Mimi Ash will be in an Auburn courtroom today looking for justice. She's a strong woman, whose voice must speak for the man she loved who can no longer speak for himself because his life was taken for no good reason as he sat sipping his morning coffee outside a bagel shop in Tahoe City last August.
That's the way it is in murder cases. Juries are more often than not treated to a case where the suspect is allowed to weave any tale he chooses to while the victim remains silent.
And so it is that Mimi Ash must speak for her husband, Robert, as the man who admittedly stabbed him to death appears in court for a preliminary hearing on a manslaughter charge.
That's right. Manslaughter, as in without malice or premeditation. Not murder. Not even second-degree murder. A Placer County judge last month reduced the charges from murder to manslaughter in the road rage case because ... well ... that's what Mimi Ash wants to know.
According to investigative reports, Robert Ash was driving on Highway 89, from Truckee to Tahoe City, when he reportedly cut off 25-year-old Timothy Brooks, who was driving with his new bride. "The driving incident enraged Brooks to the point that he searched for Ash for approximately one half hour prior to finding him in Tahoe City," a report of the incident would later recall. "Once Brooks found Ash, the two drivers became involved in a verbal argument. The verbal argument escalated to a physical argument between the two drivers. The altercation ended when Brooks stabbed Ash in the abdomen."
As Brooks and his bride attempted to run away (one witness said Mrs. Brooks actually gave Ash's car a swift kick for good measure), Ash stumbled into the bagel shop and collapsed. He died later that day.
Mimi Ash thought it was a clear case of murder and was shocked when the judge ruled in favor of a much lesser charge. "My husband was killed in cold blood," she told me by phone last week. "The ruling was a slap in the face to me and my family."
She has hired her own attorney and has asked the Placer County district attorney's office to reinstate the murder charge, something she expects to happen during today's arraignments.
"They have sufficient evidence to go with a murder charge," she told me. "We are confident the defense will argue and that the judge won't make a ruling until after the first of the year."
Mimi Ash believes the defense will try to show that her husband did not sustain his deadly injuries from the stabbing, but from poor medical attention. They will also, she believes, try to show that Brooks stabbed her husband in self-defense and that, even then, he only stabbed him "gently," and not hard. No matter that all 4 inches of the scuba diving knife penetrated his abdomen. No matter that Brooks and his wife confronted Ash as he sat eating his breakfast. And, no matter that Brooks reportedly spent half an hour looking for his victim, even driving to Squaw Valley to see if he might have gone there.
Mimi Ash doesn't blame the judge as much as she blames the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case. "He (prosecutor) wasn't prepared," she said. "The judge came out of retirement to hear the case for $600 or so, so I guess he had nothing to lose. But the prosecutor didn't give the judge enough reason not to reduce the charges."
Outside the legal proceedings, Mimi Ash and her 14-year-old son are coping as best they can. "Some days are better than others," she told me. "It's not like any other trauma in life. In this case, you don't get better. I was married to him for 22 years and in love with him since I was 16. We had the same birth dates." On Dec. 16, Mimi will turn 40 and her husband would have turned 48.
"He was the love of my life. He was a wonderful dad whose son was his life."
Life. That's the question we need to address today. What's a life worth? What's the price for taking a life?
Mimi Ash believes the man who took her husband's life ought to spend the rest of his in prison. I don't know what Robert Ash would have wanted. His voice, like the voice of all murder victims, has been silenced forever.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, firstname.lastname@example.org or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.