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Assistant United States Attorney Cynthia Wright takes on cases no one else wants to hear about: crimes against children. She sees herself as an advocate for those who can't speak for themselves and a support for their families.
Assistant United States Attorney Cynthia Wright takes on cases no one else wants to hear about: crimes against children. She sees herself as an advocate for those who can't speak for themselves and a support for their families. The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.
In the more than 20 years that she's been a prosecutor for the District of Columbia, Cynthia Wright has had one of the most agonizing jobs imaginable: prosecuting the perpetrators of crimes against young children.
When she was younger, the 53-year-old Wright wanted to be a nurse. She has a grown daughter now, and the assistant U.S. attorney sees herself as an advocate for slain children, who can't speak for themselves, and a support for their families.
"I like to get the cases right away," Wright tells NPR's Jacki Lyden. "Because initially the parties are outraged — they want immediate action, they want to get to the result, they want justice. The problem is as time goes on, people start to want to heal."
In order to help heal the painful loss of a murdered child, Wright says, people often want to move on quickly, and even begin forgiving the perpetrator. She says she has to be an advocate for the dead child in order to make sure those involved see the case through.
These cases are often difficult and complicated. Wright's office on Friday accepted a plea of voluntary manslaughter in the case of a young woman who emigrated from Samoa to join a convent. While there, she gave birth in secret, and suffocated the baby. She claims she didn't know she was pregnant.
"You start to ask yourself ... what possessed her to do this?" Wright says.
She says her office could have pushed for a harsher charge, and a longer sentence.
"But what's fair and just in this particular case?" Wright asks. "Here's a woman who's been in the United States six days. She has this baby ... had no friends and nobody here to tell. That's what it's all about, is figuring out the choices that people are making."
Analyzing these cases is difficult work, Wright says, and she has to be in the right state of mind. It's not always easy to look at the pictures of the young victims.
"There are some days when I can't look at them. I have to go do something else," she says. "Because it's not entertainment; these are real people. They've lost a loved one, they've lost a child ... the perpetrator is usually someone they loved. So you have all this emotion going on."
Wright says ultimately her role as a prosecutor in these cases is to find a way to give people peace.