When Austin Vantrease finished his spiel and responding to the Parole Board’s questions (see Austin Vantrease Parole Hearing: My Account (Part 1)), it was my turn to speak. I pulled my speaking notes from my blazer pocket as I walked to the podium. Turns out, I didn’t really need them. I did glance down a few times to look at them, but it was just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Once I began speaking, I let the words flow from my heart. It wasn’t my plan to do this. It just happened. Just as it had two years ago when I spoke before Judge Clawges during the sentencing hearing. I went into the “zone” and words came easily. This makes it impossible to recall my exact words throughout (and will paraphrase from here forward), but I can certainly give you the flavor of it. In total, I spoke for fifteen or twenty minutes, I’d guess.
Again, this is my personal account of what I think I said. I firmly believe everything I said to the Parole Board and how I recall it now, but I caution that you should not consider it as fact. It’s my version and mine alone. Sometimes I think I said something, which is much better than the fault of not remembering what I said (or thinking out loud). Austin Vantrease is criminally guilty — this is fact — but his civil negligence is still undecided. That’s up to a jury and is scheduled for trial next summer.
I opened with a brief positional prologue by recognizing the Parole Board, and the importance of what was happening:
Among others, my hope, and reason for representing my son today is to lobby against Austin Vantrease — a violent offender by any measure — from being paroled. He is not qualified for this consideration. I’m here for just one reason… to keep Vantrease incarcerated. Still, I did my best to educate myself about all aspects of his potential release so that I could speak intelligently before this Board.
As much as I hate being part of this process as a result of Austin Vantrease’s crime, it means everything to be included. For the victim, it’s upmost. What we are doing here today is important. It’s important to Austin Vantrease. His family. My family. My son. The State of West Virginia. Society.
Today you are the most important people, collectively, in my son’s life.
I began by recounting the night of the beating from my recollection. I tell the Parole Board that everything I say, save my own opinion, can be verified through documentation; such as police reports, depositions, medical records, court transcripts, media accounts, or other means. Honesty is my ally.
It was just after 4:00 am on November 7, 2009. Sue’s phone rings with Ryan’s phone number showing on caller ID and his distinct ringtone. This is not at all uncommon. Ryan, like Kari, would often call to tell us about his past day or what he planned for the upcoming day. But, it’s not Ryan. It’s Ruby Memorial. They used his phone and dialed “Mom” from his list of contacts. Their message was simple: “Your Son was found unresponsive in a parking lot…” They had no other information other than his life was in peril and we should get there as quickly as possible. It doesn’t look good.
By 7:30 am, we made our first life-and-death decision, of so many to follow. That was to try to keep him alive by removing 1/3 of his skull to allow his brain to bleed and swell. He went off to the operating room with less than a 50/50 chance of surviving the surgery. The following seventy-two hours he had even less of a chance. I told of how catholic priest came to our private waiting room to administered last rites, and I thought he had died. Yes, whether this is the right decision haunts me to this day, I told the Board. The only thing keeps Austin Vantrease from being a murderer, in the eyes of the law, was a parental decision to save their child.
I paused for emphasis, then continued.
“I’m telling you… there are things worse than murder. This is one of them. In many eyes, Austin Vantrease is worse than a murderer. He took a life, but preserved the mental and physical suffering of both his victim and the victim’s family”.
From there I spoke of the ensuing days after the attack. How no one came forward with information. Not anyone from the gang of attackers. Certainly not Austin Vantrease! He hid from the damage he caused. He withheld information in his own self-interest. Medical decisions were being made without identifying the cause, something that would have helped greatly.
I told of the police learning and telling us a group attacked Ryan. The police, WVU, and Morgantown independently put together a campaign to gather information and find those responsible. Then, as today, society was outraged. They police also tell us Ryan was not to blame. He never became violent or aggressive. In fact, he tried to get away.
I recount the actual crime itself. How Ryan and two friends decide to grab a snack from the Dairy-Mart Store (behind his house). I paint the picture. Ryan dresses in a collared, semi-formal button-down, long sleeved shirt and Docker boat shoes. Clearly he’s not anticipating being attacked, let alone even being interested in trouble or a fight. Meanwhile, a group of men — many dressed like thugs (huge jewelry, baggy clothes, etc.) go from inciting, to debating, to being rowdy, to verbally aggressive, to physically aggressive, to attacking.
I say how Ryan never even raised a hand. How he tried to break free, but was circled and escape impeded. Of when Ryan was either shoved or punched, and again trying to disengage. This time back-Peddling with hands up to show he was no threat. I show the Parole Board how Ryan had his hands, palms-out (Imagine the classic “stick em’ up” response). The group ran him down and circled him again. Meanwhile, Vantrease broke from the group and confronted Brian McLhinney, for no good reason. Brian was standing with his hands in his pockets. He couldn’t even get them up in time to defend himself when Vantrease punched him in the face with such force that it knocked him unconscious. He was out before he hit the ground, with only his face breaking the fall. Remember, this was all on video surveillance.
