Thursday, June 26, 2008

Nice Guy, That Killer

Never say guilty seems the phrase that covers most of us. No brother, neighbor, classmate or coworker would do this or that heinous deed, eh?

That attitude is alternately described as delusion, denial or just American optimism. We saw it here in unbelievable form as the parents of convicted uxoricide and infanticide felon Neil Entwistle canonized him unabashedly. As long as it stays on YouTube, you can see them in action here at about one minute in.)

As a parent, I certainly understand reveling in the gross and nuanced virtues of my boys. Yet, I cannot imagine the neurosis or denial that would force me to fantasize total innocence and even martyrdom with overwhelming evidence before me. Must there not be compassion if not empathy for the victims and their families?

For those who have not followed our local sensationalism, Entwistle received life without possibility of parole today for the double shooting murders of his wife and tiny daughter two years ago. Commonwealth law requires an automatic review by the Supreme Judicial Court in such sentences. Moreover, there is already talk from his lawyers of an appeal based on the judge's refusal to permit a change of venue farther from the scene of the crimes.

From the Mouth of Parents

We can hope we won't be in the circumstances of being relatives or neighbors of mass murderers. The questions to them from outsiders, aloud or stifled, is invariably, "Didn't you know? Couldn't you have helped prevent this?"

Neil Entwistle's mom and dad, Yvonne and Clifford, seemed to be the only people in the courtroom who believed the convoluted fantasy of wife Rachel blowing away 9-month-old daughter Lillian Rose and then somehow contorting her arms to shoot herself from the top of her skull as she lay dying with a bullet deep in her chest that had passed through her child.

Is it virtue to think the best of your child? Does that mean always denying the worst even when it is the only rational conclusion?

Consider Yvonne's short post-trial statement:
We know that our son, Neil, is innocent, and we are devastated to learn that the evidence points to Rachel murdering our grandchild and then committing suicide. I knew Rachel was depressed. Our son will now go to jail for loving, honoring, and protecting his wife’s memory.
Likewise, Clifford blamed our justice system and mentioned the victim's family spokesman Joseph Flaherty:
From the moment that Joe Flaherty said, and I quote, "All we need now is the right jury pool," we knew Neil would not receive a fair trial. We will continue to fight for our innocent son with the hope that one day justice will prevail, and our little granddaughter Lilly may rest in peace.
Together, they continued that theme in a sentencing day statement that included:
We chose to respect America by not being dragged into pre-trial propaganda as this trial was for the courtroom only. Unfortunately, America did not respect us back and has not given our innocent son a fair trial.

He Would Never...

That pair are not the only ones who deny the horrific, even to refusing to accept the possibility of guilt. In seems almost invariable that rapists, murders and others we from a distance use monster to describe find familiar defenders among family and acquaintances.

People are quick and sincere to call such people nice, friendly, helpful and good neighbors. Initially even cannibal murder Jeffrey Dahmer had neighbors who said, "He was shy, a little withdrawn. But not real bizarre...he never bothered anyone."

See a Slate piece citing these. It suggests that a big factor is a CYA attitude to exculpate those who knew the evil person.

Moreover, we have to ask how much of this is stereotypical American optimism, seeing others as basically wholesome and moral, as we like to see ourselves. Beyond this too we have to wonder how much this is compounded by understandable faith in our sense of reality and our character judgment. These are precepts that guide our daily actions and thoughts. It is tough, real tough, to admit such fundamental failing.

If we nod to, work with or chat and even drink with a crazed killer, what does that say about us? Are we so un-insightful? Are we incapable of discernment? Are our powers of observation so weak that we sense nothing? Have we failed in our day-to-day ability to understand those around us?

Personal Responsibility

To see a more rational alternative, let's switch to a much milder set of crimes. Just yesterday, the police chief in Georgetown, Texas, faced up to his daughter's behavior. David Morgan's 18-year-old was caught high with a very large amount of marijuana. She responded to being stopped by assaulting the arresting officer. She spent six days in jail and will face a lot of charges.

Rather than deny anything, claim innocence or framing, or say she never would have done any of this, Chief Morgan said:
I am deeply saddened by the arrest of my daughter, Samantha Morgan, by the Georgetown Police Department. We all want to think we are the perfect parents, and our kids are the perfect children. Regardless of our professions, our children are still susceptible to societies issues and problems.

I wear two hats; one as a parent, and the other as the Chief of Police. As Chief of the Georgetown Police Department, I commend the officers involved in this case. They performed their duty and held my daughter accountable for her behavior, just as they would any other citizen. As a parent, though she is an adult, she will always be my daughter and I will always be there for her with love in my heart. While this incident is unfortunate, I hope that some good can come from this for her benefit.
We can't know what his reaction would have been if she had killed people. However, such candor and willingness to deal with reality is refreshing. We live in times when every convincted felon is innocent and every accused murder, abuser, kidnapper and rapist is falsely accused. Surely we can't look to a trend of criminals taking responsibility and trying to atone, but at least not everyone is into denial and deceit.

It remains understandable when parents do not want to accept that their child has committed dreadful crimes. It is understandable too when people we really didn't know turn out to be people we really didn't know, and we can't believe their inhuman conduct.

However, what is not understandable is when a preponderance of evidence proves what we do not want to believe that we can't be open to the obvious.

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1 comment:

Uncle said...

As long as the change of venue isn't to the UK, the appeal is fine. I figure both defense lawyer and parents are playing to the crowd on the other side of the pond, where mega-sensationalism had deadened most normal senses of propriety.

Pity we can't charge the lawyer and the 'rents next go.