Juvenile Injustice—The Jury Convicts

Today a Pennsylvania jury found former juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella guilty of 12 counts of corruption. If you haven’t been following this “Kids for Cash” horror story, the facts briefly are that Ciavarella took millions in kickbacks from a for-profit juvenile detention center to convict and imprison thousands of children at taxpayer expense, most for extraordinarily minor infractions. (For details, see the Juvenile Law Center’s “Luzerne County ‘Kids for Cash’ Juvenile Court Scandal” page.)

Along with Ciavarella, the owner and the developer of the for-profit detention center pled guilty to corruption charges. But it seems to me that a lot of unindicted co-conspirators are running around free out there. The falsely convicted children didn’t turn themselves in. A cop arrested them, or in some cases a parent, school official, or other adult complained about them. The children’s offenses were so trivial in some cases that I have to question whether these complainants didn’t also receive kickbacks.

For example, apparently in one case a child who was playing with a cigarette lighter started a fire in her bedroom. She did hard time. Who filed the complaint? A fireman, a fire chief, a parent or guardian? In another case, while seated at a restaurant table a child threw a piece of steak at his mother’s boyfriend. He did hard time. Who filed the complaint? The restaurant? The boyfriend? The mother?

The case illustrates much of what is wrong with America’s juvenile justice system:

  • Judges have unlimited discretion to convict and sentence juveniles.
  • There are no juries in juvenile court.
  • There are no prosecutors or grand juries in the juvenile justice system; the police alone have the right to detain and charge children.
  • There is no appeals court in the juvenile justice system.

The only issue the Ciavarella horror doesn’t illustrate is that prosecutors can choose to prosecute a juvenile as an adult, no matter how young the child is.

Ciavarella is also a poster-child for my belief that the current system of electing judges doesn’t work. Few communities are small enough for the voters to know the names that appear on judicial election ballots.


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Jury Duty Horror—Serving on the Dr. Kermit Gosnell Jury

The case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell provides a ghastly example of what’s wrong with the death penalty: any charge of capital murder demands a jury trial rather than a bench trial. When the charges are irrefutable as they are in Gosnell’s case, there is no real need for a jury of peers to confirm the obvious. Nonetheless, twelve Pennsylvanians will eventually be compelled to sit in the jury box and listen to weeks of unspeakably horrible testimony.

What sane person would want to serve on such a jury?

I haven’t written in this blog for several weeks, because I was finishing a novel in which one theme is the value of a baby. SNOW GHOST is set in 1929, the year of the St. Valentine Day Massacre and Black Tuesday on the NY Stock Exchange. The crime around which the plot revolves is what was then called “baby farming.

Baby farming was actually an umbrella for a number of crimes: illegal abortions, selling unwanted babies, kidnapping, infanticide, child abuse, and many forms of exploitation of young women.

One infamous case of baby farming was Helen Geisen-Volk (1925). A nurse in New York City, she was ultimately accused of assisting in illegal abortions, taking in unwanted infants and selling them, and grossly neglecting, abusing, and killing infants in her care. (For more details, see Zelizer’s Pricing the Priceless Child and www.thepkpapers.com ) She was prosecuted successfully after taking in an infant while his mother was hospitalized, then trying to substitute another infant when the child died in her care.

Ninety years later, we learn that baby farms were not the worst horror the human mind can contrive. Gosnell’s clinic was the opposite of a baby farm; it was a baby slaughterhouse.

Noto Bene: I support a woman’s right to an abortion, because I believe in every human being’s right to complete privacy of their person and control of their body. But I don’t support a woman’s right to murder or abuse her children or to terminate the life of a viable fetus she is carrying, because I don’t believe there is any situation in which her life would be in danger if she committed herself to the care of a competent physician. (I am interested in information that would refute this belief.)

How did we arrive at this 180?

Yesterday InSession’s Vinnie Politan interviewed a Philadelphia DA about the Gosnell case. The DA claimed that Gosnell had separate facilities for poor women and well-off white women, neither of which was sanitary. Doesn’t this puzzle you? Why would any woman, poor or not, submit to an abortion in an unsanitary clinic when so many well-run abortion clinics are available?

Perhaps the answer is that they waited too long to obtain a legal abortion. The DA implied in his interview that Gosnell was willing to perform illegal late-term abortions—not partial-birth abortions, but live deliveries of seven-month babies, which he then murdered in a way too horrible for me to repeat here.

