“Domestic” Abuse – Where’s the crime?

A friend pointed me to YouTube’s popular “Wedding Dance yesterday. It’s a joyous, uplifting video, and I urge everyone to watch it and feel the joy.

As it was ending, my friend also pointed out to me that the song to which the wedding party dances is Chris Brown’s “Forever.” Chris Brown is the music star who beat his domestic partner, Rihanna, and threatened to kill her.

This case will never reach a jury. Most domestic abuse cases never reach a jury.

In fact, most crimes of domestic abuse never make it in front of a judge.

Most abused people never call the cops or file a complaint.

When an abused partner does call the cops, the cops are very cautious, because such calls are notoriously dangerous. But, if the cops respond and if they manage to get someone to open the door of the “domus,” they usually “counsel” the couple to “kiss and make up.” If they’re drunk (as is often the case) the cops tell the couple to sleep it off.

  • Sidebar: The cops aren’t the only ones at fault. Social services compound the problems. A Chicago-area psychologist recently told me that in cases of child abuse, local child-protective services try to keep the family intact, rather than removing the abused child to foster care. The theory is that counseling will solve the problem better than anything so drastic, especially since good foster care is rare in the area. IMHO, that’s a convenient excuse: the State of Illinois simply has no idea what to do.

An abused partner can always file a restraining order against the abuser, but that only makes sense if the abused partner moves out of the domicile, and that is almost always impractical because the abused partner is also by definition dependent on the abuser in some way – financially, psychologically, perhaps even physically as in the case of a disabled person who’s abused by his or her caregiver.

  • Sidebar: A common misconception of social workers is that dependent people, such as children and the disabled, can turn to many resources for assistance. They expect school teachers to identify abused children in their classes and report the abuse to authorities. This does not happen. Teachers are afraid of lawsuits from parents. When I was teaching at an online university, a quadriplegic student confided something in me that caused me to think she was being abused by a caregiver. Because she was enrolled as a student under federal laws requiring me to extend her certain accommodations and because of my contract I could report this only to the university’s administration. After consulting with their lawyers, they concluded that I was “simply mistaken. There’s no evidence of abuse.” (That’s one reason I resigned shortly thereafter.)

In the case of Mark and Julie Jensen, I have no doubt that she was dependent on him in some way and that dependency is what kept her in the house. She may have feared she couldn’t make a living on her own. She may have feared he would be awarded the kids in a divorce settlement. She may have had serious psychological problems (and this is my believe).

Why Aren’t Cases of Domestic Abuse Treated As Crimes Against Society?

If a man beats up and rapes a woman he meets in a bar, it doesn’t matter to the law that she may have been with him voluntarily. He’s charged with assault and rape or worse. He’s put on trial before a jury. It doesn’t matter if his victim doesn’t want to testify against him. The prosecution can subpoena her and force her to testify, because it is the State v Criminal, not a lawsuit of Victim v Criminal.

The cops might be cautious about approaching the door of the hotel room from which the woman called for help, but they wouldn’t tell them to kiss and make up. (They might treat her like a prostitute, but that’s another blog post.) The man would likely be slapped into cuffs and carted off to jail.

Why don’t the cops do the same when called to the scene of domestic abuse?

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Child Court v Pet Court

TruTV is currently reprising the tragic trial of teenager Tyler Edmonds, in the same month they premiered their intellectually stunning (as in “mind-numbing”) series, Pet Court. Judging from Twitter traffic, Pet Court is a hit. But it seems to me that the trial of a child for murder in an adult court should be far more worrisome to the TV-viewing public than pit-bull antics. Something is going horribly wrong here.

Children Should Never Be Tried As Adults

As crime rates skyrocketed in the decades from the 1960s to the 1990s, states passed legislation to enable prosecutors to charge minors as adults in capital murder cases. At the time, legislators did not understand that the cause in the increase in crimes was testosterone: the percentage of teenage and young-adult males in the population was spiking. The public became increasingly concerned that minors would be able to get away with murder, because in the juvenile justice system crimes are only lightly punished with incarceration, which ends at the age of majority, usually 18. (BTW: The Edmonds trial was all about juveniles getting away with murder.)

