Cook: One hour and six minutes Friday

Cook: One hour and six minutes Friday

December 2nd, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

12:56, Friday afternoon: A soft southern breeze blew over the grave, and the three American flags above the copper-colored headstone fluttered and flapped in the wind like they were waving.

The sun was in the western sky. Shade from the giant and leafless oak cast a thin arm of shadow over burial plot 89D4 in Hamilton Memorial Gardens, where someone recently had left a full cup of Starbucks coffee as a memorial to the man buried there.

Red poinsettias. An orange UT ribbon tied around fresh red roses and yellow daisies. A birthday bouquet.

Tuesday was Sgt. Tim Chapin's birthday.

He would have been 53 years old.

1:32 p.m.: Sitting among family and standing broad-shouldered against the walls inside Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman's wood-paneled courtroom were no fewer than 23 uniformed police officers.

Chattanooga police Chief Bobby Dodd was next to Chapin's parents, Deputy Chief Tommy Kennedy behind them, as if both were standing watch, protecting from any more undeserved harm.

Friends wore black arm bracelets with Chapin's name.

At least a dozen members of the media were there, typing, texting, adjusting the camera tripods.

Everyone was waiting.

Jesse Mathews was about to plead guilty to killing Sgt. Chapin.

1:36 p.m.: A red prison jumpsuit. Shackles and chains around his waist and hands. That goatee.

Mathews walked in, escorted by seven police officers and his two attorneys.

One minute later, a robed Steelman, carrying a plastic bottle of Mountain Dew, walked in. Over the next 10 minutes, he would speak to Mathews and his attorneys about the legal process of accepting a life-without-parole plea.

"Do you have any questions?" Steelman asked Mathews.

Yes, there is a world of unanswered questions.

Where does evil come from? Where is God in the face of such violence?

What lies in the human heart that drives a man to kill another?

How does a family heal?

1:48 p.m.: District Attorney General Bill Cox, dressed in a gray suit, white shirt and blue tie, stood and gave a brief history of the wreckage Mathews wrought.

Escaped from Colorado. Made his way here. Began collecting weapons. A .45-caliber handgun. A .40-caliber handgun. A military assault rifle. A bulletproof vest.

Went to rob a Brainerd Road store. Brought 76 rounds of ammo. Employee activated the silent alarm. Officers responded.

A gunfight.

Chapin arrived. Rammed Mathews with his car. Knocked his gun away. Thought Mathews was unarmed. Fired a stun gun at him.

"Unfortunately," Cox said, "Mr. Mathews is wearing a bulletproof vest and the Taser had no value."

Mathews drew a .40-caliber Glock from his coat. Began firing. One bullet struck Chapin above the bridge of his nose, killing him.

Cox, overcome with emotion, sat down. And Mathews pleaded guilty to every charge against him.

2:02 p.m.: "And that concludes the matter with regards to Mr. Mathews," Judge Steelman said.

A crowd of officers escorted Mathews, still shackled and bound, out of the courtroom. Out the same door he had come through 26 minutes earlier.

Bound for a Tennessee penitentiary until the day he dies. No appeals process is possible. No parole. No headlines. No press. No life beyond jail.

"You stay there until you die," Cox said, speaking afterward to the media. "In essence, it is a death penalty."

The gavel came crashing down.

And the breeze kept blowing over the graveside flowers and flags, flapping like they were waving.