Nicki DiCampli and Nathan Wade believe you have to have some heart in their line of work.
Friends and neighbors are coming together to remember a Sahuarita couple who died in a Tucso…
"To do the job you have to have empathy," Wade said. "When you're meeting a client for the first time you're seeing them on possibly the worst day of their lives and you've got to realize that that is not who they are."
They're Assistant Pima County public defenders, and from that day they begin to form a bond with their clients, develop trust and try to find out who they really are. Sometimes they can, sometimes they can't.
Wade and DiCampli were successful with Alex Bondy.
Doing 20 years
Bondy is serving 20 years in prison after a jury found him guilty on two counts of second-degree murder in the August 2016 deaths of Sahuarita residents Joel Cohen, 76, and his wife, Mary Jane, 77.
Witnesses said Bondy was weaving in and out of traffic on Golf Links Road in Tucson at twice the speed limit. They watched as he hit a guardrail, crossed three lanes of traffic, went airborne through a tree and into oncoming traffic. His 3,200-pound Buick Century landed on a Toyota Camry, instantly killing the Cohens.
Bondy testified that he took several of his father’s migraine pills 12 or 13 hours before the crash because he was depressed and wanted to sleep. He said he didn’t feel impaired to the point he couldn't drive, but prosecutors argued that he showed "extreme indifference to human life."
In the months leading up to Bondy's trial in September 2018, DiCampli and Wade got to know their client, who spent time on suicide watch at Pima County Jail. Their mitigation expert, law clerk and paralegal also grew close to him.
The defense team discovered that Bondy, now 24, was placed in foster homes because he'd been exposed to domestic and sexual abuse and had turned to drugs. The team also learned he was a voracious reader and brought books to him at the jail. When he was released on bond, they encouraged him while he spent time at a residential treatment center and later when he participated in outpatient treatment.
At his sentencing hearing, the pretrial officer responsible for keeping Bondy on the straight and narrow while he was out on bond submitted a letter on his behalf and cried when she heard the sentence.
Bondy has a new set of lawyers to handle his appeal, but DiCampli and Wade have maintained a relationship with him. He's one of a handful of former clients they keep in touch with.
Defense attorneys said it's difficult to hear a victim say, "The defendant didn't even say he was sorry," or "The defendant's only saying he's sorry now because he's trying to get an easier sentence."
Victims don't realize that defendants — no matter how remorseful — are always told not to communicate with victims, DiCampli said. To this day, Bondy cannot have contact with his victims' children. The Arizona Department of Corrections made him sign documents stating he wouldn't reach out to them.
But in a recent telephone interview from Florence State Prison, Bondy said he thinks about the Cohens every day.
If he could speak to their children, "I would just tell them how sorry I am and I live with that accident every single day and I would literally do anything to go back and change it," he said. "I know nothing I could ever say or do will make it right, but I would do anything to try."
Bondy is determined to become a better man and said the Cohens are never far from his thoughts.
"I was just kinda drifting through life before and I think it’s as much for myself as it is for them," he said of his vow to grow. "It’s intertwined. By doing things for myself and living a better life for myself I also honor them in a way, if that makes sense."
He said he's grown up a lot since the crash thanks to a lot of introspection and his support team, which includes his original defense team, his father, sister and a few friends.
They were crucial leading up to the trial, he said.
"The support was amazing. I felt like I was taken care of every day, that I had my best interests looked out for me by everybody involved," Bondy said. "I got all kinds of visits, letting people know they support me no matter what happens. I got all kinds of letters. Everybody letting me know that they believed in me and that didn’t think I was a terrible person and just supporting me."
Without the support?
"I would’ve given up. I just would not have cared what happened. I would’ve felt like everything was against me and laid down and not cared, I guess," Bondy said.
When he was arrested, Bondy said he wasn't sure what to expect from his attorneys.
"A lot of people I was in county (jail) with, they were not very enthusiastic about public defenders," he said. "They’d call them public pretenders and all kinds of derogatory things, so there was that going in. But I can honestly say that I could not have had a better team fighting on my behalf for all the money in the world."
Prison has been much tougher to deal with. There were gangs and violence at the first prison he was assigned to, much of it race-related. Bondy said he was assaulted a few times because he refused to do other prisoners' bidding and spent time in protective custody.
"It’s a big thing. The Aryan Brotherhood and the skinheads, people walking around with swastikas tattooed on their faces and stomachs and iron crosses and all that stuff. It's a pretty common sight," Bondy said.
The gangs ask vulnerable inmates to commit crimes, often offering them food, hygiene products and protection in exchange, he said.
"A lot of people, they just fall in and they do it whether they’re scared or trying to make something of themselves," Bondy said. "Me, I didn’t do that so I had a lot of people coming up to me and trying to fight me and actually fighting me, physically assaulting me because I would just simply not do what they told me."
