A North Carolina courtroom was filled with hugs and tears of happiness after the judge offered up a historic plea deal in a show of “restorative justice”.
One year ago, James Scott Berish accidentally fired a gun through the floor of his apartment, striking 10-year-old Deisy Medina in her sleep. When Berish was told that the bullet had hit a child, he immediately turned himself over to the police before he was even a suspect in the case.
Berish, who is the father of a 2-year-old girl, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a stolen firearm.
While most people might think that the story might end with Berish being thrown in jail, he and the Medina family embarked on a year-long journey of recovery, forgiveness, counseling, and communication through a process called restorative justice.
Restorative justice is a series of steps used to encourage healing between both affected parties of a court case, rather than simply sentencing and punishment. Though it has been employed in Durham courtrooms before, it has never been used for violent felony.
According to WRAL, Deisy and James met for the first time earlier this week – and the encounter was a positive one.
“There was a really beautiful long embrace between James and Deisy. That let everybody know that healing has come a long way,” said Jon Powell, director of Campbell Law School’s Restorative Justice Clinic, during the court meeting. “If crime creates harm, justice ought to create healing and that’s what we witnessed in this case.”
Berish pled guilty to all charges and read an apology letter to the courtroom about his love for Deisy and her family. The Medinas responded by openly expressing their affection and forgiveness towards Berish.
Then, instead of being put behind bars, Berish’s prison sentence was suspended and he was placed under 2-year of supervised probation. Not only that, but the young father agreed to never own a weapon, pay the Medina family $1,380 in restitution, and speak at least two gun-safety events.
“This is why I went to law school, this moment,” assistant district attorney Kendra Montgomery-Blinn told WRAL. “These are the things that we want to do. The criminal justice system is changing and I am so proud to be a part of it.”
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