But this puzzles me, too. What would cause a woman who had carried a fetus for up to 30 weeks to decide she didn’t want to give birth?

I have some ideas. Some of them I have explored in SNOW GHOST (which is now in the hands of an agent). I think I’ll write about them in future posts.


In the meantime, I think it’s worth comparing the Gosnell crime and the strange case of Nejdra Nance, a young woman who was kidnapped from a hospital in 1987 and raised by a woman, who abused her.

The woman who raised her is named Ann Pettway. Pettway either kidnapped the infant or obtained the infant from the kidnapper—and then abused Nance so that she never believed she was Pettway’s child. All her life she investigated missing children’s lists in search for her own identity.

Both Geisen-Volk and Pettway: such a strange compulsion—the desire for a child to abuse, but not to bear or care for.

Ohio v Kovarbasich—The Case for Live Cameras in the Courtroom

In a live broadcast yesterday, CNN’s In Session covered the sentencing of pedophile victim, Daniel Kovarbasich. This broadcast was a rare and welcome departure from the usual edited videos of such sensational trials. Because I happened to hear the last few minutes of the broadcast before TruTV’s usual programming kicked in, I was able to hear some important, shocking remarks from the judge, which it appears In Session has decided not to discuss in today’s analysis of the probation sentence.

I’m not surprised at this “tactful” omission by In Session’s anchors and reporters. The program has to rely on judges in most cases for permission to record trials. If they dare to criticize judges, they risk losing access to the courts. In fact, they do not dare criticize attorneys for either side in a trial, or they risk losing access to them, too.

Unfortunately, this “objective,” respectful treatment of both judges and other “officers of the court” prevents the citizenry from learning about the errors and abuses they are apt to commit.

In the early days of our nation, public trials were entirely in the open. Jurisdictions were still very small; citizens were aware when trials were underway and had direct access to the courtroom, where they could observe the entire proceedings.

Now, jurisdictions are often vast. Few citizens other than those directly involved in a trial (victims, families, friends, jurors) are aware of current cases; few citizens have access to the courtroom, unless trials are televised. 

When In Session switched formats from live trials to edited trials, we the people lost real access to the trials they cover.

Judge Burge

CNN’s Beth Karas characterized Judge James Burdge as scholarly in his approach to the law. Specifically, she pointed to the way the judge read the law to the courtroom to justify his sentence of five years’ parole. (Frankly, I think she was extremely clever to focus on this trait, instead of his outrageous remarks about the involuntary nature of pedophilia.)

While I agree with the judge’s sentence and with his feeling that Daniel Kovarbasich was “a victim,” I stand by the way my jaw dropped (involuntarily) when he said from the bench yesterday, that pedophilia is a “sexual preference,” which an adult “victim” is “stuck with” from birth, and we all ought to have empathy for this affliction.

What shocked me was less the stupidity of this remark than the way it showed the judge has no idea what the phrase “the rule of law, not of men” means. If the crime of sexual abuse by a pedophile is understandable and even constitutes a form of victimhood, then every crime is understandable and a form of victimhood. I guess he thinks we should feel sorry for every criminal.

  • Sidebar: Judge Burge also said that more heterosexuals abuse children than homosexuals. Really? Has someone done a study of this? Or is this merely “in his experience,” (since he made a point of saying that he is heterosexual and feels sorry for homosexuals, who also have no choice in their sexual preferences). Is he speaking in terms of percentages, or raw numbers? If the latter, then I suppose he must be correct, since there are more heterosexuals than homosexuals. Of course, I’m not sure what he thinks of the case of Melissa Huckaby, the Sunday school teacher who raped and murdered little Sandra Cantu, or Johnny Gosch, whose family believes he was kidnapped by a pedophile sex ring.

Yes, pedophilia is a mental condition, which is involuntary—as involuntary as sanity, maturity, immaturity, schizophrenia, paranoia, sociopathy, psychopathy, and “lack of anger-management skills.”

Judge Burge ought not to have tried to mitigate the culpability of Daniel Kovarbasich’s victimizer in this way. It is inexcusable. It tells me that Burge may know the letter of the law, but he went to a pretty poor law school if he didn’t learn the function of law in society.