However, now we do know what caused the murder rate to increase dramatically, just as we know the murder rate is decreasing because all those Baby Boomer Boys have become mature, less-energetic Baby Boomer men.

One long-standing and fundamental premise of criminal justice is that the defendant must be competent to participate in his own defense. A mentally incompetent person cannot be tried. Unfortunately, the standard of competence is so minimal that people with very low IQs and significant mental-health issues are tried all the time.

But it is unconscionable to think that any person under the age of about 16 has the mental capacity or the life-experience to participate in his own defense. I won’t go into the way or when the human brain matures. Look it up in any developmental psychology textbook for yourself. There’s even an age below which children are held in both law and biology to be incapable of reasoning (somewhere around 7 or 8)—the so-called “age of reason.”

Children simply are incompetent to participate in their own defense below the age of 16 in my opinion. The Supreme Court has wisely concluded that a minor should not be executed. Nonetheless, minors can still be incarcerated for life, even when they have low IQs or mental disorders.

Juvenile Courts Should Conduct Jury Trials

So, how do we resolve this impasse?

First, we need to permit minors to be tried before a jury in juvenile court. A jury is likely to be more merciful than a judge. And should a jury condemn a child for murder, the judge would still have the discretion to overturn the jury verdict, as he can in an adult’s trial (witness the judge’s verdict in Cody Posey’s trial).

The Constitution demands that every person is entitled to a jury trial, not only adult persons. Check out the wording of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, respectively: “The right of the people,” “No person,” and “the accused.”

Juvenile courts would serve justice better if juveniles were afforded all the same rights as adults when “accused” of a crime. And wise legislation—of which there is precious little these days—would fix sentences that suit the age of the perpetrator and the crime. No juvenile should ever be imprisoned with adults. Juvenile offenders should be assumed to be capable of rehabilitation, and the states should be required by federal law to provide adequate psychological counseling, education, and preparation for a trade before releasing any juvenile convict from prison. If a state is going to punish a child in loco parentis, then the state should act like a good, competent parent.

Was Julie Jensen trying to escape an abusive marriage?

TruTV’s Jamie Floyd interviewed forensic psychologist J. Buzz Von Ornsteiner today about the reasons that Julie Jensen didn’t leave her verbally abusive husband Mark. As a woman, a feminist (in the old sense, ie, pro women’s rights, but like men), and a person who has known several abused women, I have to disagree strenuously with “Dr. Buzz.”

  • Abused women do stay in abusive relationships for far too long—correct.
  • Abused women do have very low self-esteem as a result of their relationship—correct.
  • But I think Julie Jensen’s “letter from the grave” is bizarre behavior, not typical of battered and abused women.

And I do understand that the jury had no choice but to find Jensen guilty of murder, based on the evidence they were presented. Juries trust judges to present good evidence to them and to exclude irrelevant evidence. Juries believe the police try to arrest wrongdoers. But in this case, I feel the judge did not present good evidence, in particular, the “letter from the grave.” It was a clear violation of the defendant’s Constitutional rights—and if that letter and several other questionable, prejudicial bits of evidence were not brought into court, I believe the outcome of the trial would have been different. (At least one juror would have dissented.)

I’m not saying I feel certain Mark Jensen is innocent. I’m saying the prosecution presented no evidence he abused his wife in any way, including verbally.

  • He checked her mileage because he suspected her of cheating on him. I know someone whose husband took her car keys away and gave them to a neighbor so she couldn’t take their child and leave him. Watching mileage is nothing.

  • He made a note in a private day-planner (assuming it wasn’t a forged note). This isn’t verbal abuse.

  • The couple clearly hated each other and were stuck in the marriage only because both loved the kids. This isn’t abuse on either’s part. It is the screwy family court system’s fault. But a mutually angry relationship isn’t abuse.

  • If he slowly poisoned his wife to death, that is abuse. But the trial coverage I saw didn’t prove it to me. It seems equally possible that Julie Jensen slowly committed suicide. The State did not present any evidence of ethylene glycol in the house or any evidence of empty containers–no evidence that either Jensen obtained it in any form other than antifreeze, which is undrinkable.

