PRINCETON — Two sides of a torn family endured an agonizing wait for a sentence that would bring one side closure and the other sorrow.
Stiff hands gripped shredded tissues used to dab at tears that fell on both sides of the aisle that separated relatives but might as well have divided nations.
They were in court that day because a son, a grandson, a brother and a father — all rolled into one hot-tempered young man — stole the right to determine whether another person lived or died.
One side blamed it on the drug trade that offers an option outside of the classroom and the school of hard knocks. The other, blamed everything on the victim.
Ultimately, Mercer Circuit Judge Bill Sadler said the defendant was the only one directly responsible for finding a firearm and using it to end his father’s life. He sentenced the 19-year-old defendant to 20 years in prison, meaning he will be eligible for parole after 10. Whether he is released at that time depends largely on his behavior inside the criminal justice system.
The sentence wasn’t all that Sadler handed down that day. He also issued a stern warning to the community to remember.
“Life is hard. There is no easy road,” Sadler said, cautioning young men and women that the drug trade should never be considered an easy way to make a few bucks without clocking in or applying for an open position.
There’s no doubt the defendant in question knew life was hard. Tevin Allen had grown up the oldest son of a single mother, and his relationship with his father and victim was always difficult, according to the witnesses who testified on his behalf during the sentencing hearing.
The defining moment in his life reportedly took place on the football field, where Allen was the undisputed star of the Princeton Tigers’ football team. Everyone expected he would play somewhere in college. The only question was where.
Then, during the first game of his senior year, Allen got hurt, and the knee injury effectively ended his time on the gridiron, his high school career and, soon, his freedom.
Allen started dealing drugs. Last week, he pleaded guilty to a single count of delivery of cocaine that was unrelated to the Aug. 11, 2011, shooting that claimed his father, who was also a business associate.
Whether Allen looked at dealing drugs as an easy road out of a stretch of hard knocks, only he knows. Maybe he was so lost on a path he didn’t recognize that he thought it was the only option, but even desperation doesn’t excuse homicide.
During his sentencing hearing, several family members and three church leaders asked Sadler to consider releasing Allen on probation, so that he could act as an example for other troubled young people — a role model who dealt drugs rather than do his homework and shot his father in the face after an argument full of rage.
The judge refused, citing the fact that a sentence of probation would be unfairly insignificant in comparison to Allen’s crime.
Contrast Allen’s situation with that of Oscar Pistorius, the South African runner who just competed in the Olympics with two prosthetic legs. Through a fault only of fate, Pistorius was born without fibula bones in both legs, yet, he’s earned nicknames of “the Blade Runner” and “the fastest man on no legs.”
At 11 months old, doctors made the difficult decision to amputate both limbs, halfway between his knees and ankles. As a toddler, Pistorius literally learned to walk on prosthetic legs.
The Olympic runner who has inspired legions credits his mother with much of his success, reportedly telling reporters that each morning, she told his older brother to put on his shoes and Oscar to put his legs on. She sent the two boys out each day, telling Oscar to do whatever his brother did.
Calling one of Pistorius’ races this week, NBC Correspondent Bob Costas said she told Oscar, “If Carl climbs a tree, you climb a tree.”
As such, Pistorius never learned to use his prosthetic legs as a reason to give up or quit trying. He played rugby, water polo and tennis during his educational years, and, of course, he has caught the world’s attention as a runner on bladed prosthetic limbs known as cheetah blades.
Pistorius’ mother died when he was only 15, but he kept striving to prove that he would not be categorized by his disabilities, but instead by the things he was able to do.
Not everyone he encounters is a fan. There are even racers who argue Pistorius enjoys an unfair advantage over runners with natural feet and ankles, but the decision-makers in the Olympics vetoed those concerns.
What’s the difference between these two young men? Sure, they lived several continents away from each other and endured contrasting hardships.
Ultimately, however, the real thing that makes them different is that one grasps the simple truth in Sadler’s statement, and another made tragic excuses for not sticking to the road less traveled.
Life is hard, and there is no easy road, whether our paths take us to the football field, the Olympic track or a troubled neighborhood in our own community.
It’s how we navigate the rough spots that determines our destinations.
Tammie Toler is Princeton Times editor. Contact her at email@example.com.