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Judge James “Jaw-Dropping” Burge of Ohio

According to Judge James Burge, circuit judge in Ohio, pedophilia is a “sexual preference” that an adult “victim” is “stuck with” from birth, and we all ought to have empathy for this affliction. That’s right. A disgusting, sick abuser of young boys is to be pitied, according to the judge in the Ohio v. Kovarbasich trial. Why should we pity these evil creatures? Because, if they indulge in their sexual preference, they can be arrested. If they even look at pictures of other people indulging in their sexual preference, they can be arrested.

I kid you not.

CNN’s In Session broadcast the first part of the sentencing hearing for young Kovarbasich today. I do not know what the outcome of the hearing was. But nothing I heard changes my opinion that the people Elyria, Ohio, must vote this man off the bench.

Nuff said.

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Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac—From pedophiles all the way to the top of society

CNN’s In Session is covering Ohio v. Daniel Kovarbasich. The 16-year-old was tried for first-degree murder as an adult. His defense was that the victim of the crime was a pedophile who had abused him for many, many years.

When will the justice system realize that there is no justice in trying even the most perverse juvenile as an adult, when all that is needed is either to incarcerate the juvenile in a juvenile detention center until he reaches 18 and then try him as an adult (which he is); or to recognize that juvenile murderers are mentally ill, incapable of making decisions of any kind, and instead of trying them, treating them in a mental-health facility?

In the Kovarbasich case, apparently the murder victim had exercised total control over the juveniles’ sexuality for years.

What’s wrong with this picture? Let me count the ways—again.

Prosecutors are elected officials who all-too-often, like pedophiles, do cruel things in order to retain their power. Prosecutors often over-charge crimes in order to make headlines, which they believe will reelect them for another term or will jump start their campaigns for higher office.

Prosecutors are given the power of life and death over juvenile offenders to charge them as adults or (if state law requires juveniles to be tried as adults for violent crimes) charging the juvenile offender with crimes that necessarily place them in adult-categories.

Judges are appointed and elected officials who all-too-often, like pedophiles, make cruel decisions in order to retain their power. If a judge believes the electorate will turn on him in a coming election if he “lets a killer off too easily,” he will err on the side of caution—not caution about punishing an essentially innocent person but caution in the name of “law and order.” Once appointed to a circuit court position, they need only be “retained” by the voters. Most voters either vote a straight party ticket, when it includes a long list of candidates such as judges, or they skip the judicial ballot all together. As a consequence, judges are often very old. One wonders if they fully comprehend what they’re hearing in the courtroom.

The judicial system is not the only power-mad branch of government, either. The executive branch is primarily appointed by elected officials who want nothing but to be reelected to office for life. Every mayor, governor, and president appoints an army of bureaucrats (most of whom are not even subjected to hearings or scrutiny of any kind). This is true at every level: city, county, state, and federal.

The legislative branch is primarily the hired staff of elected officials who want nothing but to be reelected to office for life. For example, all legislation in Congress is written entirely by the paid staffers of the Senators and Congressmen. The Senators and Congressmen rarely even read what their staffers write. This is true at both state and federal levels.

Who’s fault is this mess? Ours.

We need to stop the idiocy of electing prosecutors. Yes, I realize that means that corrupt, venial, elected officials will hire them instead, but at least these hired guns can be fired if public scrutiny demands it. And the thing a corrupt, venial, elected official fears the most is being blamed for something that someone he hired did.

We need to hold elections for judges at different times from the general election so voters can properly vet the candidates for judgeships and scrutinize the long list of names on the ballot. Judges should be required to have graduate degrees in judging, judgment, and all things judicial. We also badly need judicial term limits.

In fact, we need terms limits for every elected office in this country, from the city council to the President of the United States (and be very, very worried if any President suggests, as Bill Clinton did, that he would like to repeal the 22nd Amendment).

This is not a new situation. There is truly nothing new under the sun. Once in power, I’m convinced, a chemical is released in the brain of politicians, a chemical stronger than dopamine or serotonin, less resistible than an aphrodisiac. They can’t help themselves. They want more and more and more—power.

Know the candidates and vote against incumbents whenever you spot a decent alternative.

Elyria, Ohio, do something about your problem! Vote prosecutor Mike Kinlin or his boss out of office. Vote not to retain Judge James Burge. Every time you hear about the victim of a pedophile turning to crime and you do nothing, you hammer another nail into the coffin of pedophile victims everywhere.

