An Unearthly Portal

I cannot sleep after making the mistake of reading about the teacher who hid her students in cupboards before taking a bullet to save their lives – a mistake not because that kind of heroism should go unrecognized, but because I have a difficult time handling these stories. I am filled with all the rage of a father, and my eyes water the more I try not to think about it. 

Instead of sleep, I envision the things that I might do in a similar situation, knowing that my instincts would take prior…

  1. Mendel

    I think it is possible – but difficult – to take a differentiated view.

    Your disgust at the thought of defending such a killer is understandable.  But I think public defense of every criminal is something we as a society should be proud of – the notion that everyone is allowed to defend themselves before receiving punishment.  Public defense, in its own way, makes us civil.

    But just because everyone is entitled to a competent lawyer doesn’t mean they should be entitled to anything else – leniency in sentencing, understanding for emotional issues or alcoholism, 20 years before execution, a painless execution, or anything else.

    Is it too contradictory to say that everyone should have a fair chance in court, but once the killer is found guilty we will show little or no mercy?

  2. Red Feline

    Agreed, Ryan! I can’t bear to think of all those devastated parents in Connecticut. 

    The murderer shot himself. Good! Justice has been done, and seen to be done. All the problems you describe have been avoided.

    But there are questions to be asked and answered. It sounds as if the murderer had psychological problems. Had he been treated? Is there any successful treatment of this kind of personality? Were there signs of an impending breakdown? I have no doubt these questions will be uppermost in the minds of the police investigators. And no doubt many more.

    How expensive is psychiatric treatment? Would the murderer’s parents have had to pay if he were incarcerated in a mental hospital? 

    Ought the staff of all schools, even those outside cities in “safe” areas, be taught how to deal with this kind of atrocity should it happen in their school? Were the staff of this school, and the people of Newtown, too trusting that evil couldn’t visit them?

    This kind of event can happen anywhere and gun laws make no difference. Britain has very strict gun laws, yet the shooting at Dunblane, Scotland took 17 lives, apart from the murderer. 

  3. Red Feline
    Mendel: I think it is possible – but difficult – to take a differentiated view.

    Your disgust at the thought of defending such a killer is understandable.  But I think public defense of every criminal is something we as a society should be proud of – the notion that everyone is allowed to defend themselves before receiving punishment.  Public defense, in its own way, makes us civil.

    But just because everyone is entitled to a competent lawyer doesn’t mean they should be entitled to anything else …

    Is it too contradictory to say that everyone should have a fair chance in court, but once the killer is found guilty we will show little or no mercy? · 13 minutes ago

    Totally agree, Mendel! The reason for killing a murderer is to protect society from a monster. I would be prepared to give the injection, or whatever myself, to protect my community.

    I would say two strikes and you are out of this world. One murder, depending on the circumstances, may be treated more leniency, but a second murder is something different. 

    I am very glad I am not a defense lawyer having to deal with monsters.

  4. Crow

    While I also think that such monsters should be defended ably and that our laws are right to present the accused that opportunity, I confess I’m with you, Ryan–I could not do it myself; I’d sooner put him to death with my own hands than defend him in a court of law.

    You are also right about the rise of the therapeutic society. While I think some of our medical advancements in understanding and treating various kinds of mental illness (depression or autism, for example) have been remarkable, I stand firm in the belief that a society that is so soft-minded and timid that it refuses to put its worst criminals to death is a society that lacks faith in itself and that will tolerate anything. It is a society that lacks dignity, or self-respect.

  5. Innocent Smith
    Mendel: I think it is possible – but difficult – to take a differentiated view.

    Your disgust at the thought of defending such a killer is understandable.  But I think public defense of every criminal is something we as a society should be proud of – the notion that everyone is allowed to defend themselves before receiving punishment.  Public defense, in its own way, makes us civil.

