The painted-faced girl staggered on the arm of her attorney as she entered the courtroom. Her hair was matted and dirty – adorned with bright ribbons and beads of every color. Her dress stuck to her like flies to a light bulb and way too provocative for an adult let alone a child.
Several prostitutes were arrested that evening by Officers of law, but only one was a child. The Police Department had gotten a tip about a prostitution ring where drugs were being sold openly at a pub on the wrong side of town.
As the child approached the Judge’s bench for her sentencing, she appeared frightened and bewildered, not at all in the way her manner of dress suggested and the Judge was taken aback by the sight of her countenance.
Of course, he had seen plenty of these types before in his courtroom, but this one – she was different and it haunted his sensibilities. While her exterior seemed harsh, the terror in her eyes was pure child-like as if she was lost in a department store looking for her mother.
“State your name for the court”, the bailiff said.
The child choked on her words as she spoke, “My name is Melissa Moreno.”
“How old are you, Melissa?” The Judge asked.
“I just turned fourteen yesterday, sir,” She gulped.
“Do you have parents somewhere?” The Judge’s expression one of confusion mixed with anger. Why were these girls coming to him younger and younger all the time?
“I don’t know where my parents are, Sir.” Melissa started fiddling with her matted hair bread.
“Did you run away from home for some reason?” The Judge continued.
“No, Sir.” Melissa took a deep breath then continued, “We were on vacation when my father and mother stopped at a rest stop. They were fighting a lot saying they didn’t want to be together any more. I was at the candy counter, when I went back to the parking lot the car was gone and so were my parents.”
“I see, so did you try to contact them?” Now the Judge was puzzled, what type of parent would leave without their child?
“No sir, I was only eleven years old and didn’t have a telephone.” Now a tear fell from Melissa’s eye.
“Is that when you started street walking?”
“Yes, Sir, I kept walking to find my parents, but never did. Eventually I found a home in the streets.”
“And you never tried to find your parents again.” The Judge’s eyes narrowed.
“No Sir. I figured if they truly wanted me they would have come back for me. Besides I seem to remember the fight was about me.”
“Do you know why you were arrested tonight?”
“No Sir. I was in the back room when the cops came.”
“Did you know that drugs were being sold besides prostitution going on?”
“No Sir. I did not know that.”
The Judge searched Melissa’s face and saw no evidence of lying. In fact, he truly believed she was incapable of it.
The Judge called a ten minute recess when he returned he sentenced the other women with Melissa to jail time, and then he addressed Melissa.
“Now in the case of Melissa Moreno, a minor. I find her not guilty. She may be released. However, I advise the court that Ms. Moreno would benefit from a halfway house program for troubled youth.”
Melissa’s face lit up. “Does that mean that I will have a chance to find a new life, Sir?”
“Yes, Melissa, it does,” The Judge smiled.
Then Melissa approached the bench and gave the Judge an embroidered handkerchief that she had kept from her father, it was the only memory she had left of him.
She told the Judge that he had been the only one to give her a chance and she would always remember that.
Now some might say that she was given special treatment that day and that the punishment did not fit the crime. Did the sins of the father revisit the child in this case? Did the Judge see something in Melissa that no one else ever did?
Only God knows, but let’s remember in God’s court there is always a second chance, a call for mercy because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
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