Daily Prompt: What a Twist! The Boston Nanny Trial – A True Story

For those of you who follow “big trials,” in 1997 when Garry was working, there was a huge one in Boston. We were living in Boston and as engrossed as everyone else with the trial. Garry was covering the courtroom and had a good perch for hearing the whole story. We would discuss it at night over dinner and sometimes, long afterward.

It was a big media-circus in which a young British woman (Louise Woodward) had been nanny for a baby who died of what seemed surely to have been shaken baby syndrome (that finding has since been disputed). The jury convicted her of second degree murder and she was sentenced to 15 to life.

On reconsideration, Judge Zobel reduced the conviction to involuntary manslaughter, stating that “the circumstances in which the defendant acted were characterised by confusion, inexperience, frustration, immaturity and some anger, but not malice in the legal sense supporting a conviction for second-degree murder,” adding: “I am morally certain that allowing this defendant on this evidence to remain convicted of second-degree murder would be a miscarriage of justice” and just sent the girl back to England. Garry covered the story. It produced quite a storm of controversy.

I don’t think the judge (Hiller B. Zobel.) thought her innocent, just that nothing would be served by sending her to jail. I doubt the baby’s parents were happy with the verdict.

Our system is designed to make the law flexible by allowing human considerations to prevail — sometimes — over legal ones. Within the checks and balances of our government, we have even more checks and balances in the courtroom. That was the only time in my life I’ve ever seen a judge overturn a jury verdict. It isn’t done very often, for sure.

Woodward’s sentence was reduced to time served (279 days) and she was freed. Assistant District Attorney Gerald Leone then appealed the judge’s decision to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Woodward’s lawyers also asked the court to throw out her manslaughter conviction. The court affirmed the guilty verdict by a 7-0 vote.

In a 4-3 split decision, the court rejected the prosecution’s appeal against reduction of the conviction to involuntary manslaughter. On 16 June 1998. Woodward was returned to the United Kingdom. She studied law, then changed her mind and became a dance teacher (huh?). This is one of those stories that leaves one doing a lot of head-scratching.

The conviction had a side effect of defeating pending legislation in Massachusetts that would have restored capital punishment in the Commonwealth. I was personally just as glad. Garry was not, proving that you can agree on almost everything, but not necessarily on the death penalty. Legal killing is just a bit too much like playing God for my taste.

Bat Masterson (left) and Wyatt Earp in Dodge C...

Bat Masterson (left) and Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, 1876.

It’s a unique system of justice we have. Whatever else you might say about it (and there’s plenty to say), sometimes the magic works. Sometimes not so well. I worry, especially when we approve obviously illegal actions and in particular, vigilante justice.

I would prefer we convict and then commute or overturn a verdict than put an official seal of approval to the perception of “he deserved it” neo-frontier justice. It’s a matter of sending the right message, that it’s not okay to decide to be the law because we already have a system of law … even though it’s imperfect.

Law is a human institution. Until we are all perfect, our laws won’t be perfect either.

Cowboy justice has great crowd appeal. We love Wyatt Earp coming to town with guns blazing. It makes us feel safe, unless of course those guns are blazing at us or ours.

Being part of any minority tends to make one permanently paranoid. Our legal system hasn’t got a good track record of protecting the vulnerable members of our society. It’s nice — in my opinion — when we err on the side of mercy. You can’t undo a death, legal or otherwise. It’s supposed to be justice, not revenge. We have both a culture and tradition of vigilante justice that sometimes overrides our common sense and brains.

Sensible Violence

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We were up in Worcester, the capital of our middle-of-nowhere part of the world. Taking pictures, happily unaware that something awful was happening 60 miles away in Boston. When we got home and the phone and email lit up, we knew something was up,

Garry and I lived in Boston for a long time. Garry was a reporter. If he were still working, as many of his friends are, he would have been exactly where the bombs went off. I would have been one of the terrified wives waiting to hear if my husband was alive and/or in multiple pieces. Maybe I would have been one of the unlucky ones. I’m glad to have missed the experience.

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A lot of people needed reassurance, wanted to be sure Garry wasn’t working (retired since 2001, but not everyone believes it) and we hadn’t gone to see the Marathon. We had merely taken a drive up to Worcester, looping back via the grocery store and the pond where the swans live. A normal pleasant spring day. For us, anyhow.

I had been laughing earlier in the day about how seriously New Englanders take their holidays. I had tried to get in touch with my doctor only to discover the office was closed for Patriot’s Day. If you live in Boston, there’s also Evacuation Day, another Revolutionary War remembrance, but affecting only the city. I can’t imagine New York closing down to celebrate a battle that took place more than 200 years ago. New York’s all about getting on with business, but Boston is into remembering and celebrating traditions.

