I recently wrote an article about the upcoming trial of Scott Roeder. There have been numerous responses to the article, and many have been both thoughtful and passionate. I began to write this as a responses to some of those posts in the hopes of offering both explanation and food for thought. The post became so lengthy that I felt it deserved to become an article of its own.
I ask that everyone who reads it keep in mind that this is not directed at any one person, nor is it intended as a rebuttal of some sort to anything that has been posted. I respect everyone’s view and found myself agreeing very strongly with many things that were said. This article is intended to share my own very deep and personal feelings about not only the trial but also the idea of justice as it applies to both civil and criminal law.
I pray that none should look upon this as directed at himself or herself. Indeed, the only person who should feel any uneasiness about sharing these words is the author of them. However, we are adults, and I’m confident that I can offer these words without the danger of creating undue conflict. At least that is my hope.
Let me offer a very grim example to explain my view upon what Sedgwick County Judge Warren Wilbert has done. If any of you have seen those really creepy Saw movies you will know that the guy known as “Jigsaw” places people in life or death situations as a means of actually teaching them lessons about the value of their lives and/or the wrongs they have committed against others while living their lives. The films show people who find themselves forced to face their personal flaws in very gruesome and darkly ironical ways.
Now let’s take the idea of Jigsaw and pretend that he got caught while he was alive (in the film series he actually dies despite people continuing the “work” in his absence). If Jigsaw were brought before a judge and tried to use a “necessity defense” it would most certainly be denied – rightly so. Let’s examine how and why.
Jigsaw could claim that these people were doing things they shouldn’t be, and it was his honest belief that he needed to teach these people lessons, and thereby his actions are legally defensible as necessary since they are for the betterment of humanity. The law does not recognize such beliefs. The judge would have to tell Jigsaw and his legal defense team that his actions are not defensible as necessary because the laws of the United States do not take his beliefs into account; beliefs are irrelevant in the eyes of the court. The fact would be that Jigsaw kidnapped people, held them against their will, and placed them in horrible situations that forced them to commit acts that are nothing short of inhuman. That’s the view the law takes.
Forgive this rather twisted example, but I wanted to use an extreme to illustrate the idea at work here: belief plays no part in the way the law works. Sometimes this can have undesired effects; think predatory lending and repossessions. Sometimes those who were unaware that they were doing something wrong find themselves to be a victim too; think about tax laws, and I’m sure you can easily imagine an example. Sometimes people are truly innocent of the intent to commit a criminal act and do so unknowingly or unwillingly, and often in such situations the defendant’s mental competency and stability are examined very closely; the examples of this are endless. Still, at the end of the day justice is suppose to be blind, and the ramifications of that fact are legion.
We all know people who are victims of our flawed legal system. The people we know might even include ourselves. The system is far from perfect. There are people who truly need help in this world. I’m not just talking about those who are not-guilty by reason of insanity either. Think of the drunk driver who has a serious problem with alcohol. Think of the gang member who grew up knowing nothing but violence and destitution, and thereby learned that if they are to survive they must take what they need by force. The list of examples goes on and on. There are always two sides to every story.
Nevertheless, the law is clear on this matter. Scott Roeder took the life of a man who did nothing wrong. The procedures that Dr. Tiller performed are legal. One may not agree with them, and that is certainly their privilege, but the law does not view the actions of Dr. Tiller as illegal. Indeed, he was even taken into courts of law to see if he was in fact guilty of breaking laws, but Tiller was never found guilty of any wrong-doing. That is the viewpoint of the law.
Judge Wilbert has now allowed for the idea of belief to be introduced in this trial. The reality is that it should have no place in this matter. If Roeder had taken the life of someone who was guilty of committing crimes (a mafia hitman for example) then the idea of necessity could apply. However, in this situation the “crimes” of Dr. Tiller exist only within the mind of Scott Roeder. Judge Wilbert’s decision is a mistake for that reason. Let’s go back to the original example where we used the character from the Saw movie series. Do you think Judge Wilbert would have allowed for Jigsaw’s belief in his “work” to be a permissible point for an attorney to bring up? The public outrage would be unimaginable!
As for myself personally, I am a liberal first and foremost regardless of all else. I do not automatically condemn the joyrider, the tax evader, the deadbeat dad, the drug dealer, the shoplifter, or even Scott Roeder. Let me reiterate: there are always two sides to every story. That is the very reason we have courts and court-appointed attorneys.
Do not misunderstand my meaning. Those who are guilty of breaking laws must be held to account for their actions, but our legal system needs to be about more than justice for the victim. Rehabilitation needs to be more than just a word that we use because it sounds good. People who break the law (knowingly or otherwise) will continue to do so unless we help them become better people. Justice needs to be about more than satisfying public outrage over the actions of another.
In the Middle Ages people were publicly tortured and executed. I often wonder if films like Saw aren’t designed to feed some disgusting desire within people who secretly want to see such things to this very day. I’m sure that the countless beheadings (40,00 according to some estimates) during the French Revolution appeased that very blood-lust. It certainly seemed to please the mob who looked on with cold-hearted taunts and jeers.
When we think of the French Revolution we are often reminded of Marie Antionette’s words “let them eat cake” despite this being an entirely fictional quote. Let me tell you who I think about when I reflect upon those dark and blood days.
Madame du Barry was a mistress of Louis XV. She was found guilty of treason and condemned to die. The accounts of her moments before death haunt me whenever I hear mention of the French Revolution or debates about the death penalty.
As she was being taken to the guillotine, she continually collapsed in fear and cried out. “You are going to hurt me! Why?!” She screamed hysterically. She begged the crowd for mercy and pleaded for someone to save her. There were those who were so visibly moved that for the first time the executioner almost became hesitant. Madame du Barry’s last words were directed to that executioner: “One moment more, Mr. executioner, I beg you!” Her body now lays in the Madeleine cemetery. It is the final resting place of Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and many, many other victims of the French Revolution.
What was her crime? Being a courtesan who had close ties to the royal family.
As one who was not alive during those days of terror, my own ears didn’t hear the pleas of that poor, poor woman. Nevertheless, my mind still rings with the echo of those words, and my heart breaks at the thought of that moment before Madame du Barry was forever silenced.
In the years before the French Revolution many, many people were suffering. That cannot be denied. As a liberal I find that to be an outrage too. Yet, I cannot help but find the way their desperation drove them to commit heinous acts in the name of justice to be tragic in the extreme.
How many of us feel a certain satisfaction when people are publicly shamed or humiliated out of a sense of justice?
I am very angry with Judge Wilbert, but I can imagine he feels he’s doing the right thing in some way. Although, I do feel very strongly that he is not. I’m extremely angry with Scott Roeder, but I sincerely hope that if he is indeed in need of treatment for mental illness – as has been said by his brother – that he does get help. It is obvious that he desperately needs it. Indeed, I can say without any intention of humor or irony that many who protest outside of abortion clinics may also need help. This is one reason I hold people like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly in such low regard. They have whipped people into such a frenzy of anger and paranoia that even Maximilien Robespierre himself would have been envious.
May the late George Tiller rest in peace, and may his family find comfort and a solemn peace of their own. May this trial bring closure for all parties involved. May justice be served, but may that justice be meted out in a way that promotes the betterment of society rather than its detriment.