  • The episode of pornographic photos: Julie could have been responsible for this, too. She’s the one who brought it to the cop’s attention, and then she sabotaged their investigation.

Here are the facts of “the letter” as I understand them: one day Julie Jensen confronted a neighborhood couple and stuffed a folded note in the husband’s pocket. Later he read it and discovered it was an accusation that her husband was trying to kill her.

Did these neighbors take the note to the cops? If so, why didn’t the cops contact Julie Jensen about it, especially since they had worked with her during the odd, unexplained episode when pornography was dropped around the Jensen premises. If the cops did contact her about the letter, what did she say about it? Why didn’t the neighbors bring the note to the attention of anyone, a clergyman for example? Or why not give the letter back to Julie Jensen and say you don’t want to take any responsibility in the situation. I would never shoulder such a responsibility.

Why didn’t Julie give the letter to her brother who lives in Wisconsin instead of neighbors she barely knew?

I understand, as Dr. Buzz says, that many abused women put up with it for a very long time. Many abused women end up dead, as a result.

But statistics don’t prove anyone has committed murder. Our justice system upholds a higher burden of proof for the prosecution. The commentators and the press are assuming that Mark Jensen is a wife-abusing murderer, because his wife died of poison. That isn’t logical. (Yes, I know the ME said she died of suffocation, but a person in a toxic stupor might roll over into her pillow or even try to suffocate herself as the coup de grace.)

After all, there’s more than one way for an abused woman to leave her abuser — and more than one way for an angry wife to get even with her despised husband.

Appealing Verdicts, Unappealing Spouses, and Pretrial Publicity

The language of the U. S. Constitution is clear and succinct. Before a person can be condemned, he or she is entitled to the “due process” of the law, a right that, as US Constitution.net explains, is as old as the Magna Carta.

  • Sidebar: An original, signed copy of the Magna Carta is on display at Salisbury Cathedral, which serves as a Hogwarts set in the Harry Potter movies (BTW, the most-recent of which flicks is unintelligible if you haven’t read the book).

The Fifth Amendment says, “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law . . . .” But what is “due process”? Does a person convicted in the press enjoy this “due process”?

Due Process and the Press

In the U. S., the press obscures its unfair, pretrial condemnations of suspects by hiding behind the First Amendment. For decades journalism students have been taught that all they need to do is use the words “suspect” and “allegedly” to avoid libel and slander suits.

Recently, I’ve noticed even those words vanishing from the vocabulary of TV talking heads, though. When is the last time you heard Casey Anthony referred to as a “suspect in her daughter’s death” or that she “allegedly” did anything?

British and Canadian law, however, prohibit incendiary pretrial publicity, according to Prof. Cecil Greek of Florida State University, in his article, “Shadow Justice.” I wonder if it isn’t time for a high-profile murder defendant to challenge the Constitutionality of pretrial condemnations in this country?

Unappealing Spouses

This radical idea occurred to me while watching the trial of Mark Jensen, which was replayed on TruTV last week. While I understand why the jury found Jensen guilty of the poisoning murder (ethylene glycol) of his wife, knowing as we do now that a retrial is likely I wonder whether it is possible for any future jury in Wisconsin to be objective, given the prejudicial press coverage.

  • Sidebar: I believe the evidence against Jensen boils down to three irrelevant, trivial facts: 1) the “letter from the grave,” 2) “inappropriate behavior” after his wife’s death, and 3) computer Internet activity.
  • The “letter from the grave” is the improperly admitted evidence that’s likely to cause a retrial. This is the weirdest evidence that has ever sent anyone to the slammer. His wife must have been crazy to believe he was trying to kill her, then to write a letter and stuff it hastily into a neighbor’s pocket, and still not to take the kids and leave the guy. And don’t tell me about battered wife syndrome. She was not a battered wife. She sounds just plain paranoid to me.
  • As far as inappropriate behavior, if that were a crime we’d all be in jail. And don’t forget Cynthia Sommer, who was falsely condemned for the poisoning murder of her husband because she got breast implants after he died.
  • The Jensen computer forensic evidence doesn’t convince me, either. There’s no way of proving who searched the Internet for murder tips, and the emails in question don’t seem to prove a thing, in my opinion (but I am not a lawyer, and I did not personally read the emails).
  • All that the prosecution proved to me is that Jensen hated his wife and vice versa.

