An Uncharted Path
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"Putting Jimmy in prison wasn't going to solve anything," she says. "He was already punishing himself more than any judge ever could." Moreover, Hall's parents, although grief stricken, agreed with Colburn. They still loved the boy whom they had treated as their own son for years. "We didn't think he could survive a prison environment for any great length of time," Doug Hall later told the Concord Monitor. "And we really felt that two lives would be lost instead of one." Was there any way that something—anything—positive could be stitched from such a tragedy?

Maybe there was. Over the next 18 months, as Colburn went back and forth between Dozois, the opposing counsel, and—with the prosecution's hard-won permission—the victim's bereft parents, an idea began to take shape.

New Hampshire's public defense program is highly regarded—or so Kimberly Thayer '01JD had heard. And when she worked as a law clerk at both the New Hampshire superior and supreme courts and was able to observe other lawyers in action, she saw for herself how that reputation was justified. "Over four years, I was continually impressed with the performance of the public defenders," she says. "It was quality advocacy."

Becoming a public defense attorney herself in 2005, she experienced firsthand the genesis of that quality: Five weeks of intense training, structured mentoring from a seasoned attorney and being sent right into the courtroom to try cases. "I don't think I could have gotten that kind of training elsewhere. Some lawyers have to wait two years before they see the inside of a courtroom. But we hit the ground running."

This is by design. Colburn believes that in order to be comfortable in the courtroom, you have to be in the courtroom. And that mentoring? Also by design. Informal mentoring had existed before, but now mentoring was part of managing attorneys' job descriptions, and new hires had their mentors alongside them whenever they appeared in court.

The thing was, none of the principals involved—not even Josh Hall's parents—wanted Dozois to go to prison. So Colburn prepared for what amounted to two separate cases. One path was the best defense she could build to get her client acquitted, should a trial become necessary. But she had higher hopes for her second path, based on a radical idea: What if rather than going to prison, the young man were instead required to tell his tale to the people who had the best chance to benefit from it? In the end, the sentence she suggested for Dozois included probation and the loss of his driver's license, and in exchange for additional prison time (he'd already served one month), a unique form of community service: 16 speeches to New Hampshire high school students about what he had done.

Judge Edward Fitzgerald '69, '83JD, who presided over the case, had never seen a sentence like this proposed for such a severe crime. "Traditionally, community service sentences arise for things like drug offenses," he says. "But this was far more serious than that. Someone had been killed."

The hearing where the prosecuting attorney outlined the agreed-upon sentence was wrenching. Hall's parents were there, his father asking through tears for compassion for the man who had killed his son. Dozois spoke of his helplessness: "Because I am still here and because Josh is not and because so many have suffered already, I have trouble understanding what good could become of me." Sitting next to him, Colburn did what she'd never before done in court: she cried.

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