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“Does anyone in Florida understand what justice is?—Florida v Kananen

CNN’s In Session is reprising a first-degree murder case in which the adult daughter of abusive parents abetted her adult brother’s murder of their mother. The salacious “episode” is titled “Mummified Mother Found Buried Under Rock Garden,” and the CNN commentators describe the “show” as a “Front Row Seat to Justice.” But a murder trial isn’t something a sane person wants a “front-row” seat to (since the front row includes the defendant’s chair), and in this case there is no justice involved.

Florida v Stacey Kananen could be a poster child for the ill-conceived Senate Bill 714 about which I wrote recently. S.714 allegedly seeks to publicize the following serious problems in the American justice system:

  • the absurdity of the United States having the largest prison population in the world, of which the largest part are incarcerated on minor charges such as drug possession
  • the role of DNA evidence in false convictions
  • the fact that prison sentences are becoming more and more lengthy
  • and the severity of punishments varies greatly from state to state

Stacey Kananen’s conviction adds one more relatively harmless person to the prison population; she was overcharged with first-degree murder for being an accessory to murder, thus causing her sentence to be out of all proportion to her crime; the only evidence against her was her brother’s confession and accusation, which was produced rather late in his own prosecution (why anyone would believe a confessed murderer about the complicity of anyone else, on his testimony alone, is beyond my understanding).

The law also needs to understand the role of childhood abuse in producing psychopaths and sociopaths. Society as a whole would be a much safer place if families could be rescued from the psychopaths and sociopaths who too often enslave and torture them. In the Kananen case the only serious psychopath or sociopath may have been the father, although it does seem as if the son is seriously damaged goods.

Sidebar: Nowhere in S.714 is there any mention of the absurd legal definition of insanity, which puts schizophrenics in prison because they claim that a voice told them to kill the evil ones (thus proving they know right from wrong. How else could they identify the evil ones?).

No, I don’t know how to rescue such families without permitting the government to intrude in every family’s privacy. The “human services” in government as often overlook abuse as they intervene to good effect. I’ve been told that fads in social work often return abuse victims to their abusers’ care with little more than a promise “to be good.”

Florida’s laws, in particular, strike me as bizarre. In Florida (until the Supremes “corrected” the state) laws put a minor in jail for life essentially for a parole violation. In Florida a mother who neglected and then apparently abused her child until she died (Casey Anthony) can be put on trial for capital murder, while a woman in Illinois who cut the baby out of another woman’s womb (and murdered her) because it was her boyfriend’s child is simply sent to prison. In Florida, witnesses in trials involving family members are subjected to public scrutiny and ridicule on CNN, with their tearful words hyphenated by commercials about a TV series on jerks jumping off roofs into basketball hoops.

Overzealous Prosecutors

Most states seem to have a plethora of overzealous prosecutors who grandstand in the courtroom in order to be reelected. I can’t explain Stacey Kenanen’s prosecution for first-degree murder as anything but that. (This, it seems to me, a non-lawyer, is the best argument against allowing cameras inside courts.)

Stacey Kananen’s brother admits to having suffocated his mother and then burying her body in his sister’s backyard. He claims she first tasered their mother (to subdue her, I guess, even though he weighed 400 pounds at the time), but he also admits to having been jealous and resentful of Stacey’s better treatment by their psychopathic, alcoholic father.

CNN’s Choices

Freaks and geeks have always been crowd-pleasers—in the Middle Ages it was bear-bating; in the 19th century it was the tattooed lady (before you get another tattoo take a look at some old photos of these women) and geeks who bit the heads off live chickens. Now that we’ve supposedly evolved into a more humane society, I would expect better.

It’s difficult to find anything that isn’t freakish in the entertainment media. Animated Avatars with blue skin and long necks (remember Cecil?) fall prey to the evil human creatures (in other words, us). Paris Hilton gets drunk and goes to jail. TruTV brings you Dumbest and In Session, which ignores all the really vital legal issues in this country in favor of bringing you the tragedies that occur in ordinary people’s bedrooms and backyards (and which ought to stay there. That’s what they mean when they say “Let sleeping dogs lie”).


Mysterious chess crime and court hearings you won’t hear about on TV

I don’t know how many people search the web for chess news. Most people think chess is boring. But I’m foolishly contemplating a plot for a chess mystery—knowing as I do that the audience will probably be miniscule.

Today I came across two chess news items that should interest everyone who reads this blog (assuming you read it because you’re interested in mysteries, crimes, and elusive justice).

