“All I could think about was, now what?” she said. “Now what do you do?”
A few days after the trial, having a sandwich on 47th Street with a friend, Thompson-Sterling still looked tired.
“It’s just that nothing is different,” she said. “Except I don’t have the burden of going to 26th and California to the trial. I prepared myself for a not guilty verdict. I was very nervous when the jury came back and I said, ‘Lord, help me to deal with it if it’s not guilty’.”
But even though she’d been longing to hear the guilty verdict, the words seemed to go right through her. She slept away a good portion of Saturday, and again on Sunday.
“I’ve been reliving the tragedy,” she said. “In different ways. I looked up 40 caliber bullets on in the Internet, trying to figure how big they are, how they might have felt going into Jeremiah’s body.”
It took about two and a half years for Jeremiah Sterling’s killer to come to trial. The accused, Romairal Allen, had shuffled in and out of court more than a dozen times for preliminary hearings and the trial itself, his head tilting up, looking out at the courtroom to the circle of women who accompanied his mother to every appearance.
“[His] mother just looked lost,” Thompson-Sterling said. “And Friday night, I began to think about Romairal in that cell, because now he’s going to go to the big man’s prison. And how do you deal with that – with no hope of a future? Even if you’re redeemed in prison, you’re still in prison.”
One day during the week-long trial, Thompson-Sterling found herself even closer to Allen and his family. She’d just gone through security and she turned to get her purse. Allen’s godmother, who was going through security just then as well, reached over and hugged Thompson-Sterling.
“Every time I see you, I try to smile to show you we don’t have anything against you,” the woman whispered. “We wanted to say something to you but we just didn’t know what to say.”
Thompson-Sterling hugged her back. “I’m not angry at you,” she told her. “I don’t blame you for what Romairal did. We’re two hurting, broken families. The difference is you get to see your young man through glass or bars and I have to go to the cemetery to see mine.”
For now, she’s preparing to start a new job and will continue working with Purpose Over Pain, a support group for families affected by violence.
“It’s never over,” Thompson-Sterling said. “It’s different but it never goes away. I try my hardest not to be angry. But I can’t be angry because then Romairal took my life too.”
Earlier stories in this series: