Sitting in the hallway at the Superior Court in Pasadena. Can’t say I’ve been waiting here since 2008, but I know some members of our group have. The nervousness is measurable. I sat down on the bench because my pacing up and down the hallway was betraying a loss of control on my part. I couldn’t lose it here. Too many others had more memories that were surfacing. They were looking for assurance at this shaky moment. You are representing stability. You’re representing the Armenian Church.
Yvette Hakopian, my church neighbor, was found in a pool of blood on May 30, 2008. The killer was caught. Last year, to the date, we gathered at this same courtroom. The defendant was supposed to stand before the judge and enter a plea of no-contest. I flashed back to a year ago; my association with the Hakopian family was a year younger. The defendant came into the court and took another stab at the family. He ‘changed his mind’ and decided to enter a plea of innocence. We left the courtroom that day, double assaulted. Yvette was gone and now the killer seemed to escape justice.
Would today be a replay of last year? It was the in back of all of our minds, despite the call from the D.A. She insisted that he was going to enter a plea of no-contest today and the judge would sentence him.
Life flashes by at moments like this. Born in America. Graduate of USC. Serving immigrant communities. Trying to make sense out of the United States for these confused people. (Someone, quietly whispering, just instructed me, “If this was back in Iran, they would have already punished and killed this guy.”) You’re a priest. Remember? Yours is a spiritual mission. What are you doing with law, murder and physical inconvenience? John Lennon was shot 30 years ago this week. And? His killer sits a prison cell and the music he would have created, we’ll never know. And my grandmother? My grandparents? Their lives SHATTERED by Genocide. Regroup/rebuild. Justice? And the Turks thumb their nose at the victims and the world.
Life flashes by in your head and then you catch yourself. You remember, you’re here because good is more powerful than evil. You remember that hatred – even murder – cannot kill love. You remember the power of love.
They call us into the courtroom. It’s our turn. The killer is brought into the courtroom shackled, hands cuffed in the back. He looks around the court but drops his head for the sentencing. The judge tells the court that he’s pleaded no-contest. Relief. It’s over. The family won’t have to relive the nightmare brought to them by the pictures and testimonies.
Yvette’s brother addressed the court. He expressed the rage and pain of the family. It was tear-jerker and a necessary statement to be made. Then they gave me a chance to address the court.
The judge sentenced the killer to 15 years to life. In the judge’s tone, and later in a off-line conversation with the D.A., it was obvious that he would finish his life behind bars.
You think back on the life. Life has not come back. We call this justice.
My statement to the court:
I thank you for this opportunity to address the court. I am Fr. Vazken Movsesian, the parish priest of the Armenian Church directly across the street from Yvette Hakopian’s house. Yvette was a parishioner at my church – coming most every Sunday in the early hours to light a candle and offer a prayer. She was unsuspecting, kind to a fault and a spiritually awake young lady. She would never flaunt her faith but practiced it quietly and in humility.
The pictures of that fateful day of Yvette’s murder will forever be etched in our minds. It was the day that tore out a large chunk of the Hakopian’s life and has left a huge void in our neighborhood.
The months, and now years since her murder have passed by slowly. During this time I’ve had a chance to watch Yvette’s father Sako, her mother Rpsik (who could not be here today because of the trauma she has experience), her brother Edwin try to make sense of the senselessness of this crime. I’ve met with them as they try to understand how such utter force and brutality could be shown to their little angel Yvette. Needless to say, they search for answers and find none.
I am here today merely to remind the court and all those listening, that the victims of these crimes are much-much more than the murdered innocent, much more than the family and friends who grieve and suffer the loss. There are neighborhoods and communities that are ravaged by these actions. There are communities of caring individuals that have been touched by this life cut short and now have to pick up the pieces and try to find order again.
Your honor, the people you see here, filling this courtroom, Yvette’s family and extended family, all came to this great country, to the United States of America with the same dream everyone has: to seek a better life for themselves and their posterity. That dream is guaranteed us by the Constitution of these United States and I’m making this statement today to make sure that THIS DREAM does not end for these people, with this cold blooded killing. I am here also to testify to the power of the good. In the end, we will not let evil claim a victory. Our church community, with the help of God, has been working with the Hakopian family in this process of healing. Through prayers and programs, we will keep Yvette’s memory alive and be there as a resource and haven for women who face violence and abuse. For instance, right now we are gathering toys for children who have escaped domestic violence and abuse and will wake up Christmas morning in LA County shelters. When these women and children are helped, we will be certain that from the tragedy of Yvette’s murder, gestures of love and compassion will be keeping Yvette’s memory alive and fresh in new generations.
Fr. Vazken Movsesian
10 December 2010
Photo Caption: Mr. & Mrs. Hakopian initiate the Yvette Hakopian Toy Drive for children of domestic violence, benefiting the Los Angeles County Shelters. An annual event at the St. Peter Armenian Church Youth Ministries’ Center in Glendale