One, a New York Times article, “Russian Knights Joust to Control Chess World” (which I will cover in detail later), reported that the Kremlin has invaded and taken over the Russian Chess Federation headquarters in Moscow.

The other chess news involves a former Bend, OR, Regional Manager of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and second-best chess player in the Central Oregon Chess Club, a man now known only as John Doe.

Sidebar: The two stories linked to above and below are from TV stations. They seem to be raw notes of reporters, and you need to read them carefully to figure out what really has happened. What follows is my interpretation of these stories. I have no independent knowledge of the facts.

Who Is Rated Chess Player John Doe?

Last week, apparently, the State Department’s passport investigative branch arrested a man, who had been going by the name Jason Robert Evers, for lying on a passport application. Further research led (through “Operation Death Match”) to the discovery that the identity actually belonged to a 3-year-old Ohio child murdered in 1982.

John Doe refuses to identify himself for his own “safety,” according to his attorney. As a consequence of his failure to cooperate with the court, Doe has also been charged with a cascade of crimes from identity theft to driving without a valid license. There is absolutely no link between him and the murdered child, since he has been observed to be between 32 and 40 years old (he won’t give his age), so he would have been between 4 and 12 when the murder occurred.

What most intrigues me about this case is provided in a comment to the KOHD article, dated yesterday (May 26, 2010). The anonymous commenter says: “I think he is Johnny Gosch.” (WARNING: This link leads to the Johnny Gosch Foundation. It displays some incredibly shocking and disturbing photos, so please do not visit the site unless you are prepared for what’s coming. I recommend instead that you look at America’s Most Wanted story on Johnny Gosch. But I’m linking to the Johnny Gosch Foundation, because it seems to be the work of his family.)

Johnny Gosch was a 12-year-old following his newspaper route one Sunday in 1982 (as in the Evers case), who was abducted by a pedophile ring. His family was sent graphic, terrifying photos of him bound, gagged, and abused. There can be no question that he was the victim of vicious pedophiles.

John Doe apparently adopted the name Jason Evers in 1996. In 1997 Noreen Gosch, Johnny’s mother, received a visit from a young man claiming to be her son and whom she believes was her son. At that time he said that he was engaged in criminal activity and could not safely reveal himself.

John Doe has been in the Northwest since about 2002, leading an exemplary life. In fact, he was such a harsh regulator of liquor licenses that retailers complained about him, and he had to be reassigned from Bend to Portland and then Ontario, OR, a few years ago. He is well-respected by the chess community, is engaged, and has many friends and supporters (according to KTVZ).

It’s a disturbing story, no matter who John Doe, chess player, turns out to be. Once again it reminds us of the harsh reality of child pornography and sex trafficking. In every story about these commercial gangs who exploit children, there are always references to politically well-placed players, for example, the Marc Dutroux Belgian pedophile scandal.

Let’s face it: this crime is obviously widespread but even a dedicated task force of the FBI has been unable to bring these rings to justice. They caught Al Capone eventually by getting him for tax fraud. There’s bound to be a ton of money involved in these crimes, too. As Deep Throat said, “Follow the money.”

Every time I read about another such horror story, I have to recall the conspiracy theorists who commented on this blog with allegations of a pedophile ring’s involvement in Columbine and the persistent rumors of pedophile involvement in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.

Can we really dismiss all of these theories as loony?

Cinderella, Wicked Stepmothers, and Demonized Caregivers—Michigan v Springer and Springer

Thankfully there’s no license required to have children, or the government would probably prohibit intelligent people from becoming parents. Unfortunately, this also means that very stupid people can have children and almost always do. I’m afraid I think that’s what happened in the case of Calista Springer.

CNN’s In Session trial this week is Michigan v Springer & Springer, a tragic case in which a special-needs child (Calista Springer) died in a house fire while under physical restraints, which prevented her from escaping with the rest of her family. Earlier this year, a jury found the Springers guilty, a verdict that represents (in my non-legal opinion) our society’s misunderstanding of the impossibility of providing adequate care in a home setting for many incapacitated people.

Special Needs Children and Home Schooling in Michigan

The Michigan Department of Education provides services to children with special educational needs within the context of the public schools. But the state also gives almost complete latitude to parents to choose to use the services in the public schools or to choose homeschooling. In the Springer case, the child was supposedly being homeschooled.