Ryan sees this happen and begins going to his friend (who was now all alone as Vantrease peeled off). Jonathan May hits Ryan, a blind-side sucker punch, that Ryan never saw coming. Like Brian, Ryan was unconscious before he hit the ground, lying motionless in the prone position. Completely incapacitated. Entirely unable to defend himself. Austin then runs over and kicks my son in the head. Why the head? Why not the stomach? Or the testicles? This is so hard to understand. One kick was especially brutal. An eyewitness described it as “punting his head like a football”. PUNTING A FOOTBALL!
I wrap up my account of that tragic night with how Austin Vantrease responded to the damage he just caused. He did behind a dumpster, then ran when the police begin arriving on the crime scene. I contend that since the attackers did nothing but hide and run, they gave Ryan a death sentence. Remember, the police and hospital had no idea what happened to Ryan. They didn’t know how badly he was hit and kicked in the head. They had to run tests to find out. In a brain injury this is deadly risky. Vantrease left Ryan to die. He never came forward. In fact, he left Morgantown a day early and had to be hunted down and in Delaware. His response? Something to the effect of “I knew you’d be coming”.
I then attacked the “support system” that the inmate would be released to if paroled. Namely, his family. I began by calling them aggressive, enablers, and excusers. I tell of how (Pattie) Gale Vantrease, Austin’s mother, was yelling at me outside the Morgantown courthouse immediately following conviction. I told of how her family gathered around her as she did. I spoke of the first time the Vantrease family was in the parking garage after being told to leave the courthouse area. I recounted the Vantrease family mêlée, again in the parking garage, after the sentencing hearing and how court deputies intervened to keep my family safe. I continued with the next hearing, sentence reconsideration, where the West Virginia State Court contacted me and provided secure parking and armed deputies to escort us.
I emphasized that the family is not his support; it’s his problem (among others). Gale Vantrease, I said, is not only involved in this aggression, she is the matriarchal flash point.
The Parole Board cut me off and this is what I had hoped would happen. I knew I made my point. I made it without having to speak of all the other things I had on my list that define the Vantrease’s character; from the mom all the way to the sister. Really, I was prepared to speak for a good, long time on this, but was happy to be able to hold on to almost all for another time.
I then spoke of Austin Vantrease himself. I told of his history of violence and aggression, giving specific examples of fights before he attacked my son and his roommate.
My belief that he never apologized, including earlier that day, was stressed. Even before his sentencing, when his fate was on the line, he didn’t apologize. He was not even willing to fake an apology. This is incomprehensible on every level, but it just shows how that there is no true remorse. His pre-sentencing statement focused entirely on himself. His feeble attempt at feinting an apology earlier in the hearing is being called-out. He has not ever sincerely and truly apologized. His only remorse is for being caught and punished.
I mean every word of it.
For good measure, I highlight the disrespect of authority with just two examples. The first was his willful disregard of the court by violating his underage drinking probation, as he was drinking on the night of the beating. The second was how he was laughing in court with one of the others involved in the attack.
Then I starting wrapping it up. I told of Ryan’s condition in detail, giving recent examples (e.g., on oxygen last week; coughing up blood; ineffectiveness of heavy-duty antibiotics; deep suctioning, etc.) and touching on the first few months. Ryan is continually suffering.
I outlined the negative impact of his crime on the state of West Virginia. How he caused unnecessary expense to go get him in Delaware. The cost of trials, hearings, and incarceration. The undesirable publicity he brought to the state.
I went on by saying it is risky to release Austin Vantrease, period. He doesn’t have a viable support system, thus, diminishing his chances of not repeating conduct he has an ongoing history. People might try to dispute it, but whom one associates with is an accurate predictor of personal behavior. By him not distancing himself from these people, I argue that he lacks both hindsight and foresight, just as his “support system”. He has learned nothing! If this parole board wants to help him, his family, the victim, the victim’s family, and society then he must stay incarcerated. Violent offenders to this degree will always be perceived as a threat to community. Society is not ready for him. He is guilty. He will always be guilty. For people like him — without remorse, compassion, sympathy, or empathy — punishment is his rehabilitation.
I finished with a blunt statement. Ryan is suffering every day. Austin Vantrease is lucky his sentence is likely done in 2015. We would love to have Ryan back in 2015.
Interested in Gale Vantrease’s statement to the Parole Board, from my perspective? Continue to Part 3.