The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

by

Jeffrey Hobbs

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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Five days have passed, and Skeet is in jail. Jackie goes to visit him. She doesn’t know anything about the crime Skeet is said to have committed. During visiting hours, Skeet tells Jackie that he wants her to arrange for a lawyer to handle bail and prepare his defense. Jackie becomes uncomfortable—she wonders if Skeet really did murder two people. The two murder victims are sisters, Charlene Moore and Estella Moore, but Jackie knows nothing about them.
Notice that Hobbs never editorializes about whether Skeet is really innocent or guilty; by depicting the scene from Jackie’s point of view, however, he captures her uncertainty, suggesting that Jackie doesn’t rule out the possibility that Skeet is capable of murder (perhaps explaining why she was so reluctant to marry or move in with him).
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Meanwhile, Robert spends his time playing football, and quickly makes a name for himself. Robert has always enjoyed playing sports with Skeet. Now, some of Robert’s friends ask where his dad has gone. Robert doesn’t know—Jackie can’t bear to tell him the truth. Eventually, she tells him that Skeet has taken a trip to visit family.
Robert excels at sports as well as school. For the time being, Jackie keeps him in the dark about his father, perhaps reasoning that the truth would be too harmful for a little boy to know.
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A few days before Robert starts the first grade, Jackie tells her son the truth about Skeet: he’s in jail for murder. Robert doesn’t ask any questions—he just asks how soon Skeet will be back. Jackie replies, “Soon.”
The fact that Robert, usually talkative, doesn’t ask any questions foreshadows the way he’ll keep his anger and confusion about Skeet bottled up in the years to come.
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The investigation into the double murder proceeds slowly. The prosecutor, Thomas Lechliter, determines that two women named Georgianna Broadway and Deborah Neal went to visit their friends Estella and Charlene Moore on the night of August 7. Georgianna walked Deborah home but then went to buy cocaine. After she came back, Estella went out drinking with a man named Mervin Matthews. Estella came home around five thirty. Mervin headed back to his own place, but realized he still had Estella’s keys. While walking into the Moore sisters’ building complex (where Estella, Georgianna, and Charlene were sleeping), Mervin passed Skeet, who was sitting outside. Skeet followed Mervin into the building.
The evidence surrounding the Moore sisters’ murder is confusing and inconclusive. However, it’s undeniable that Skeet was in the vicinity at the time of the murder, and that he followed Mervin into the building, meaning that he conceivably could have entered the sisters’ apartment. Notice, also, that cocaine seems to be an ordinary part of the Moore sisters’ entertainment, a sign of how quickly the drug trade has taken over the city of Newark.
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Get the entire The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace LitChart as a printable PDF.
What happened next is unclear. Around six, Georgianna saw Estella walking through the kitchen, apparently annoyed. Then the bedroom door opened, and Georgianna heard a gun being fired. The shots killed Charlene and Estella and wounded Georgianna.
Georgianna hears the sound of a gun being fired but doesn't see who pulled the trigger—leaving a crucial ambiguity regarding Skeet’s guilt.
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Hours later, the police received a call from Deborah Neal’s place. Strangely, Georgianna had traveled all the way to Deborah’s place instead of asking for help or going to the hospital, which was just a few blocks away from the Moore sisters’ place. Georgianna claimed that Skeet had shot her. On further questioning, she admitted she hadn’t seen Skeet’s face, but insisted that she’d heard his voice. The next day, the police arrested Skeet.
There are some pretty big holes in Georgianna’s story, in particular that she doesn’t see Skeet’s face and that she goes back to her friend’s home. While Hobbs doesn’t really explore these holes, he suggests that there’s at least a reasonable amount of doubt that Skeet was really the killer.
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Thomas Lechliter quickly convinces himself that Skeet is guilty. However, he recognizes that there are many loose ends in the story. Georgianna was hung over and “strung out” when she witnessed the shooting, and she never saw the shooter’s face. But Lechliter believes these questions will be answered soon enough.
Lechliter’s behavior leading up to the trial is arguably prejudicial: instead of proceeding like a good lawyer and working from the facts, he works backwards, believing that Skeet is guilty and hastily assuming that he’ll be able to tie up the loose ends. He also chooses to rely on fairly questionable testimony. Again, Hobbs doesn’t come right out and say that Lechliter is being unfair, but he implies that the investigation was improper in some ways, and may even reflect Lechliter’s racial bias and assumption that a black male is, more likely than not, guilty.
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In the midst of the preparation for Skeet’s trial, Jackie takes Robert to the Essex County jail. She’s been in regular contact with Skeet, who continues to insist that he’s completely innocent. During the visit, Skeet tells Robert that he didn’t do anything wrong. Robert confidently replies, “Yeah.”
Robert still seems to idolize his father, but it’s hard to tell—even as a child, he’s becoming adept at concealing his thoughts and feelings.
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Robert begins the school year, and he starts to behave violently. He has a fistfight with another student, and he’s sent to the principle’s office. Robert also begins to gain weight and spend too much time sitting around the house watching TV.
Robert is clearly devastated by his father’s incarceration, even if he won’t admit it: his behavior suggests that he’s angry and frustrated, and is taking out his anger on other students.
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Skeet prepares for his trial by working with the public defender he’s been assigned. Later in the fall, however, Skeet’s public defender is taken away from him, supposedly because Skeet is unable to prove “indigence”: his house is valued at $100,000, meaning that he could conceivably afford his own lawyer. Skeet protests the ruling, which takes months.
The trial takes a long time to begin because there’s so much bureaucracy to wade through. The Constitution guarantees all citizens an attorney, but only if they can’t afford one themselves—in Skeet’s case, the state argues that Skeet could hire his own lawyer.
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In March of 1989, Skeet is finally appointed a public defender. The pretrial hearings begin in September. After months, the trial is scheduled for September 10, 1990. Skeet spends three full years in jail.
It’s outrageous that a murder trial takes three full years to begin—the Constitution guarantees all American citizens the right to a speedy trial. But the incarceration rate during the 1980s has become so high (and remains high to this day) that prisoners are often kept waiting months or years to begin their trials, even for minor crimes.
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The trial proceeds. In the winter of 1990, Robert is called to testify before Thomas Lechliter, regarding whether “the death penalty would be sought.” Robert, who’s now almost ten, testifies that he’s never seen his father using drugs. In the end, however, Lechliter convinces the judge to use the death penalty.
The stakes of the trial are high, since the death penalty is now on the table.
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Robert proceeds with his schooling. Sometimes, one of his classmates will tell him that his father Skeet is a “hero” for committing murder, and he seems to take pride in hearing this. Jackie is terrified that her son is growing into a criminal. She decides to take night classes to become a kitchen supervisor at the University Hospital—with this extra employment, she hopes to pay for Robert’s education. In the fall of 1990, a few days before Skeet’s trial, Jackie enrolls her son in a private Catholic school.
In Robert’s neighborhood, where the police are symbols of racism and brutality, crime is sometimes interpreted as a form of rebellion and even heroism. Robert begins to embrace this kind of thinking, suggesting that on some level, he accepts the possibility that his father really is a murderer, but still wants to idolize Skeet. Meanwhile, Jackie continues to devote herself to caring for her child—she’s the real hero.
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