I happen to approve of homeschooling in many cases, even though I’m a product of public schools and spent most of my life in academe (as the child of an educator, a student, a teacher). However, the Springers don’t appear to have been qualified to properly care for their special-needs child, let alone educate her.

Sidebar: Much was made of the fact that the child was being homeschooled.  I suspect that most school systems resent all homeschooling families and would like to find an excuse to take them all to court as child abusers. Instead, it seems to me, school systems ought to embrace homeschooling (as highly cost-effective with taxpayer dollars) and provide extensive support services to homeschooling families to prevent future such tragedies.

The idea that the State of Michigan could find no way to deal with this family’s problems other than to wait for a tragedy to happen and then to prosecute the Springers for child abuse and murder is disturbing. Once again, it seems to me, a jury has been thrust in between the voters (who pay the salaries of the prosecutors and the Department of Education) and the failed local government.

What better emblem of the way governments dump their worst problems in the laps of jurors is there than this? The blazing house in which Calista died is across the street from the courthouse.

Evil Caregivers

In every murder trial involving a defendant or a victim with disabilities, the issue of care-giving always arises.

The parents of serial killers, for instance, are always tried in public opinion. When such a loving parent takes the stand to explain the defendant’s mental problems and ask for mercy, she’s often vilified in the media. The In Session commentators always find such witnesses’ attitude toward the defendant inexplicable.

With their eyes on reelection, lawmakers rush to the cameras to push for another special, new law, like “Calista’s Law,” in this case against restraint of children, even ones who are a danger to themselves and others. This seems to be the typical legislative response to deaths of children and other vulnerable people in their families’ care: to criminalize caregivers and to penalize families for situations beyond their control.

Sidebar: It sounds to me as if the Springers weren’t qualified to care for Calista. They did mistreat her, apparently, although I’m not sure it was intentional. In the televised trial, a fire marshal claimed that if the bedroom door had been shut when the fire occurred, the child might have survived. (But how many parents know it’s safer in a house fire to have all bedroom doors closed? Surely leaving a door open isn’t child abuse.) Much is also being made of the way they provided her with no blankets even when she was chained to her bed. And, it appears as if they might not have given her access to a toilet at night. However, it doesn’t really seem that the restraints were unjustified. She shared a bedroom with other children who needed to be protected from her. If they had locked the bedroom door to keep her from wandering off at night, they would have endangered all the children in the room. What were their options?

In other cases, legislatures and the courts have made it impossible for adult children to take custody of their elderly parents; for families to commit adults to mental institutions although they’re dangerous or incompetent and then have also required hospitals to release such people once medication has controlled their behavior; have made it impossible to force mentally troubled people to take medication, even when it’s intended to prevent suicidal or homicidal behavior; have forced school systems to accommodate special-needs children in the general student population, even when their behavioral problems present risks to other students.

Consider the case of the Ohio highway shooter, Charles A. McCoy, Jr.  He was paranoid schizophrenic in  his family’s care  (on medication after having been repeatedly hospitalized) when he murdered 24 people at random by shooting them through their car windows. Had they permitted his family to have him committed to a state mental hospital rather than requiring them to take care of him, he would likely not have become a serial killer.

Remember when Britney Spears was self-destructing? Even her parents had to jump through legal hoops to help her.

Families at Risk

More and more families are faced with the need to care for mentally challenged people—with little social support for their efforts. A child like Calista Springer is called a “Cinderella in the care of a wicked stepmother,” because other children in the household survived the fire. Her parents are murderers as far as the State of Michigan is concerned.

I suspect, though, from simply observing the defendants in the trial, that the parents are themselves mentally challenged. I doubt we’ll see them take the stand, because their attorneys will advise them not to, so we’ll probably never know whether their behavior was intentionally abusive or just colossally stupid. (Frankly, I think stupidity is the root of most evil.)

The Springers aren’t the only caregivers the law and the media misunderstand. Adult children who seek guardianship of elderly, incompetent parents are assumed by the law to be greedy and exploitative, eager to take their inheritance before their parent dies. Custody battles between divorced parents often end in a child’s forced visitation with a physically abusive parent (fathers almost always have access to their children even when they abused the mother in the children’s presence). The list of untenable court and government-imposed custodial-care situations is endless.

