Zabel death trial reunites two mothers bound by loss
Two heartbroken women sit a row apart in Courtroom 1107. Monteil Bennett lives two miles from the Criminal Justice Center, in a rowhouse on Bouvier Street in South Philadelphia. On Bouvier, gun violence is such a part of life that the corner boys at nearby 17th and Wharton Street have given the neighborhood a chilling nickname: 17th and War-Town.
Two heartbroken women sit a row apart in Courtroom 1107.
Monteil Bennett lives two miles from the Criminal Justice Center, in a rowhouse on Bouvier Street in South Philadelphia. On Bouvier, gun violence is such a part of life that the corner boys at nearby 17th and Wharton Street have given the neighborhood a chilling nickname: 17th and War-Town.
Lana Hollerud lives 1,100 miles away, in Austin, Minn. In Austin, the scent of the nearby Spam plant wafts through windows. In Austin, the violence that our city is so accustomed to is hard even to fathom.
But these women from different worlds sit together in a Philadelphia courtroom again, bound by the cruelest of circumstances: Police believe the same man killed their sons.
Three years ago, Lana was there in the Philadelphia courtroom when Marcellus Jones was convicted of shooting and killing Monteil's son, Tyrek Taylor, on Bouvier Street.
That Lana was able to offer solace to Monteil is testament to grace and forgiveness. Because prosecutors say Jones killed Taylor to silence him.
Taylor, they said, served as Jones' getaway driver on the June night in 2008 when Jones allegedly killed Lana's son, Beau Zabel, for his iPod near the Italian Market.
Lana came to Philadelphia for Jones' first trial because she wanted to see the man believed to have killed her son. She was there to see justice served for another mother's son, if not her own.
And during that trial, Lana, a crime-victim advocate back in Austin, was there for Monteil, with comforting words, with hugs. She told Monteil she hoped the verdict would bring her some comfort.
Lana had been there for Monteil. And this week, Monteil has been there for Lana as Jones stands trial in the murder of Beau Zabel.
Last week, Monteil, who works two jobs - as a cashier at Sam's Club and as a housekeeper in Paoli - told her bosses she would need days off for the trial.
"Just like she was there for me," Monteil said during a break in court Monday. Closing arguments were Tuesday. The trial now rests with the jury.
When Lana saw Monteil last week, she hugged her. They talked for a few moments. Between mothers.
They had come full circle, they told each other. It was Lana's turn now, they said. Lana asked Monteil how she was holding up. She told Lana she would get through the trial just as she did Tyrek's.
There was not much more to say.
They are not close friends, and probably never will be. How could they? Monteil's son is alleged to have been there the night Beau was killed. They have never talked about that.
"I am sorry for your loss," Monteil had told Lana when they first met in 2012.
"When I see Monteil and myself, I see two mothers whose sons met the same end - for, however, different reasons," Lana said. She sees another mother who knows the pain no mother wants to know. She chooses not to see anything else.
During court breaks, Monteil will sometimes try small talk - to try to get Lana to "laugh and calm down," she says. Has she tried the Reading Terminal for lunch? How is the family dog?
And, sometimes, after testimony involving Tyrek's death, Lana will turn around to Monteil and offer words of comfort.
"Are you OK?" she'll ask.
Sometimes they just sit in silence. And in those moments, it is easy to see all the things that murder shapes and steals - and the distances its pain can close. The bonds of grief it forms.
After closing arguments Tuesday, Lana turned to Monteil, who wiped away tears. They spoke a few words to each other. Between mothers.
Then they waited, a row apart, for justice.
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