Sandy Fonzo hadn't planned on confronting the Pennsylvania judge whom she blames for robbing her late son of his chance at a happy, productive life.
Her emotional, obscenity-laced outburst last week _ caught on video and spread over the Internet _ has come to symbolize the anger felt by parents whose children were railroaded by Mark Ciavarella, the former Luzerne County judge convicted Friday of racketeering in a $2.8 million "kids for cash" plot to send youth offenders to for-profit detention centers.
Fonzo's son was 17 and an all-star wrestler with a chance at a college scholarship when he landed in Ciavarella's courtroom on a minor drug paraphernalia charge. Though the teen, Edward Kenzakoski, had no prior criminal record, he spent months at the private lockups and a wilderness camp and missed his senior year of high school.
Kenzakoski emerged an angry, bitter and depressed young man. He committed suicide last June at the age of 23.
"He was just never the same. He couldn't recover," Fonzo said Tuesday. "He wanted to go on with his life, but he was just hurt. He was affected so deeply, more than anyone knew."
Fonzo was at work Friday when friends started texting her about the verdict in Ciavarella's federal racketeering trial _ guilty on 12 of 39 counts. She rushed to the courthouse because she had heard that Ciavarella was going to be taken out in handcuffs.
Instead, the disgraced judge was allowed to remain free pending sentencing. Ciavarella and his lawyers walked out onto the courthouse steps on a brilliant, unseasonably warm day and declared victory.
"He never took a kickback, he never took a bribe. ... This is not a `cash for kids' case, and we hope that someone starts getting the message," said Ciavarella's attorney, Al Flora, referring to the fact that jurors had acquitted his client of many of the charges.
Fonzo, who had been standing in the media scrum, lost it.
"My kid's not here anymore!" she screamed. "He's dead! Because of him! He ruined my ... life! I'd like him to go to hell and rot there forever! Do you remember me? Do you remember me? Do you remember my son, an all-star wrestler? He's gone. He shot himself in the heart. You scumbag!"
Ciavarella kept his back to Fonzo as she yelled, glancing at her only when she tapped him on the shoulder. Then he turned his back again and walked down the steps.
"I don't know that lady," he told reporters. "I don't know what the facts and circumstances are concerning her son."
Fonzo said Tuesday that she couldn't help but lash out.
"They were all having a wonderful day and they thought they had a victory. My son's not here, and (Ciavarella is) on his way out and it's a beautiful day and he's going to enjoy it with his family," she recalled. "I just had enough of them and I just couldn't control myself."
Prosecutors alleged that Ciavarella and a second judge took more than $2 million in bribes from the builder of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centers and extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from their owner.
Ciavarella sent youth offenders to the private lockups while he was taking payments, ordering detention for minor offenses and routinely depriving juveniles of basic legal protections, including the right to counsel, according to a government panel that investigated the scandal. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out some 4,000 convictions issued by Ciavarella.
Fonzo said it galled her that Ciavarella continued to deny responsibility even after his conviction. The dramatic, disturbing video of her confrontation with the judge has sparked the interest of several national media outlets. She's scheduled to appear on NBC's "Today" show.
"The pain was just raw," she said. "Even if he didn't think he was to blame, wouldn't you turn around and just say, I'm sorry for your pain? ... He wouldn't even look at me until I tapped his shoulder."
Marsha Levick, co-founder and chief counsel of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which blew the whistle on Ciavarella's harsh treatment of juveniles years before he was charged, said virtually no other judge would have ordered Fonzo's son to be locked up on such a minor charge.
She said her outburst gave voice to the families hurt by Ciavarella.
"Her personal story tells everybody else what happened in ways that lawyers can't," said Levick, whose firm represents Fonzo and other parents and children in a civil lawsuit against Ciavarella. "It was this horrible, gut-wrenching expression of grief."
Fonzo said she's been inundated with supportive messages from around the country. She hopes to rally hundreds to show up at Ciavarella's sentencing.
"If I could get all the kids, all the families, all the friends, everybody affected, and have hundreds of people wrap around that whole courthouse and have Ciavarella have to walk through us and see all these faces and hear the voices of what he's done, maybe that'll be an impact on his sentencing," she said.