There’s a lot of controversy in the news about the release of the three men known as the “West Memphis Three” who had been convicted as teenagers of brutally murdering three Cub Scouts back in the 1990’s in what was believed to have been some kind of satanic ritual. Although appeals courts repeatedly refused to overturn the convictions, the evidence in the case came under increasing scrutiny in recent years, so much so that even the parents of two of the victims reportedly came to believe that the wrong people were convicted. The evidentiary issues were less about what prosecutors did have and more about what they didn’t have. While they did have a confession from one of the defendants, doubts about its authenticity have been raised (the mental stability of the confessor, the duration of the interrogation, etc.), they didn’t have solid DNA evidence tying the defendants to the murders. So ultimately, uncertainty about the convictions culminated in an appeals court order for the trial court to go back and determine whether DNA analyses that weren’t available at the time would be reasonably likely to alter the outcome if the case were retried. At that point, prosecutors made a complicated plea deal with the defendants that went something like this: The defendants would, momentarily, be granted new trials; they would then, immediately and simultaneously, enter “Alford” pleas (those are just “no contest” pleas, named after the defendant whose case upheld their acceptability, whereby defendants can maintain their innocence while acknowledging that enough evidence exists to convict them beyond a reasonable doubt, essentially waiving their rights to trials and accepting legal responsibility for crimes while professing personal beliefs that they’re innocent); they would be sentenced to time served (17-18 years); and they’d walk free. Who really killed those three Cub Scouts back in the 90’s? I suspect that it was these same convicts, but I can’t say I know that it was. What I do know is that whoever did it isn’t locked up for it right now, and that gives me a sickening feeling.
There’s also a sickening yet somewhat fascinating “copycat” phenomenon that a friend of mine, Stacia Garland (check out her web site: http://www.exquisite-minds.com/) pointed out in a recent child abduction/murder case in Missouri (this case started and ended too quickly to make much national news). A little girl disappeared, and in an all-too-familiar pattern, was found murdered a couple of days later by an adult male neighbor (allegedly). The neighbor’s in custody, and he’s reportedly talking to police. Here’s the weird part that Stacia noticed — he reportedly told police that the girl drew his attention because she was climbing a ladder to an above-ground backyard pool. Hmmm, anything about that ring a bell? It reminded Stacia of testimony in the Anthony case, and I think it was very perceptive of her to pick up on that. Now, if the neighbor prevented this little Missouri girl from getting into the pool, then how did she end up dead? Well, the neighbor allegedly took her inside and suffocated her by putting plastic over her head (he reportedly even told police that it took her a really long time to die). Hmmm. Anything about that second part ring a bell? It reminded me of the case of the little boy who went missing walking home from day camp in New York a few weeks ago — his body was found, suffocated and dismembered, in the home of an adult male who lived in the neighborhood. So what did this creep really do to this poor little girl in Missouri, and why? I don’t know, but it sounds to me like this evolving story that police reportedly are getting out of him may involve some plagiarism of recent highly-publicized murder stories. I know it makes no sense to you or to me (which is a good thing!), but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a criminal with grandiose fantasies embellished the story of an all-too-familiar crime. I recently heard one of those first-hand — the story had about five co-conspirators involved, but it turned out that only one of them actually existed; the others were consciously and elaborately fabricated by the perpetrator, apparently just for the fun of it.
Speaking of Casey Anthony, she’s back in Florida to begin her probation on felony check fraud charges pending an appeal of that order. And speaking of parents allegedly eliminating their own children for the sake of convenience, we spent most of last Thursday night’s Nancy Grace discussing the case of a guy who allegedly either handed off his baby to strangers in some kind of black-market “adoption” or (I think more likely) killed the missing child, all to avoid paying child support after the child’s mother reportedly backed out of their prior agreement to give the child up for adoption formally. Sadly, as hard as it was for some people to imagine during the Anthony trial, it can happen. Meanwhile, somebody apparently threw a baby off of a California hospital’s parking garage, critically injuring the baby — a floor-by-floor search for a suspect is underway at this hour, but no one’s in custody yet. And in Dallas, a “father” (I use that term in the biological sense only) with a long history of threatened and actual violence (multiple arrests including an aggravated assault conviction for hitting a woman in the head with a hammer, which got him…probation) who never should’ve been loose on the streets yesterday to hurt anyone, let alone his own kids, is in custody after allegedly drowning his two young sons, apparently just to spite their mother, who reportedly wanted to leave him.
And staying on the topic of all-too-familiar stories for a moment, there have been several in the past few weeks that have gotten some national media attention but sadly, they’ve just seemed so familiar that there hasn’t seemed to be much more to say about them. These stories have included three that centered around schools: the story of a teenager who was arrested while allegedly preparing to carry out a Columbine-style attack on his high school (he’s in custody, sounds like another one who showed plenty of signs of dangerousness and whose parents were completely negligently a.w.o.l.), the story of another teenager who walked into his high school right before the academic year started and shot the principal (he’s in custody, too, another “wonderful kid” whose admirers apparently didn’t really know him very well), and the story of a college professor who committed suicide by jumping off of a balcony on the campus where he taught (sounds like an elderly gentleman who maybe had some dementia issues, which can be emotionally as well as cognitively devastating). (By the way, it sounds like cops in Tulsa, Oklahoma averted one of those jumping suicides last week by successfully talking a man down from a tower after a marathon six-day standoff.)
Now for some international Lawpsyc updates, it looks like all criminal charges against former head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, are being dropped due to credibility problems with his accuser (he’s the Frenchman who was accused of sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid). Even though DSK still sounds like a creep to me, it sounds like the dismissal of these charges is probably the right thing given that the accuser’s apparent history of false allegations is enough to make one wonder whether she ever hung out with the Duke lacrosse team (remember several of the players on that team were falsely accused of rape back in 2006). It also looks like Gaddafi is on his way out in Libya, which I think is a good thing for the world (if the rebels don’t kill him, which would be fine with me, he’s supposed to be tried for crimes against humanity at the Hague, and if that happens, you may be interested in a piece I wrote back on 2/25/11 explaining why he’s probably not “crazy” in the insanity-defense sense of the word). By the way, I also liked hearing Presidential candidate Mitt Romney call on the Libyan rebels, assuming they take over, to extradite the mastermind of an airliner bombing that killed Americans over Lockerbie, Scotland back in the 1980’s who’s been harbored as a hero by Gaddafi ever since the British released him for “humanitarian” reasons in 2009 (he supposedly was on his death bed, but he’s still living, so that was obviously bogus — it’s just another example, like the ones we’ve seen recently in Norway and Australia, of societies being incomprehensibly-soft on psychopaths, not that we’re hard enough on them here in the U.S.A.). And as I predicted, the U.S. stock market seems to keep swinging one way and then the other amid international turmoil and an unsolved debt crisis here at home as members of Congress continue to appear on TV shows and politicize that crisis rather than solving it (I’ve written a lot about the psychology of that, so all I’ll do here is just reiterate that there’s no way for the average American to do well while American businesses and the people who own them do poorly, so behaviorally speaking, suggested policies that would hurt those latter constituencies would likely be counterproductive).
Ok, I think that pretty much covers it for this catch-up edition, but stay tuned for more Lawpsyc news when it happens!