While I’ll undoubtedly incur your cyber-wrath for saying so, I feel the evidence against Scott Peterson was equally flimsy. (No evidence of foul play was found in his house, car, or boat; it isn’t illegal to have an affair while your wife is pregnant—even when your choice of a bimbo is appalling; it isn’t illegal to buy a boat or go fishing with it—with or without proper equipment; it isn’t illegal to claim to be in London or Paris at midnight in California on New Year’s Eve—just stupid.) The sole incriminating evidence was that his wife’s body was ultimately found on the shore of the bay where he was fishing. Anyone could have dumped the body in the bay after all the pretrial (post-disappearance) publicity intending to incriminate him. Even I knew, way out here in the Midwest, that Scott went fishing on Christmas Eve, and I knew it within a day or two of the disappearance.

Other spouses the media dislike include the unfortunate nurse, Raynella Dossett-Leath, whom the media in TN dubbed “The Black Widow.” Like Mark Jensen, she’s accused of having tried to poison her husband and then, that failing, of having killed him. (In the Jensen case, prosecutors tried to prove that the wife was suffocated in addition to poisoned; but the medical examiner’s testimony is a bit vague.)

If you “Google” the phrase “wife accused of poisoning husband,” you’ll retrieve a long list of similar cases. In one, a nurse was accused of poisoning her husband; the defense attorney feared a jury trial because of pretrial publicity and chose a bench trial instead. Apparently it was a wise decision, because the judge acquitted the nurse.

Verdicts on Appeal

Jensen is appealing his conviction. Peterson is appealing his conviction. Dossett-Leath is awaiting retrial. If either Jensen or Peterson wins the appeal, their retrials will be circuses. And Casey Anthony doesn’t stand a chance of acquittal, either. All these defendants need a serious change of venue, but under U.S. law, a change of venue only brings in a jury from outside the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. The trial still takes place inside the state (I believe).

Change of venue is a farce in any nationally known case. Scott Peterson had a change of venue, but I believe I recall a lawyer complaining that jurors or witnesses had to drive past an accusatory billboard on the way to the courthouse.

There is at least one solution to this impasse: judges could be very careful about admitting merely prejudicial testimony into evidence.

For example, I don’t think coworkers’ descriptions of Mark Jensen at a Christmas party soon after his wife’s death should be admissible. Let’s face it, “eye-witness” accounts are highly subjective, and office party behavior isn’t a crime or proof of anything except that a partygoer may have been enjoying himself. Nor do I think Amber Frey’s testimony and audio tapes ought to have been admitted into evidence; all they proved was that Peterson wanted to hop into bed with her while his wife was missing. In the recent Dossett-Leath trial, the judge admitted evidence from a neighbor that the defendant waved at her on the day of the death when she had never before done that. What does that prove? That the neighbor never before noticed her waving or that the defendant decided at last to be friendlier?

The pr
ess is out of control. The public in cyberspace  (myself included) is free to express an opinion about any suspicious death of a spouse or child, without knowing the first thing about the case. (BTW: I do try not to prejudge defendants. That’s more than most can say.) Prosecutors in high-profile cases are forced to over-charge and then to win at any cost, because the real price of losing such a trial is losing your job.

So, unless pretrial publicity can be controlled, judges need to start being judicious.

“Spousal Privilege” and Mark Jensen – Which Spouse, Which Privilege?

Yesterday, TruTV’s Dan Abrams hosted discussions of last year’s trial of Mark Jensen, which included testimony of his then-current wife Kelly Jensen about what the couple did before their marriage, namely, cheated on his wife at the time, the decedent and his supposed victim, Julie.

One of the prosecutors phoned in an interview in which she explained why the current wife had not been entitled to claim “spousal privilege” to avoid testifying against Jensen. Specifically, the state was entitled to force her to testify about emails passed between the couple before they were married.

