That was the running theme in the testimony of those who served as character witnesses for Kelly Marlow, Robert Trim and Barbara Knowles before they were sentenced to 60 days in jail and 10 years probation Thursday afternoon in Cherokee County Superior Court.
Three individuals testified for both Marlow and Trim while two residents spoke about Knowles before Judge Ellen McElyea handed down the sentence.
Kelly Marlow has critics who want to "ruin her life"
J. Thomas Salata, Marlow's older brother, came close to tears as he pleaded with Judge McElyea to not sentence his sister to prison. It's been "excruciatingly hard" to watch his younger sister to battle the charges, indictment and trial for the last 11 months, he added.
"This has been hard for us to live through," he said.
At the age of 47, Marlow's political career is over, and Salata added a prison sentence would mean Marlow's twin son and daughter "will be taken away from her."
For Marlow's friend Angela Hays, the former school board member is the "inspiration I need everday." Hays noted Marlow gave up a high-paying career to raise her two children, and they are thriving with her in their lives.
Both she and Marlow have organized 5K runs for breast cancer research, which she said speaks to Marlow's "passion for helping others."
Putting Marlow behind bars, she added, won't benefit anyone.
"She has hate mongers who want nothing more than to ruin her life," Hays added.
Friend Jennfer Coyne, who has known Marlow for 25 years, added the former board member is everyone's cheerleader and never fails as a friend who listens. She also said Marlow not only feels horrible about the fallout from the charges and the conviction, but she's also "prepared for there to be consequences."
"I can't understand what's happened"
Aileen Skinner has known Barbara Knowles since they were in seventh grade at Dade Christian School in Florida. As adults, Skinner said Knowles stood by her through the good times and bad, particularly when her husband was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.
Skinner said Knowles was a tireless advocate for the family, spending hours upon hours in pursuit of doctors and treatment options. She also said she spent hours with her son while she handled her husband's medical crisis.
"She dedicated herself to keeping him happy and keeping his spirits up," she said, adding Knowles is now the sole caretaker of her mother, who's had a series of strokes and will soon be released from rehab.
Skinner said Knowles is not the person she has been portrayed as in court.
"It doesn’t link up with the person I know," she said. "I know her to be incredibly honest and I can’t understand what’s happened.”
Julie Loehr, who met Knowles in 2007 at World Harvest Church, said the defendant and her husband Chris would dedicate their free time by giving back to less fortunate children in northern Fulton County and organize Easter egg hunts.
"It's not even the Robert I know"
Resident Dean Sheridan, who has been active in local politics and made a run for elected office, first came to know Trim about five years ago when they attended the same political meetings and gatherings.
Trim, according to Sheridan, "likes to compete in the arena of ideas," and will always stand up for what he believes is right. Not only is he always willing to listen, Sheridan noted Trim always follows through with anything he commits to.
"He’s the first one to be there for you when you need someone," he said, adding the political consultant is also a honest, caring person.
Over the past six to eight months, Sheridan said Trim has informed him that his political consulting business has taken a nose dive, which he considers to be a "severe" enough punishment that a prison sentence would be unnecessary.
Tony Evangelista said Trim was the one person who kept him busy after he pulled out of a business venture. Evangelista said he got to know Trim after working with him on various projects, and described the defendant as someone who approaches things from the belief that what he's doing is right.
Trim stood by him in his darkest hour, and Evangelista said he did not hesitate to return the favor.
Young Harris resident Lewis Bailey met Trim in the mid-1990s through a mutual client. Bailey said his friendship with Trim has been pleasant, as he was always has been a man of integrity.
"I'm dismayed that he is in this situation," he added. "It’s not even the Robert I know."
Assistant District Attorney Rachelle Carnesale said she appreciated the testimony from the defendants' friends. However, the trial was never about them personally, but what they were accused of doing.
"These are people you want on your side," she said, referring to what she was able to gather from the witnesses' words. "But what we’ve heard at trial is they are not people who you want to disagree with."
Judge Ellen McElyea did not hold back her feelings of the three defendants' actions on the night of June 13, 2013, and their collective insistence that Dr. Petruzielo tried to run them over.
The judge said she'd loved to understand how the defendants transformed from "people who were concerned with the community" to citizens who conspired to ruin the career of a public servant, but added they were well within their right to decline to testify or speak before sentencing.
The re-enactment video, she added, was like "looking at a fun house mirror" where some part of the image originates, but the representations given to law enforcement were a "grotesque distortion of the truth."
McElyea went on to say Knowles, Trim and Marlow actually let their supporters down by their actions. Their intelligent voice for what the three defendants advocated for — education reforms — have been "tainted" by their decisions, McElyea said. She also said they've also contributed to the "distrust and cynicism that too many people have about elected officials and politics."
In the cases she's reviewed that involve making false statements, most of the defendants made those erroneous statements to protect themselves. That did not happen in this case, as Trim, Marlow and Knowles all used "deception, deceit as an offensive weapon."
"You were deceitful, malicious and deliberate in using one government agency to try to gain a political edge in another governmental entity," she added.