Taking responsibility for your actions


A life lesson my husband and I are currently trying to instill on our daughter is responsibility. She is 7, but even at her young age, we both agree that teaching and demonstrating responsibility is one of the most important jobs we have as parents. Responsibility means so many things though — following through on your word; taking care of yourself (think of brushing your teeth and combing your hair as a 7-year-old to going to your yearly physicals as adults — and still brushing your teeth — ha!); and perhaps the most important part of responsibility —accepting and admitting when you’ve made a mistake. Even at her young age, though, my daughter understands that. Just this week, I asked her not to wear her brand-new pink tennis shoes. It’s muddy and rainy out — I was hoping they would stay clean looking for longer than a day. Well, sure enough, she wore them anyway, and when she came home they were caked in mud. She admitted I was right (please mark this date down in history!) and proceeded to clean her shoes. Even though I was fuming … I was proud of her.

Responsibility also plays a huge role in the criminal justice system. A few weeks ago, a young man (18 years old)— let’s call him Ray — accepted responsibility for his role in a crime that he committed when he was 16. One evening in 2021, he and a group of other juveniles from Franklin County came to an apartment complex in Powell and were breaking into cars. An owner of one of the cars confronted the group of juveniles, and the juveniles sprayed the apartment where the owner was with bullets, narrowly missing the owner by inches. Two of the juveniles ended up being arrested that evening after a chase, but Ray wasn’t charged or apprehended until much later when DNA tied him to the car, and he was found to unlawfully be in possession of one of the firearms used in the crime. Our office asked that Ray be tried as an adult, and after various legal determinations, he was prosecuted in adult court even though he was 16 when he committed the offense.

I know from my experience that kids like Ray don’t often have a chance. Ray didn’t have a childhood like my daughter gets to experience. He didn’t have doting or strict parents — he had parents who didn’t protect him, and he had to learn to protect himself, and to “live” on his own. He also was in and out of Franklin County Juvenile Court with no repercussions for his criminal behavior as a kid. I wondered at various points of prosecuting Ray’s case if Ray would have even been in our court had someone … anyone invested in Ray and taught him about responsibility.

Now, I say all this not as a justification or an excuse for Ray, but to set the background for what happened in adult court with his case. Ray, at 18 years old, accepted responsibility for his crimes and agreed to go to adult prison for his punishment. Up and to this point, Ray had only spent time in a juvenile correctional facility while he was waiting for his trial in our case with him. Kudos to the Delaware County Public Defender Carlos Crawford for his role in Ray’s life in this pivotal moment. Carlos invested the time into Ray and advocated for him, which ultimately allowed Ray to accept responsibility for his actions. Because Ray was willing to accept responsibility, the prosecution (me) agreed to a prison sentence less than the maximum. Accepting responsibility, and admitting your mistakes, even when I am wearing the hat of prosecutor and not mother, go a long way for me in deciding what kind of sentence to recommend, or agree to, as the prosecutor. Now, I can only hope that Ray, while in prison, gets his GED and takes advantage of some of the classes offered to prisoners so that, when he gets out, he has a new chance at a law-abiding life.

Contrast Ray to our most recent murderer, Timothy Baldrick, who was convicted after a jury trial in April. The murder was caught on video and even showed him clean up the murder scene (which was Baldrick’s backyard). I’ll never forget watching that video where Baldrick waters his flowers after just murdering someone in cold blood.

Following the trial, where the video of him committing the crime was played, and the jury found him guilty, Baldrick failed to ever accept responsibility or even apologize for what he did. He never even said why he murdered Mr. Marcum. So, for all those reasons, we asked that Baldrick be sentenced to the maximum sentence of life in prison without the chance for parole. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered someone more diabolical than Baldrick. Even our last convicted murderers (Brandon Ivy and Justin Eastman) ultimately apologized for what they did and accepted responsibility at sentencing. Luckily, Mr. Baldrick has a very long time in prison to consider his actions and learn the lesson of responsibility.

Melissa A. Schiffel is the Delaware County prosecutor.

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