What is a privilege?

A privilege is a right granted to a person by a jurisdiction in order to further the common good. It is not an inherent right of citizenship. (At least, that’s how I “read” it, but I am not a lawyer.) Most privileges involve privacy rights to communications between two people. These include privileged communications between doctor and patient, lawyer and client, priest and confessor, and married people. Spousal privilege is not a “spousal right” because it isn’t absolute: there are many exceptions.

Which spouse owns the privilege?

In the spousal privilege, the primary privilege-holder is the originator of the communication, but the receiver also has some rights. Apparently, each state has very different statutes on the issue. In some states only one spouse is entitled to assert the right; in other states both.

In addition, the privilege exists only in state-recognized unions. In most states that means a traditional marriage certified by a marriage license, not common-law marriages and certainly not roommates or significant others. (Obviously, in states that do not permit same-sex marriages, such marriages are also not entitled to the spousal privilege—something to consider.)

It’s an interesting privilege, isn’t it?

The privilege does not cover crimes against the other spouse (spouse abuse) nor against their children (child abuse) nor is it applicable to civil litigation, such as divorce.

Spouses are not protected from being required to testify about events or communications that took place in public (in the presence of a third party). (I wonder if that includes whispering in your spouse’s ear at a crowded party.)

Given this limitation, I’d love to know more about the Crawford v Washington case, which led to the Supreme Court’s clarification of the Sixth Amendment right to confront one’s accusers (and which is expected to play a role in Jensen’s appeal). In the original trial, the defendant claimed he had justifiably stabbed a man to defend his wife against a rapist. He claimed spousal privilege, and so his wife did not testify at the trial. However, she had given a taped interview to authorities after the incident, and the tape was played at the trial.

The Supremes found that playing the tape without putting the wife on the stand violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights.

What I don’t understand is why spousal privilege prevented the spouse from testifying about events that took place in the presence of a third-party, the stabbing victim.

However, I do understand why Wisconsin didn’t charge Kelly Jensen as an accomplice: it would have given her the right not to testify and incriminate herself. As long as she was only a witness, she could be forced to discuss those incriminating emails. (Is this a rare, good use of computer forensics evidence against a defendant?)

All this is grist for the fiction mill, isn’t it? It also illustrates why I find criminal trials so interesting and simultaneously frustrating: Judges and prosecutors stretch and twist the letter of the law in order to throw bad guys in jail.

Jurors are only pawns in the chess game. We should rejoice every time a jury hangs. That’s when the system provably works.

  • Sidebar: For a clear explanation of spousal privilege, turn to lawyer Leslie Budewitz, who’s also a writer of English (not legalese) and a Sister in Crime. West’s Encyclopedia of American Law is a bit more technical—but also more expansive—than Ms. Budewitz’s.

Crawford v Washington

Yesterday I cited the wrong Supreme Court decision when discussing the issue of a retrial for Mark Jensen. The proper citation is Crawford v Washington (2004). Jensen was tried and found guilty in 2008.

Apparently the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Jensen’s wife’s “letter from the grave” was admissible under some obscure rule involving “wrongdoing” on the part of the defendant having caused the wife not to be available for cross-examination. What a bizarre tautology!

Say What?

  • Jensen was convicted of his wife’s murder primarily (according to jurors) because his wife’s accusation was read aloud in the trial.
  • Since Jensen was convicted of his wife’s murder, therefore she was not available for cross-examination.
  • That means Jensen’s wrongdoing caused her not to be available for cross-examination.

In other words, Jensen’s motive for killing his wife was to prevent her from testifying in his trial for her murder? (I suppose this answers the eternal question: why would a man murder his wife when he could simply divorce her?)

Crawford v Washington Case

In the Crawford case, a defendant claimed to have been defending his wife from a rapist when he stabbed the man. But an audio recording of his wife’s out-of-court remarks about the incident contradicted his defense. The Supremes held unanimously that this was a violation of his 6th Amendment right to confront witnesses/evidence against him.

