Mark Hayward's City Matters: Fallen hero given chance to restore luster
The Manchester police officer faced the street punk who tried to kill him and wished him off to a life behind bars. His fellow officers, rightfully so, applauded as Doherty walked out of the courtroom. Cameras flashed. Hero material for sure.
The past 10 years has been a decade of heroes: Curt Schilling and the 2004 Red Sox were called heroes. Police officers wounded and killed in the line of duty. And, of course, the men and women who went half a world away to fight terrorism and defend freedom.
Same day, same building that Doherty was being honored, things weren't going so well for one of those heroes.
Emotionally shattered, Jon Labore, 28, faced a judge. The Iraqi war veteran had just admitted to 14 felonies, which involved the burglaries of his grandmother's West Side home and the theft of firearms stored there.
On seven different days, he used an outside key to enter the Kelley Street home in December 2011 and January 2012. He stole nine shotguns and rifles and sold them to two nearby gun shops.
Family and prosecutors wanted him sent to state prison for at least 2½ years. Labore, who suffers from drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder, was hoping to get into a residential treatment program.
Ten years ago, he was cocksure and brash. The Christmas before Labore shipped out, he told relatives he couldn't wait to get to Iraq and kill some sand (expletive), one relative said in court.
Then he actually set foot in Iraq. Nothing like intense firefights, the smell of death and a nearly fatal rocket attack to create an attitude adjustment.
Labore returned to the United States and became addicted to the painkiller Percocet. He told police he stole and sold the guns to buy drugs. His advocates in court included Diane Levesque, who is veterans justice outreach coordinator at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Manchester.
Labore was diagnosed with PTSD in 2006, but Levesque said it's not unusual for veterans to ignore the ailment. They may dabble with treatment, but that means reliving the trauma and fear that caused the problem in the first place. Drugs and alcohol make for an easier treatment.
"There is a lot of avoidance. Avoidance is part of PTSD," she said.
Once police caught Labore, he enrolled in a Veteran Administration drug treatment program in Massachusetts.
He now takes three prescription medications - one to suppress nightmares, one to treat depression, another to temper his mood and help him sleep.
"I thought I was angry before, but when I got out of the Army, every single negative emotion was highly intensified," Labore said during the court hearing.
Were he arrested in New York, California or 25 other states, Labore would probably find himself in a veteran court, a special court where judges work with organizations such as the VA to devise a treatment program for veterans in order to avoid jail time.
An October CBS "60 Minutes" broadcast reported that 100 courts are in place across the country and another 100 are in the planning stages.
Laura Kiernan, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire court system, said this week court officials and the New Hampshire Bar met to discuss a veteran court in New Hampshire. They decided to hold seminars to educate judges and court officials about veteran issues but opted against a veteran court.
Kiernan noted New Hampshire already has specialty courts to address drug and mental health issues.
"We don't have the resources at this point to assign one particular judge to a specialty court," Kiernan said.
So the futures of the Jon Labores will be in the hands of people such as David Garfunkel, the Hillsborough County Superior Court judge who decided his case. Hillsborough County prosecutor Lisa Drescher wanted a 2½- to 7-year prison sentence. Skeptical, she noted that Labore signed up for treatment only after police caught him.
His uncles, too, wanted prison time. Steve Letares is a Homeland Security officer who had to notify his superiors that his weapons had been stolen. John Letares said the burglary has placed the victim of the crime, Labore's grandmother, into such fear that she can't live alone and has moved in with him.
"He's entitled," John Letares said about his nephew's PTSD diagnosis. "He takes these two or three little pills and thinks 'Ahh, that's why I do what I do, I'm depressed.' He should be responsible for his actions."
That day, the senior judge in the courthouse, Gillian Abramson, sent Myles Webster to state prison for 60 years for trying to kill Officer Doherty. Easy job, compared to the decision that Judge Garfunkel had to make. After all, the crime involved guns, and Newtown, Conn., had just finished burying 27 victims of gun violence.
Labore is not in state prison. He'll be at the Cherry Street program, a residential drug treatment program that the VA runs in Massachusetts, until October. He'll have to participate in individual and group therapy. He'll have to work. He'll be subject to random drug testing.
He'll be under probation for five years after he gets out, and if he gets arrested within the next seven years, a suspended 7½- to 15-year prison sentence could be activated. He also has to do community service and make restitution.
"I do recognize that the ongoing problem presented by our returning veterans is one that the country has not grappled with successfully," Garfunkel said, "and none of us can know in any way the experiences our young men went through, and are going trough, in a very dangerous part of the world."
Garfunkel addressed Labore as "sir," told him he had a difficult road ahead of him and that consequences will be severe if he screws up. But I'll bet he expects Labore will make it; perhaps he recognized the hero potential.
Mark Hayward's City Matters appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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