in terrible pain at the end, and whether she had done enough to keep her best friend safe.
“I wonder if she knows I failed her,” Hill said, crying hard.
Dozens of people have surely been asking themselves that question the last nine months: family, friends, police officers, and prosecutors. We’ll never know whether any of them could have saved Martel’s life.
But only one person really controlled her fate, and that was the man who sat in the defendant’s chair Tuesday. Jared Remy can blame steroids or Martel’s threats or any number of mitigating factors. But it was all him.
Those who loved Jennifer Martel should know that. They should know they are as blameless in her murder as Hill’s 14-month-old son, who slept through all of the gruesomeness in the courtroom, waking just as Remy was led away.
And as Hill wheeled him out, the little boy who would have been Jennifer Martel’s godson looked up at his mother, a picture of innocence, his face full of love.
It’s the love we all start with, the love that Jared Remy stole from his daughter, and Jennifer Martel took to her grave.