Note that in this situation, the wife was alive, but she refused to testify because of spousal privilege. I suppose the Wisconsin Supreme Court would say that even if the defendant had married his wife to prevent her from being required to testify against him, a marriage is not wrongdoing. Or would they? Would they claim that the only reason they were married or that they remained married was to provide a legal loophole for the defendant?

The Black Widow

I certainly hope Raynella Dossett-Leath’s attorney will argue effectively before her retrial that her husband’s paranoid accusation of his wife cannot be read in court, because of Crawford v Washington.

Really Cold Case – Murder of King Tut

Marcia Trimble’s murder wasn’t solved for three decades. But that isn’t the coldest of cold cases to be solved recently. The coldest case must surely be the three-millennia-old King Tut case.

The Facts, Just the Facts, Ma’am

Toward the end of the ancient-Egyptian 18th Dynasty, a heretical pharaoh named Akhenaten (1350-1334 B.C.) inherited the throne. He “demoted” the traditional gods, acknowledged that pharaohs are mere mortals, and established monotheism under a single god—the Sun God, Aten.

Akhenaten was a pacifist who neglected the military, thereby stepping on the sandaled toes of a general named Horemheb (famous for his victories against Egypt’s neighboring empires, such as the Anatolian Hittites). (Dissing Horemheb eventually proved to be a serious mistake. )

Most importantly, Akhenaten moved the seat of Egyptian government from Thebes to Karnak (now el Amarna) in order to diminish the power of the traditional Theban priests.

Berlin Nefertiti-1 Akhenaten is probably most famous for his beautiful “great queen” (that is, his royal wife), Nefertiti. Tomb paintings depict the couple with several daughters, although at most only one survived childhood. Nefertiti may also have had a son named Smenkare, who briefly served as Akhenaten’s co-regent (as a sign he was next in line for the throne), but Smenkare seems to have died after a year or two “in office.” Akhenaten fathered at least two other children, perhaps by minor wives: a girl named Ankhesenamen and a boy named Tutankhamen—the legendary King Tut.

When his father died Tut ascended to the throne though still a child. Since ancient Egyptian custom required a pharaoh to marry one “great queen” of royal blood (as Akhenaten had married Nefertiti), Tut married his half-sister Ankhesenamen—the only surviving royal female in Egypt. She was about 9 and he about 8.

Tut’s reign, therefore, began under the regency of his father’s grand vizier, Aye (age 60 or so). Aye was the power behind the throne and was responsible for moving the government back to Thebes, to universal jubilation (the strange pharaoh, Akhenaten was not well-liked). Thus ended the brief “Amarna Period.”

Teenaged King Tut seems to have been popular—judging from monuments and stele inscriptions. Most Egyptians were overjoyed to return to worship of the traditional gods. And Tut was a handsome, athletic youth. Unfortunately he died when he was only about 18—leaving no heirs to the throne.

Then (as now) the sudden death of a famous, powerful person led to turmoil. Someone was bound to suggest foul play.

That someone was Tut’s widow (Ankhesenamen). We know this, because she wrote a “letter” to the last person in the world one would expect an Egyptian queen to turn to: the enemy Hittite king.  (The letter has survived the millennia because it was recorded on a clay tablet.) Since she was childless (she had two miscarriages), she wrote, she feared she would be forced to marry “a commoner” (the vizier, Aye). She begged the Hittite king to send his son to Egypt to marry her in order to prevent this. Shocked, the Hittite king sent an ambassador to Thebes. But his son, the prince, was ambushed en route by Egyptian troops and assassinated.

After that, young Ankhesenamen’s name “vanishes from history,” according to Prof. Robert Brier (below).  Aye became pharaoh, and, when he died only a few years later, Gen. Horemheb (also a commoner) became pharaoh. (In other words, Akhenaten’s political foes took over.)

Prof. Brier’s Murder Theory

Prof. Robert Brier of Long Island University is the world’s leading mummy expert — the archeologist who first mummified a modern medical cadaver in the manner of the ancient Egyptians. He’s also the author of The Murder of Tutankhamen (1998), in which he argues that King Tut died from a blow to the back of the skull. He further identifies King Tut’s vizier, Aye, as the most likely murderer, partly because Aye improperly ascended to the throne following Tut’s death, and partly because Aye did, indeed, marry Ankhesenamen after he murdered the Hittite prince.

