“Are you sure you want to sit there?”
The lady at the end of the bench posed the question Monday afternoon in a courtroom that was otherwise standing-room-only, so in truth, I didn’t have much choice.
Given my preference, I would have chosen a spot with a little more space, because by the time I remove the tools of my trade — laptop, notebook (in case the computer dies) camera — and take off my jacket, I can take up quite a bit of room. But, I didn’t have a choice this time. The room was full, and I was late.
In fact, the Court Security Officer Bill Harman graciously brought in more chairs from somewhere else to accommodate those of us who weren’t the 10 minutes early we should have been for the high-profile case in order to get a seat.
So, I asked the question that really mattered. I asked if she minded me sitting there.
I could tell she knew who I was, but I didn’t have a clue who this lady was. My writing on this case wasn’t popular.
She didn’t really tell me if she minded, but she changed the subject to ask if I knew shorthand to fill the pages on my steno pad. I told her I didn’t but had created my own abbreviations, and we made small talk about the upcoming sales at Grants Supermarket and the new hairdo sported by the svelte adult probation officer in the front until the hearing started.
There were a few of us who sat in the middle of the courtroom, in the middle, so to speak.
As two sides of a heartbreakingly emotional drama unfolded. Here, while one group of people wholeheartedly believed the defendant was innocent beyond any shadow of a doubt, the other was dead-set he was tea-totally guilty.
To complicate matters further, the defendant himself has told authorities both versions — I know, I know. There are situations in which adults need to give children baths and showers, and that doesn’t necessarily signal abuse or violation of innocence, but those possibilities do not add up to a recorded statement with a state trooper involving the suspect’s report of four years worth of naked showers and swimming sessions in a hot tub between a toddler and an adult ranging in the ages of 55 and 60.
Later, the defendant’s story allegedly evolved to include a statement with a doctor that he stuck his tongue in the child’s ear to give her a “Wet Willie.” Again, I grew up in an age when gross little boys used to give each other, and occasionally, maybe even me, Wet Willies, but they usually licked their fingers and run that along my ear. I can’t think of a single time any one of them actually stuck their tongue in my ear to do it.
Throughout this process, the defendant has repeatedly asserted his plea agreement is not an admission of guilt, that he is only entering a “best interest plea” in hopes of getting the lightest sentence possible to protect his future, his family and his business.
I’ve already had one person tell me that there’s a good chance I’ll have to answer to a higher power for my writing on this matter, and I’ve agreed with her.
I don’t know this defendant’s mind or his heart.
I don’t know his actions, because I wasn’t there when he showered with this child, licked her ear, or touched her without underwear.
I didn’t hear his words with my ears, but they are the ones WVSP Sgt. D.W. Miller recorded and Judge Mark Wills repeated to him and his audience Monday.
As Wills pointed out before sentencing, the term Rick Cutlip Sr. serves will not heal his victim or her parents. It likely won’t even heal him, if he has demons to face.
No matter where we sit, as everyone else begins to heal, perhaps it will force Cutlip to either find or face the truth that appears so elusive in this very perplexing case.
Though he has neither admitted nor denied guilt, one must be reality, even in a “no contest” case.