The American criminal justice system consists of 2.2 million people behind bars, plus tens of millions of family members, corrections and police officers, parolees, victims of crime, judges, prosecutors and defenders.
WBEZ is partnering with the Marshall Project to tell some of their stories. It’s part of The Marshall Project’s series “We Are Witnesses” exploring the nature of crime, punishment and forgiveness through portraits of Chicagoans who have been touched by the criminal justice system.
Karli Butler told her story to The Marshall Project as part of their series “We Are Witnesses.” Portions of her interview are transcribed below. They have been condensed and edited for clarity.
It was a little after 10 p.m., and I started walking to my car. There were two women kind of walking toward me down the street, and one of them asked for directions to Dempster. She said, ‘Hey, can you give my sister directions to Dempster?’ and I thought, ‘Hmm,’ something’s just off. Immediately, I took off running towards my car. As I got to my car they caught up to me, and the one woman, she had the gun, and she was trying to get it into the door of the car while I was trying to close it. And she eventually got the gun in the door and she put the gun in my face. She said ‘Do it again, and I’ll shoot you.’
And in that moment I put my hands up in the air and I said, you know, ‘Take my purse, take my keys, whatever you want.’ And I immediately felt a splash [of acid] to my face. And you can see exactly where she splashed me in the face. And it burned so horribly that I couldn’t function; I couldn’t think. And then I felt another splash to my stomach. She just kind of looked at me with hollow eyes, didn’t do anything, there was no reaction.
From the acid, I suffered third-degree full-thickness burns to 30% of my body. I’ve had over a dozen surgeries, and I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror. The [woman] who threw the acid on me, Nicole — she was charged with two counts of heinous battery. There was a point in time where all I could think about was doing bad things to this woman and wishing evil on her and, you know, just wanting her life to be like mine. Like, an eye for an eye. The first time I saw Nicole in court was kind of jarring, but after spending more time in the courtroom and seeing her family — seeing her daughter — made me see her more as a person. I had lost my mom the year before, and so I kept thinking about this young lady, her daughter, and it made me think about how just sad I feel being motherless. And so my anger kind of shifted from, ‘She did this horrible thing to me,’ to, ‘She put herself in a position to be away from her kids.’
She was sentenced to 15 years. In the moment I felt like, ‘Oh my gosh, OK. Somebody’s responsible for what happened to me and, you know, there are repercussions for it.’ But I kept thinking, like, what’s going to happen to her, what’s going to happen to her kids and her family? That experience has connected us in a way that I can’t really explain.
I do forgive her; I’m not angry with her anymore. But forgiveness is a process and a journey. I want to move forward with my life, and I hope that she will too.
You can see more of the “We Are Witnesses: Chicago” videos at https://www.themarshallproject.org/witnesses. This story was produced for broadcast by WBEZ’s Alyssa Edes. Follow her on Twitter @alyssaedes.