(For more information on the 18th dynasty, see Prof. Brier’s Teaching Company course, The History of Ancient Egypt.)

Mummy Autopsies

The cause of Tutankhamen’s death has fascinated archeologists since his tomb was discovered in 1922. Several pathologists have autopsied his mummy.

  • As Prof. Brier notes, the first autopsy was in 1925, very soon after his tomb was discovered. (Unfortunately, the archeologists also had to saw the mummy in half to take X-rays.)
  • The second autopsy, in the 1960s, focused on the development of the rib cage and molars in order to determine King Tut’s age at the time of death. But pathologist R. G. Harrison also found what he thought was a blood clot in the back of Tut’s skull. This finding is what planted the idea of murder in Prof. Brier’s mine.

More recently, a number of studies have been done on Tut’s mummy using CT scans and DNA testing. In particular, pathologist Dr. Frank Ruhli of the Institute of Anatomy at University Hospital Zurich recently conducted an autopsy on the mummy. Along with several other scientists, Ruhli has proved that Tut died of natural causes, possibly infection following a broken bone – not from a suspicious blow to the head.

Until the DNA tests, some historians questioned whether Tut was Akhenaten’s natural son. Because of the elder pharaoh’s unusual depiction in tomb paintings and sculpture, Akhenaten is believed by some researchers to have had Marfan’s syndrome, a condition they thought might have affected his reproductive organs. However, DNA has been extracted from several royal mummies proving Akhenaten’s paternity of Tutankhamen.

  • Sidebar: If archeologists can extract usable DNA from a 3,000-year-old mummy, it seems odd that DNA found at crime scenes today could ever be so degraded by environmental factors that it becomes worthless as evidence. (I’ll have to “investigate” the issue.)

Of course, these studies don’t completely exonerate Aye of murder and usurpation of power. He provably forced Ankhesenamen to marry him. He certainly did usurp the throne from her (if she had become pharaoh, she would not have been the first female pharaoh). He ordered the assassination of the Hittite prince. And we still don’t know what happened to his young “great queen.” She was not buried with her husband, as was the custom. Her body has never been found
. Instead, Aye’s first wife (a commoner) was buried with Aye.

Even  Gen. Horemheb’s history is suspicious. For example, he ordered all references to Ankhanaten, Smenkare, Tut, and Aye erased from all monuments and papyri. Then he married a woman with the same name as Nefertiti’s sister (was she actually the royal princess, or was it some other woman with the same name?).

Forensic Science Partially Exonerates a Vizier

King Tut probably died of natural causes—perhaps as the result of a broken leg during a hunting accident. The powerful vizier, Aye, took advantage of the situation to seize power. He conspired with Horemheb to thwart the legitimate queen’s desire to marry the Hittite prince. He married Ankhesenamen against her will, and then she “vanishes from history” (as Prof. Brier says).

If I were a grand juror, I might indict Aye for some of these acts, but, of course, if I were a petit juror I would have to say the case against Aye has not been proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I fear that Prof. Brier—as prosecutor—overcharged the defendant.

Of course, if I were a juror I would also have to speculate about the quality of medical care Tut received for his injuries—was the doctor in the house when he died? Aye’s personal physician, perhaps?—and I would have to speculate about the young widow-queen’s strange disappearance.

In fact, it sounds like a good plot for a murder mystery . . . .

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Accusations from the Grave: WI trial of Mark Jensen

TruTV is reprising the trial of Mark Jensen for murdering his wife, found guilty in 2008 in large part because of a letter she wrote before she died, claiming that if she died suddenly it was because he murdered her. However, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision (Melendez-Diaz v. MA, I believe) may give Jensen a new trial. At issue is the right of a defendant to confront witnesses against him. “Letters from the grave” aren’t subject to such confrontation.

Two trials that haunt me involved just such accusations, that is, accusations of witnesses who did not testify in court and, therefore, could not be cross-examined: the trial in which I served as a juror and the trial of Raynella Dossett-Leath.

