The Cool Justice Report
Sept. 5, 2007
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
On August 28, 2006, patent attorney Jonathan Edington cut his way through the first floor window screen and vaulted into the bedroom of his 60-year old neighbor, Barry James.
Edington, 29, has a large kitchen knife in his hand. He had just received a call from his distraught wife relating a bizarre claim that James had somehow had found his way into their home and sexually abused their two year old daughter. The claim was bizarre and farfetched because James was a diabetic, suffering from neuropathy in both legs and was physically unable to even climb the outer stairs to his parents' home without assistance.
Edington began to wildly speculate about what may have happened. By the time he catapulted himself through Barry's window he was out of control. Barry rose from his bed as Edington confronted him. Edington battered the older man to the ground and stabbed him repeatedly. Barry's 87 year old mother, Rita, stood helplessly in the doorway, two feet away, as Barry exclaimed, "I don't even know your daughter!"
Powerless to intervene she watched as Edington knocked Barry to the floor, continually stabbing him in the head and chest. When the flurry ended, Edington jumped out the window and yelled to Rita words to the effect that she should have controlled her son.
Days later, as the family opened the Connecticut Post to read the obituary, the banner headline cried out that Barry James was accused by Christina Edington, Jonathan's wife, of molesting their daughter. The James family asked the Fairfield Police to thoroughly investigate the claim. They cooperated fully; Christina Edington did not. A specially trained team used in child molestation cases conducted a thorough forensic interview of the child. Their report: there was absolutely no evidence that this child had been molested by anyone, and in particular Barry James. The Fairfield Police cleared Barry James of this horrific claim.
Edington was arrested and charged with murder. His wife, Christina, whose hysterical claim instigated this episode, was never charged.
Edington's defense had him evaluated by a team of forensic psychiatrists and psychologists. Their report maintained that Edington had lost control on receipt of the fantastical claim by the wife. They opined that Edington acted under extreme emotional disturbance. The term has significance in the criminal law. Extreme emotional disturbance, commonly referred to as a crime of passion, mitigates a homicide from murder to manslaughter in the 1st degree.
The State's Attorney, aware of the reputation of the forensic consultants, conceded that despite the "bogus" nature of the claim of molestation, a jury most likely would find the presence of extreme emotional disturbance. It was a bitter pill for the James family, but they respected the investigative work done by the Fairfield Police, and the attention that the State's attorney had paid to this case. They accepted the decision. In particular, they were relieved that the assault on Barry's good name would be over. They prepared statements to read to the judge who would sentence Edington on August 31st, days after the first anniversary of Barry's death.
On the day of sentencing they appeared as a family, assembling from around the country, anxious to confront this man who had taken so much from them.
Barry's uncle Bill McDonough, a former Bridgeport policeman, spoke in a measured and forceful tone. He told of Barry's accomplishments in obtaining his bachelors and masters degrees. He talked of Barry's work on the Fairfield RTM, and the special bond that Barry enjoyed with his 91-year old father, Charlie.
Barry's nephew, James Benoit, spoke of the loss he and his brother and sister suffered, as this was their only uncle; with each sentence reminding Edington that so much that he was left to enjoy had been taken from them.
Barry's brother in law, Bob Benoit, told the judge that Barry had been his friend since their school boy days. As with the others he addressed his comments directly to Edington. It was so necessary to the family that Edington feel the loss they felt.
Rita composed a letter that was read on her behalf; and, Barry's only sibling, Charlene Benoit, added the family's closing comments.
Eloquently, with a calm resolve, Charlene Benoit told Edington how her parents had moved into their home on Colony Street the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. It was the only home they had shared in their long marriage. She spoke of the special bond Barry and his parents shared: "They were three. Whether it be to church, the supermarket or the diner in Southport, Barry shuttled and shielded my parents' every need."
She told of how Edington had violated her parents' home in every sense, leaving her mother with the horror of witnessing the senseless assault, and robbing her father of his best friend and constant companion. Edington had lived on Colony Street for only 6 months, and in that short time destroyed a life and a lifetime of memories.
Edington's attorney spoke of his remorse and acceptance of responsibility for his crime. He asked the judge to impose a term far less than the 20-year sentence that the State's Attorney was recommending. The judge asked Edington if he had anything to say. The James' family filled half the courtroom, where they waited for Edington to ask their forgiveness or at least apologize for the hurt he had caused. Edington said nothing.
The judge spoke of this as a Shakespearean tragedy, pointedly remarking that there was another in the courtroom who bore responsibility for creating the delusion that propelled Edington's hand. He remarked that he would not want that on his conscience. Without naming her, all assembled knew he was referring to Christina Edington. He thanked the family for their comments and told them how difficult his task was. He was impressed by Edington's apparent sincerity in a letter he had written to the court; a letter the James family never saw. At the end he sentenced Edington to 20 years, suspended after he serves 12 years, followed by 5 years of probation. Edington's wife reportedly collapsed as the sentence was imposed.
As he was led to the lockup in handcuffs by a team of marshals, rather than express the remorse his lawyer claimed he felt, he was heard to remark that he had done the right thing. Despite the thorough investigation that had cleared Barry's name and despite the words so eloquently spoken by the State's Attorney and Barry's family, Edington continued to insist he had been justified.
Rita James has been left with two final memories of Jonathan Edington: the crazed and delusional Edington who yelled back at her as he jumped from Barry's window while Barry lay bleeding at her feet; and the still delusional and defiant Edington as he continued to voice his irrational belief as he left the courtroom, the recipient of leniency he did not deserve.
Attorney Richard Meehan represents the estate of Barry James and the James' family in a five million dollar lawsuit against Jonathan Edington. Christina Edington has recently been served with a similar lawsuit by the estate and the family.
Meehan was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim's corruption trial. Meehan is certified as a criminal trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1994 and serves on the organizations Board of Examiners. He is a Charter Fellow, American Academy of Trial Counsel. Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on Court TV. Website, www.meehanlaw.com