Longevity due to improved health-care and healthier lifestyles increases the percen
tage of elderly with severe mental disabilities (longevity also leads inevitably to elderly with physical disabilities, too). Increased live-birth rates also increase the percentage of children with severe mental and physical disabilities who must be raised by untrained parents. Post-traumatic stress syndrome (not only from warfare but also from domestic violence) is recognized more often now, but no one seems to know how to accommodate its victims, other than to urge their families (if they have one) to “seek professional advice” at their own expense.

I’m no advocate of letting disabled people fall through the cracks or hoping they’ll die quickly. And as a civil libertarian, I fear the power of the state to institutionalize people it finds undesirable. But surely we could provide families with training and advice on how to care for special-needs children and adults.

How does it help for a Michigan legislator to try to tell a family raising a severely troubled child what it can and cannot do to protect the child and themselves? (Instead, they ought to provide families with proper, safe, restraints and in-home training.) How does prosecution for murder help the surviving Springer children when it deprives them of their parents?

Why didn’t the Michigan school system provide education and advice to the Springers when it must have been widely known that the Springers were home-schooling this child?

Even mental-health professionals are challenged when confronted with individuals with problems as severe as Calista Springers’. Science has found no cure. All the high-IQs, Ph.D.s, and M.D.s in the world had no advice to give the Springers, who may not have been intentionally cruel but only very stupid.

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Amy Bishop and “Nursery Crimes”

By a fortuitous coincidence I was reading B. M. Gills’ now-out-of-print Nursery Crimes (1986) when Amy Bishop’s sad history began to emerge in the news. It’s also a coincidence that the copyright of this mystery novel about a girl who murders several people was published in the same year in which Amy Bishop killed her brother, 1986.

The TV talking heads are all agog over Ms. Bishop’s insane string of crimes. At first, I thought the University of Alabama-Huntsville shooting was simply more proof of my contention that prosecutors ought not to be elected and most definitely ought not to be affiliated in any way with a political party: reports are that when Ms. Bishop shot her 18-year-old brother her mother was a local Democratic Party official and the local prosecutor was William Delahunt of Quincy, MA, now Democratic Representative in Congress.

But fiction is often more insightful than TV talking heads or bloggers: Nursery Crimes explains it all. When children of privilege (and that includes the middle class) kill, everyone rushes to protect them,  rather than society.

Sidebar: The key term is privilege. Race has nothing to do with it.

Gill’s Nursery Crimes

Gill’s plot is simple: In Britain during WW2, the family of an army bomber pilot (an officer) takes in two children from a bombed-out working-class family: “little Willy” (4) and “Dolly” (7). The officer’s daughter, “Zanny” (6) promptly pushes little Willy into the backyard goldfish pond and sits on his head until he drowns. Dolly sees it happen but wisely keeps her mouth shut. Zanny’s parents understand well that the pond was too shallow for even a 4-year-old to drown in, especially when two other children were there to pull him out, but they know the local constabulary will never suspect their child: not the progeny of long-time local landowners.

Zanny concludes from the way the local cops give her candy that what she did is fine—she’s special. The rules don’t apply to her the way they do to other children. She therefore commences to wreak havoc. She tries to kill Dolly by pushing her in front of a “lorry.” The driver swerves into a tree to avoid Dolly and dies in the ensuing horrible, fiery crash. And that’s just the beginning.

Zanny’s parents are scared. They don’t know how to “cure” her. They send her to a Catholic boarding school to get her out of their hair. There the priest who confesses her refuses to believe her confessions; the nuns think she looks like an angel and so must be one. The more horrific and overt her crimes become, the more the “establishment” rallies round her: they rationalize everything.

Amy Bishop’s Nursery Crime

Amy Bishop was 21 when she killed her brother, so it hardly qualifies as a nursery crime, but one can’t help but speculate that she likely killed a cat or two before she decided to do away with her brother. Psychotic behavior generally begins to emerge in late adolescence.

It’s difficult for a family to acknowledge that a loved one is crazy.

Sidebar: I use the word advisedly: psychologists may find the word offensive, but the alternatives are equally offensive in my opinion. The PC police object to “insane” and “mentally ill,” and the DSM doesn’t provide an appropriate adjective (“mentally disordered,” perhaps?).

The law doesn’t provide any help for such afflicted families. Children under 18 can be involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, but only the wealthiest families can afford to put a child in a private hospital, and many public hospitals are less than nurturing environments. (This is not an argument for public health care, because then all the hospitals would be less than nurturing, in my opinion.) After 18, the law requires hospitals to release mental patients if they wish to be released.

