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How one compassionate judge profoundly changed a man’s future


Alexander Kirch - Shutterstock

Cerith Gardiner - published on 06/07/21

Judge Morrow's sentence 16 years ago gave hope when it was most needed.

In his courtroom in Michigan 16 years ago, Judge Morrow had a 27-year-old man Edward Martell standing in front of him who admitted to selling and manufacturing crack cocaine. During his sentencing, which could have sent Martell to prison for 20 years, Morrow decided to give him a chance in life.

The Wayne County judge showed leniency and understanding by sentencing Martell to just three years probation. While his punishment came as a surprise, what really stuck with Martell was what Morrow said to him:

“Mr. Martell, you don’t have to be out here selling drugs. You have greatness within you. I challenge you, be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.”

Astonishingly the judge went even further. Although Martell was determined to better himself and lead a happy life, he didn’t have to do this alone. Morrow wanted to show Martell just how much he believed in him.

“I told Ed, my door is always open for you, here’s my number, I want to know what you’re doing, I want you to keep me in your life. I gave Ed an opportunity. Everybody deserves to be treated with a great sense of humanity and importance,” the judge shared with CNN.

Life changes

From that point in time Martell knew he could count on Morrow. He regularly sat in court to watch the judge in action, and the two would lunch together. From their lengthy conversations Morrow could see how right he’d been to give Martell a chance in life.

Martell revealed how he’d been raised by a single mom who struggled financially:

“Growing up I didn’t realize how hard we had it until I got older and fell victim to a lot of temptations that are out here for young people.”

At just 13 he had his first felony conviction, which led to further crime, dropping out of high school, and his eventual court hearing with the judge.

“I’ve been in front of so many judges, at least 20. I pretty much have had an infraction in most Wayne County cities. I knew I was on my way to prison. I guess all I needed was some love,” Martell explained.

From that hearing with Morrow 16 years ago, Martell’s life turned around. After community college he went to the University of Detroit Mercy, where he finished top of the class.

With his desire to go to law school, Martell needed someone to attest to his character, to prove he’d be morally fit for the job. This is where Morrow stepped in again. “I testified to his character and fitness. That was the big deal, these people looking at him and making a decision on whether or not he was fit when they didn’t walk one day in his shoes.”

After going through more hoops and waiting several weeks for a reply, Martell had the happy news that he’d been accepted. “I just cried like a baby,” he shared.

Back in court

Martell passed his bar exam and had to then face court, and Judge Morrow, again — this time to be sworn in as an attorney, and to show Morrow that he was right to believe in him.

“We were both so happy, so excited, but we tried to stay low-key, like it’s no big deal, so we wouldn’t look all giddy and silly. If Ed was wearing lipstick, you would have been able to see lipstick smudges on both his ears because that’s how big that smile was on him. It was a look I’d never forget,” related the judge.

The pair shared a hug and a few tears, but perhaps most importantly they both gained something from their initial meeting 16 years ago.

Martell is now a family man himself with four children and a promising career ahead as a criminal defense lawyer at Perkins Law Group. And Morrow was able to appreciate that through his career he needed to continue making sure he didn’t judge others by “where they came from, how they speak, their lack of good decisions.”

The two plan on supporting each other on the next journey in their lives.”I see him as my son,” shared the judge.

Lessons learned

For Martell, their relationship is equally as important: “Morrow cracked that door open for me and pointed me in the right direction but he never left me. I felt like I was his son and he was proud of me. It was everything I dreamed of.”

Martell now intends to use his career to improve lives for his children and future generations, and to use his story “to pave the path for others who stand where I did all those years ago.”

Morrow sums up the whole experience quite beautifully:

“Love changes people. That’s the most important lesson we all should learn from this story.”

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