The journey of Judge Joan Lefkow

"I did remember him," she says now. "And it made sense to me that he had done it. I felt empty. The absurdity of it all."

Him. She won't say the name. Won't write it.

To her, Bart Ross is simply "the perpetrator," the man who broke into her basement through a window, then shot her husband and mother for no reason other than that they stumbled on him as he lay in wait for her.

"They were innocent," she says, "and I was the sinner."

Lefkow can still see the perpetrator's cancerous jaw, how the day he brought his malpractice suit into her courtroom his mouth opened so slightly that each word seemed to leave a new wound.

She felt sorry that no one was there to calm his rant about the doctors, lawyers and judges who had ruined his life, sorry that she had to command him to sit down.

"He was pathetic," she says. "My heart went out to him."

She dismissed his case, but for a while afterward kept a clipping from a friend about jaw reconstruction, wondering if she could help.

- - -

"Last night I was thinking, if only we'd had security cameras," she says one spring day in a bookstore cafe, her fingernails painted bright red by one of her daughters. "If only we'd had a dog."

If only, if only. Regret's incantation.

Maybe, she says, she should have spied the warnings in the perpetrator's lawsuit, detected that denying him would detonate his rage. Maybe she should have been more imperious, less inclined to look him, like everyone who comes before her, respectfully in the eye.

"I am such a sap," she says and sighs.

But what was done is over. Lives extinguished, killer found, mystery solved.

Now the new mystery: How would Joan Lefkow reconstruct her mutilated life?


`It sounds silly for a 61-year-old woman to be saying this," Lefkow says one morning in June, "but who am I?" She sits barefoot on her old sofa in her new rented apartment. Out the big corner windows gray clouds press on the brick-and-steel city. This is a modern high-rise, guarded by a doorman and her federal marshals, nothing like the big old house she has abandoned. She is so determined to keep the address secret that she has rerouted her mail to her office.

"Should I retreat to a mountain to read and write?" she says. "Live on the ocean? Or live in Europe? These things are all possible now."

Possible, but not likely. Money's tight. Her husband died with little life insurance. She needs to go back to work, wants to. But not yet.

There's still Michael's headstone to choose. The house not ready for sale. Michael's clothes still in their bedroom closet. So many burdens that double as distractions, goals.