In the trial in which I was a juror the lead investigator (a.k.a.) the chief accuser of the defendant did not testify. The public defender accepted a stipulation from the prosecution about what the detective would have testified if he had been there. But, because he did not appear in court, we, the jury, never heard anything about how the confession was extracted. An assistant state’s attorney read the English-language confession aloud from the witness stand. She said she had been in the jail at 2:00 a.m. when the defendant confessed in Spanish, and she translated it into English for him.

  • As I read what I’ve just written, I’m shocked that I accepted this hogwash without question. I can only attribute my stupidity to the fact that at the time I still trusted the judge and assumed this was standard operating procedure.

In the Dossett-Leath case, like the Jensen case, testimony came into the trial without objection that the victim had told a doctor he was afraid that his wife was trying to kill him. And it came into evidence during the prosecution’s cross-examination of the witness, a neurologist who was a key witness for the defense. The doctor was explaining what he had written in his notes about the victim’s paranoid delusions during an episode of dementia two or three years before his death. I found this incident shocking. It seemed as if both the defense attorney and the doctor were completely taken aback when the prosecutor found this reference in his medical records.

Surely, the hearsay testimony of a neurologist about what a mentally disturbed and hospitalized patient now dead said should not be admitted into testimony—whether or not the Supremes would say this accusation from the grave is admissible because the accuser was not available to testify.

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“On the Other Side of Pain”

“Now, after 34 years, I’m on the other side of pain.”

Marcia Trimble’s mother was asked whether the verdict in the Barrett trial brought her closure. She wisely responded that she’d have to look “closure” up in Webster’s. The families of other murder victims should listen to this wise, wise woman’s words.

Justice does not bring closure. Justice is not revenge. The other side of pain is reached by way of acceptance.

Just let it go.

The Victims’ Rights movement is understandable, but it isn’t the solution to victims’ problems. A conviction can’t bring back the dead. And the possibility that the wrong person might be convicted makes the desire for the death penalty something I cannot understand.

Verdict in Jerome Sydney Barrett Trial

By now, I’m sure everyone knows that on Saturday the jury convicted Jerome Sydney Barrett of two counts of second-degree murder and sentenced him to 44 years in prison on both counts. WSMV Nashville reports that formal sentencing will occur in about a month, when I imagine we will hear whether the judge will make these consecutive or concurrent sentences. However, since the killer of nine-year-old Marcia Trimble is in his sixties, no one needs to worry about him ever getting out of prison.

Once again, the jury system has worked. I feel the conviction on second-degree, rather than first-degree, murder, shows how seriously most jurors take their responsibilities. How easy it would have been for them to “throw the book” at this monster. Instead, they used their reason and understood that there was no evidence of intent to kill. There was only evidence of intent to rape.

This trial raised several important issues, which I intend to explore in this forum, as soon as I have time. First is the issue of capital punishment: when Barrett committed this crime in 1975 the Supreme Court was pondering the constitutionality of capital punishment, and as a result he was not eligible for the death penalty in this trial. The second issue is DNA and how it’s used against defendants in front of juries and in favor of convicts in front of judges (to exonerate them): often it seems that trial judges don’t understand DNA evidence. I wonder why it is that appellate judges are able to understand when DNA ought be used to exonerate.

  • Sidebar: An important DNA issue in the Barrett trial was a 1975 finding of semen in the victim’s vagina, which has since been proven not to be Barrett’s. In the trial, this was explained by saying the sample was contaminated in the lab. However, if you study the WSMV “timeline” of the crime, you discover that there was, in fact, substantial evidence that Barrett had an accomplice in several of the crimes he committed.

As you now know, not only did Barrett kill Marcia Trimble, he also killed a college student named Sarah Des Prez. But I have yet to hear anyone on TruTV point out (as WSMV Nashville has) that he confessed to the man they call “the jailhouse snitch” to killing a total of four people.

Barrett destroyed many lives—not only the lives of those he killed, but also (I imagine) the lives of those he raped—and the lives of the innocent men who lived almost 35 years under a cloud of suspicion for the crimes he committed.