A week ago, I flew to Honolulu to cover the sentencing hearing of Christian Gutierrez, 19, who, along with two other young men, drove to the remote western tip of O`ahu in December 2015 to camp out in a state park. They packed a machete, air rifle, baseball bat, and photographic gear.
The three set up camp and set out hiking to a natural area reserve that only a few years before had been fenced to protect native flora and fauna from predators. Late in the year, when these three young men pushed open the gates to the reserve, they found their intended targets–charismatic Laysan albatross, a seabird highly respected by the Hawaiian culture and long studied by scientists, sitting quietly on their eggs, as if in meditation, as they do during the 65 days of incubation it takes for their growing chicks to develop and enter the air breathing world.
These young men used their weapons to bash, shoot, and mutilate a minimum of 15 adults. They crushed or left to die 17 eggs. And they photographed it all. When they were finished with their slaughter, they weren’t finished with their crimes, bragging in the days to come to friends, even posting photos of their gruesome acts to social media.
The people of Hawaii and around the world were horrified at the news, and their horror did not diminish as the case dragged on. (I wrote about why the killing of the albatross mattered for Honolulu Magazine.)
The cases of the two underage men were handled in family court, and those records sealed. However, Christian Gutierrez was 18 at the time of his crimes. It took almost a year before he was arrested. Then, a few months later, he agreed to a plea bargain that significantly reduced his charges. Last Thursday, he faced a judge and his sentence. I attended, one of the few dozen who made it inside the courtroom to witness, to report the events. Dozens more waited outside the double-door entry of the courtroom, guarded by extra security set in place for the day.
By law, I silenced my phone during the hours-long hearing. When I turned it back on, I found texts, emails, messages, tweets, and Facebook posts, all asking the same basic question: Was justice served?
Such a short question, just three words, five syllables that could be the first line of a haiku.
I’ve spent the last week thinking about that question. Before I answer, here’s my Twitter stream from last Thursday:
Was justice served?
I’ve thought about my answer for a week now. The short of it is: No.
For those of us who revere nature. For those of us who know a whit about the soaring and extraordinary nature of albatross. For those of us with any spark of humanity in our hearts. There is no way justice could ever be served for the cruel loss of so many Laysan albatross. There is no way justice could ever be served for the revelation to so many children that “bad men” exist in this world. There is no way justice could ever be served for the desecration of such a sacred place as Ka`ena Point.
But this understanding has given me closure and allows me to lay down my anger and return to the wonders of nature. The day after the sentencing hearing, another generation of Laysan albatross chicks took to the air, fledging, flying for their very first time, flights that will take them to the North Pacific and last three to five years before seeing them return to land and begin courtship dances in search of their right and perfect mate, to whom they will make a long-term, sometimes lifetime, commitment to raise Laysan albatross chicks together. And if that’s not a miracle, nothing is.
But I do have one lingering question: Where are the photographs now? Who holds the copyrights to any videos taken that horrific night?