Helping, not punishing vets who lose their way - FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

Helping, not punishing vets who lose their way

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

The 288th District Court looks like any typical criminal court but when you go back into Judge Marc Carter's chambers, you quickly see why it's not.

There are photos of men in uniform everywhere.  One photo shows Carter and another man who looks a lot like him.

"Those are of my dad fighting in Vietnam," he said proudly.

Born in Germany, his dad was career military.

"Those experiences will live with me for the rest of my life," he said.  "They are part of my fabric and part of who I am and makes me do what I do."

Every other Wednesday, he presides over a special docket of cases dealing with veterans.  The focus is more on helping veterans, not punishing them.  They have a choice: get treatment or go to jail.

"We've been doing this for three years and it started with just one veteran," he said.

Marine Sergeant Marty Gonzalez was that veteran.  Gonzalez fought in Fallujah, Iraq.  Along the way, he was shot twice and blown up twice, picking up three Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury and a broken back.

One night, with too many painkillers in his system and his child in the car, he had a wreck.  He ended up in front of Carter.

"At that time I was suicidal," Gonzalez said.  "I was giving up on myself.  I didn't see a purpose in my life.  I was going to kill myself, but I didn't care if I died."

He told Carter his story and it struck a chord.

"That upset me because I knew there was no justice for this young man if I let his story get written that was if there was a way to re-write that outcome," Carter said.

He had mercy on Gonzalez and got him help instead of a prison sentence.

Gonzalez bore down and did it.  He said he would have been dead or in prison without Carter.  When Carter asked him to go to Austin and testify to help get a bill passed to establish the first veteran's court in the land, he couldn't say no.  He knew the judge had stuck his neck out for him.  It was time to return the favor.

The court coordinates with Veterans Affairs.  The feds pick up the tab for their treatment.  Most of the cases involve PTSD and drug or alcohol issues.  The veterans docket is every other Wednesday, and the probation period lasts about 18 months.  It depends on the progress.

We were there to see Navy veteran Preston Hargrove on probation for a drug possession charge move from phase three to phase four.

"It was scary at first, but it's a good program," Hargrove said.

Gonzalez and his wife help counsel veterans who are struggling with the program and their families.

"I tell them you are not alone, keep fighting.  You are not alone," he said.

The court has a very good track record so far with only about a 15 percent failure rate, well below a typical criminal court.  That mean fewer people who gave so much, being thrown away by the country they swore to protect.

"It's really rewarding for me as a human being to be able to contribute in that way," Carter said.

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