Sidebar: I’m a civil libertarian. I know how the law can be abused to incarcerate people. I simply think there must be a way to deal with the truly mentally ill so that they can’t hurt other people.

If an adult (such as a 21-year-old Amy Bishop) behaves bizarrely, all her family can do is seek a court order for a temporary hospitalization. In most states, to put a family member into a permanent guardianship, a family has to take him or her to court. Such a court order is rare accept when the troubled family member is elderly and has severe dementia (in other words, is a clear physical threat to himself or others).

The problem is compounded when the troubled individual is bright and well-educated. Many of us can’t distinguish between eccentricity in such a person and outright insanity.

Of course, you might say, there’s no reason to tolerate violence as eccentricity. I agree. But there’s madness that isn’t violent: paranoia, manipulative behavior, narcissism, inappropriate emotional responses to events, temporary amnesia, delusions, hallucinations. Few people are prepared to deal with these behaviors in children. We misinterpret them. And even if a parent noticed such behavior, there would be no one to turn to for help.

So, I understand why Amy Bishop’s parents and husband did nothing but deny there was a problem. I’m less understanding of the local constabulary, though—and completely appalled by prosecutors who indict selectively based on party affiliation.

Prosecutors ought to be apolitical—they should be appointed by an elected board (a county board, for instance, as are school district officials) based on credentials and perhaps experience in the local prosecutor’s office.

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More Injustice in Indian Country

CNN’s In Session is currently broadcasting a trial from Utah involving the tragic death of an Indian child. This broadcast comes at a time when I’m editing my manuscript, Chalk Ghost—and right after I deleted a long passage from it on the way our laws treat Indian mothers. I deleted the passage for two reasons, one of which I now must revisit: 1) I was afraid it was too preachy, and 2) I was afraid I was describing something that was no longer true.

Alas, Indian mothers seem to be no better off in 2010 than they were when my father was a child of an Indian mother about 80 years ago.

Idaho v Aragon

On Christmas Day, a man named Robert Aragon was caught in a blizzard near Shoshone, Idaho, with his two children while driving them to see their Indian mother, JoLeta Jenks (I don’t know what her tribal affiliation is, but there are several reservations in Idaho). The children left the vehicle and tried to walk nine miles, while their father remained in it. Eventually, the girl’s body was found frozen to death on the side of the road; the boy was found in a wayside rest stop, hypothermic but alive.

From her testimony, it is clear that Ms. Jenks is a bright woman; from his actions it’s equally clear Mr. Aragon is not bright (even his employer testified that he isn’t the brightest bulb). But despite her intelligence, Ms. Jenks was unable to make a living and became homeless several years after she split up with Mr. Aragon, the defendat. Mr. Aragon, despite his lack of intelligence, was apparently able to make a good enough living that he was able to provide the two children with a home in which they had separate bedrooms, TVs, and were well fed—according to Ms. Jenks. That is why—the only reason why—she sent them to live away from her.

Idaho is not one of the states covered by Public Law 280: this means the state does not have complete authority in cases involving Indian families. If the father had been an Indian, tribal law might have taken control. Perhaps the tribe would have been able to help Ms. Jenks provide her children with a home. However, Mr. Aragon is white, and therefore, I suppose, state law governs the situation—for all the good it did any of them.

The man did neglect and harm the children by letting them leave the vehicle in a blizzard; for that I suppose he should be punished, even though Ms. Jenks acknowledges that all he was guilty of was making a “bad decision.” (I’m not sure any good could have come of sending this man to prison, though; his son is still in his custody, and it isn’t clear that he has any other home to go to. What could the state do? Put him in foster care?)

Sidebar: The In Session commentators doesn’t understand the not guilty verdict (as is often the case). They found him not guilty of crimes; they did not find him to be without blame, and they knew that the only person who would suffer if his father was convicted was his son. Frankly, what was the state of Idaho thinking?

What I don’t understand is why the Bureau of Indian Affairs isn’t also on trial here (any more than I understand why the Department of the Interior thinks that paying “Indian Country” $3 billion in some sort of “reparations” for the mismanagement of the BIA will do anything to help women like Ms. Jenks). (See Corbell v Salazar Settlement.)

The federal government is responsible for the plight in which most Indian mothers and Indian children find themselves today.


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