"I would not hide phones in my house (cell). I would not hide drugs. I would not go assault other inmates and stuff like that," he said. "Most people just fall in. Once you assault a certain number of inmates you earn tattoos and stuff like that. It’s a whole culture and some people thrive in it here."
DiCampli and Wade said they were worried Bondy would see the gangs as the family he never had. He didn't.
"I’m not trying to pump myself up here, but I think it takes a lot of character and a lot of gumption to be like, ‘No, I’m not going to do that,’ and a lot of it has to do with the support I’ve had," Bondy said.
Florence doesn't seem to have the same issues as his first prison in Buckeye, Bondy said.
He's handling the stress of prison much better now, and remains on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. He has also developed coping skills with a little help from "lifers." They've all told him that instead of sitting around all day or getting into trouble, he needs to improve himself.
"The older-timers say, 'Do the time, don’t let the time do you, so do everything you can to better yourself.' That’s what I’m learning from a lot of them, how to do my time in a positive way, to be a better person," Bondy said. "These are people who will never get out of prison but they still do what they can to learn and do all of the things they can to better themselves for the sake of themselves."
Having a schedule helps, he said.
"At first it was very rough, but I’ve come to sort of a peace with it. A lot of it is routine. I get up every day, I work out, shower, I eat, I read. A lot of it is routine. I do a lot of thinking, a lot of writing," Bondy said. "Sometimes it’s hard thinking about things I’m missing out there, but for the most part it’s routine. I know I’ll have a life when I get out there, I just have to get through this and do the best I can to better myself however I can so that when I do finally get released I’ll have the best life I have."
Bondy said he meditates and attends church on Sundays and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. He also spends a lot of time journaling and writing short stories and essays. He's also applying for jobs within the prison since he's new there. At his first prison he cleaned showers, washed dishes and raked up cigarette butts in the prison yard for 10 to 15 cents an hour.
He was surprised at the lack of rehabilitation programs available. He thought he'd have more opportunities.
"There’s not very many programs that I can get into. The ones I can get into I’m kind of barred from there because I have so much time left. They’re pretty much slotted up for people who are going home sooner," Bondy said.
As far as psychological help, there's little available, he said.
"The only thing they offer you is once a month you are able to see a psychiatrist and all they do is prescribe you medication. There’s no cognitive behavioral therapy, there’s no talking about the issues, they just label you and give you meds," he said.
He applied for scholarships for Rio Salado College but was denied because of the length of his sentence.
"Most of it is self-directed because DOC doesn’t really care that much for rehabilitation or as much as it says it does," Bondy said of the steps he has taken. "I just do whatever I can to keep my mind engaged, my body engaged and look forward to the day I get out. I’ll read anything, to be honest. I just love reading."
Bondy said he'd like to get a degree in sociology and work with at-risk youths, particularly those involved in the foster care system.
He realizes now that he was just "drifting" through life before the crash.
"I’ve realized that over the last year, that when I was younger, I was a very bitter person. I was very alienated with society and that led to some of the I choices made as far as using drugs and stuff like that," he said. "I’ve been working on myself about identifying why I’ve been alienated and why I’ve felt angry with society and stuff like that. I’ve been working on trying to fix that, work through that."
He had a difficult childhood but Bondy said that doesn't excuse the choices he made.
"A lot of people did, and they made different choices than I did," he said.
According to court documents, Bondy was removed from his home by the state due to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
While in foster care, he reported being raped twice but records showed that the cases were opened and closed with little to no investigation, Wade said.
"When Alex turned 18, his foster family left him on the steps of their church after services one day with a suitcase and told him that they had contacted his father to come pick him up," Wade said. "There is no record anywhere that DCS attempted to make Alex aware of or offer services to kids aging out of the foster care system. We have over 1,000 pages of DCS records and that is not there."
Once back home, his mentally ill mom and Bondy began using drugs together and his father continued to physically abuse him, Wade said.
While he's been able to forgive his father and develop a closer relationship with him, he's not yet forgiven himself for his actions.
"I’m working on that. That’s one of the biggest things I’m working on. I hope that soon or one day I can, but right now that’s something I’m struggling with," Bondy said.
Bondy is convinced he'll continue to evolve and become a better person as time goes on.
"At this point, right now I hope the appeal goes through. I hope everything goes good, but I’m prepared to do the whole 20 years and get out and be a positive force. My attitude has nothing to do with the appeals," he said. "It’s just something that’s good for me in general."
Wade said when he met Bondy he knew he had a lot of potential.
“There was something there,” Wade said. ”I still don’t believe he set out to do something terrible.”
“I’ve never seen someone grow the way that he has, and in spite of all of this somehow to be able to come this very self-aware person who realizes there is something in him to fight for and to better himself,” Wade said.
DiCampli is glad the defense team has been able to be a part of Bondy's transformation.
"This was probably Alex’s first time in his life that he had a group of positive individuals in his life that were — I don’t think role models is the right word — but we were a bunch of people who thought Alex was way more capable and had so much potential than maybe up until that point people had let him belief about himself."