    Is it too contradictory to say that everyone should have a fair chance in court, but once the killer is found guilty we will show little or no mercy? · 48 minutes ago

    I do agree – and I also confess that this essay had a bit more substance, but I am making a Chicken Paprikash to take to my mom’s Hungarian Club’s Christmas dinner, tonight, so I ended it before really parsing everything through.

    I think that the legal right to a defense is one thing – but you may have to present it yourself, especially if nobody will agree to defend you.  That said, someone will agree to do so in 99.9% of the cases.  But this one?  Sometimes a man should stand alone.

  6. Innocent Smith

    But that (cont from #5) does kind of bring up a larger topic, and one that I have pondered quite a bit (for obvious reasons).  What exactly should constitute a defense when it comes to a publicly provided defender?  What is that counsel designed to protect against?  I think it is a check on government power (fancy that notion coming from a libertarian-minded conservative).  Who exactly argues that everyone should have an equal opportunity to be absolved of a crime?  The idea is that people should be advised of their rights, that we might avoid soviet-style show trials, and the like.  I don’t think the idea is that everyone be provided with their personal Johnny Cochran to manipulate the jury into a not-guilty plea.  That seems as grave an injustice as letting the government simply find anyone it wants to be guilty.  Perhaps a worse one, considering the actual numbers involved when it comes to guilty vs. innocent.

  7. Amy Schley

    I’ve avoided criminal defense work, but I think I could “defend” such a man if I had to.  To defend such a person doesn’t mean to believe in his innocence or even to try to “get him off” — I would see my purpose as to ensure that the prosecution did their job properly.  Make sure they’ve charge the right guy, that the elements of each crime are proven, that the evidence was fairly collected, sure.  But I wouldn’t see it as my job to get a not-guilty verdict.

    As for this:

     I envision the things that I might do in a similar situation, knowing that my instincts would take priority over any thoughts I might have. 

    My experience when there was a shooting at my mall (couple of fools fighting over a girl) was that all the hours I’ve spent over the course of my life fantasizing about such situations — a Columbine, a home invasion, gang riots in a mall — helped shape my instincts.  Instead of just blanching in terror like my assistant manager, I knew what to do.

  8. Innocent Smith

    Amy, it is easier said than done, though. Especially with tort law the way it is, malpractice, and bar rules that define “competence” differently than you might. I got a bar complaint a while back alleging that I had not adequately pursued my client’s claim of PTSD (caused by our firm’s prior misrepresentation, and now supposedly having caused him to slash his girlfriend’s tires).

    Defense attorneys in this (the murderer’s) case would most assuredly have talked a lot about “mental health.”  That would arguably be the standard of competence.  I think that goes far beyond holding the state to its duty, and I could not bring myself to present such a defense.

  9. iWc

    Instincts in times of action can be learned. Some years ago, I learned for the first time what I actually would do in a certain situation that called for physical interdiction. My actions were appropriately violent and even with all the adrenaline in my system I declined to escalate to truly life-threatening acts. I am grateful on all scores.

  10. flownover

    Powerline put this picture up without much comment. It speaks volumes.

    israeli-armed-teacher.jpg

  11. Mama Toad

    Mendel wrote: Is it too contradictory to say that everyone should have a fair chance in court, but once the killer is found guilty we will show little or no mercy?

    No. It is exactly correct. It is one of those paradoxes that are foundational to Western civilization.

  12. Innocent Smith
    Mama Toad: Mendel wrote: Is it too contradictory to say that everyone should have a fair chance in court, but once the killer is found guilty we will show little or no mercy?

    No. It is exactly correct. It is one of those paradoxes that are foundational to Western civilization. · 54 minutes ago

    My point being that we (in my opinion) greatly overstate what constitutes a “fair chance.”  The opportunity to speak for yourself, to me, seems perfectly sufficient.  So much the better if you can find an attorney to do that for you, but a professional attorney is not the point of “right to counsel.”  The government may not tell you that you cannot have a lawyer, nor may the government refuse to allow you to speak in your own defense.  I think we’ve expanded that right much for the worse.  That we provide free attorneys – whose job is not merely to sit there and see that power is not abused – is a step too far.

  13. flownover

    I had lived most of my life in the same town and pretty much the same property. Across the street is an old state mental institution, now converted to a minimum security prison. It is a very large facility and housed 3000 beds at it’s fullest. It’s replacement has 108 beds. The people it housed mostly needed to be watched constantly to prevent them from harming themselves or others, or just wandering off . What has changed ?

    When something horrible happens, and a person who should have been locked up kills innocents, then the people who didn’t lock them up are accessories to the crime. Defense arguments aren’t necessary. The state has shielded itself from complicity with a solution that is worse: HIPAA.

    ” But we couldn’t know that he killed the kittens, they couldn’t legally tell us. ”

    “No we can’t house him and watch him, he’s 19. Don’t buy anymore kittens and you should give him a pill with his orange juice.”

    Shame on the government’s embrace of political correctness to the endangerment of our children. 

  14. Red Feline

    Flownover: “When … a person who should have been locked up kills innocents, then the people who didn’t lock them up are accessories to the crime.”

    Good point, Flownover. Dr. Guy Turcotte, of Montreal, Canada killed his two children, and was being released on Thursday, December 13.

    “On Wednesday, a Quebec Mental Health Assessment Commission found that Turcotte had made enough progress to be released.

    He was already being allowed out of the institution several times a week on day passes.”

    His wife is terrified at the thought of him being free, but she says,””The rules say that if you think that a person may be dangerous, that’s not a reason to keep him. In the charter of human rights, you cannot bypass his right to be free.”

    And then someone would have to defend him if he commits another crime. Very difficult to be objective, as Ryan says. 

    The law is going to be changed shortly:

    “The federal government says it will introduce legislation to make it harder for mentally ill criminals to be let out of custody, following the conditional release of a former doctor who was found not criminally responsible for killing his two children.”

  15. Larry3435

    I have a more simple answer.  Not everyone is entitled to a “defense.”  Yeah, I went to law school and all that, and I was taught such stuff, but I still kind of remember (way down in the depths of my soul) that the purpose of a trial is supposed to be to get at the truth.  Remember truth, anyone?  When the truth is beyond dispute, when the evil is known beyond a reasonable doubt without any need for a trial, then the defense attorney has no role to play.  

    I have always thought that Nuremberg was a bunch of damn idiocy.  Like I had to wait for that to find out that the Nazis were evil.  Form over substance, my friends.

  16. Mama Toad

    The purpose of the Nuremberg trials was to clarify the historical record. Although Holocaust deniers never let facts get in their way, it is harder to dispute the clear, almost dispassionate record of the crimes — the burden of proof had to be met. Down the road, when all the Holocaust survivors and perpetrators are long since dead, the clear record will still exist, mute testimony to the evil and civilization’s unwillingness to pretend it never happened.

  17. Innocent Smith

     

    Larry3435: I have a more simple answer.  Noteveryone is entitled to a “defense.”  Yeah, I went to law school and all that, and I was taught such stuff, but I still kind of remember (way down in the depths of my soul) that the purpose of a trial issupposed to be to get at the truth.  Remembertruth, anyone?  When the truth is beyond dispute, when the evil is known beyond a reasonable doubt without any need for a trial, then the defense attorney has no role to play.  

    I have always thought that Nuremberg was a bunch of damn idiocy.  Like I had to wait for that to find out that the Nazis were evil.  Form over substance, my friends. · 1 hour ago

    Oh, how I wish that were the case.  Court systems and attorneys with the actual goal of arriving as close to the truth as possible?!  Too good to be true, I dare say.

  18. tabula rasa

    Ryan:  Well said.  Evil exists, and we’ve seen it yet again.

  19. Israel P.

    If no one agreed to defend, no court in the US would convict. Or at least no appeals court would uphold such a conviction.

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