Boston State House - Night

Boston State House – Night

Patriot’s Day and the Boston Marathon are part of what makes the Commonwealth and the city special. Unique. Boston is a big city, but it’s accessible. Even with awful parking, potholes and traffic, you can drive in Boston. You may not enjoy the experience but the city is not in constant gridlock. It’s a great walking city too. There are lots of street festivals, free concerts, and events that are open to everyone and their families. Is that going to change?

Are people going to be too afraid to enjoy the city? Lock themselves up behind steel doors? If terrorists can’t kill us all, they sure can take the joy out of life … if we let them.

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I can’t in good conscience tell anyone not to be afraid. But I lived in Jerusalem. I did lose friends to terrorists. It was black humor indeed to call Thursday at the marketplace “Bomb day.” Yet we went on living because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate and because if you close down your world, the bastards have won.

Yesterday, as we watched and listened to the news, we worried about people we knew until we finally heard they were safe.

I don’t “get” the terrorist gestalt, murdering civilians to make a political statement. What statement can you make based on murder? That you are willing to slaughter people because your cause is more important than life itself? Nothing is more important than life.

I have a feeling we aren’t dealing with an international conspiracy. No one has claimed responsibility for this atrocity. The bombs were built to inflict maximum harm, ugly bombs intended to tear flesh, rip and rend. Any bomb can kill you, but these were explicitly created to maim as well as murder.

If it’s discovered this is the work of a homegrown psychopath, will this make us feel better? I don’t find the idea comforting. Quite the opposite. The perpetrator could be a neighbor … or anyone. That’s creepy, not comforting.

Old South Church from Boston Commons

Garry always laughs at the expression “senseless violence.” As if there’s some other kind. The sensible kind.

There may be times when killing is unavoidable to prevent a greater evil but it’s never a good thing, only sometimes justifiable to protect yourself or others. Killing is never good. Sane people know this. Civilian, military and law enforcement personnel don’t casually take lives. That so many people seem comfortable with murder is deeply disturbing. What is wrong with them … and with us that we glorify killers and turn them into heroes?

Boston Commons and Statehouse-HP-1

Yesterday in Boston, someone showed his/her/their inhumanity and cowardice. Religious fanatics? Non-denominational crazies? Foreign sociopaths? Homegrown psychopaths? Some other previously unknown lunatic fringe group … or a deranged individual?

Does it matter?

Whoever or whatever … I hope we catch them and make sure they never do it again to anyone anywhere.

From Garry:

I covered the Boston Marathon and other Patriot’s Day events for 31 years until my retirement. They are some of the most wonderful memories in my entire TV/radio news career covering more than 40 years. Patriot’s Day is special in New England, in Massachusetts, in greater Boston. The Revolutionary War re-enactments at dawn in Lexington and Concord were among my favorite assignments.

You could see children getting their first real look at history. Normally stoic or cynical adults looked on with pride and awe. I still see their faces in my sense memory. The Marathon weekend was always a period when the bad things going on in the world were put on hold for a brief time.

You met people from all around the world. Instant friendships were formed. Politics were set aside. Laughter and smiles were the common language. It is hard not to see this attack — even in this post 9/11 world — as anything but a horrible loss of innocence. It is so very sad.

Run for your life!

220px-Major_crimesUnless you live on another planet, you have watched your share of crime and cop shows. In first run, rerun, and who knows which run. Cops and crime are the ubiquitous backbone of prime time television and the fast-flowing mainstream of Hollywood. We are fascinated, even obsessed by criminals, cops, courtrooms and killers.

Add the alphabetic agencies,  CIA, FBI,  CSI, NCIS, then throw in some lawyers, car chases, bombs, guns and frontier justice and you have American television for the past 50 years, give or take a decade. There are now — and have been — so many series in this genre I defy anyone to remember all of them (though it might be fun to try). Is there a database for this somewhere?

It’s possible to watch crime 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. At one point, I became addicted to  “Law and Order.” I required frequent fixes. It turned out to be no problem because there’s a rerun of “Law and Order” playing somewhere all the time. You just have to look.

These days, Garry and I watch a great many cop shows, usually reruns of favorites from the recent or not-so-recent past. We can predict dialogue for all of them, including those we’ve never seen before. It turns out there are only a couple of plots, both of which use the same script.

If you watch enough of these shows, you could write them too. You know what’s going to happen before the first commercial break, sometimes before the credits. You know who the killer is. It’s the guest star if there is one, otherwise, it’s the irrelevant character or the first one who points the finger at someone else. One way or the other, you recognize the perp the moment he or she shows up on-screen.

I used to hope for something new and different. Now, I just hope they do the clichés well.

Pilot

Some stuff has become so standard we hear it coming. As the words roll out, we sing along. At our house, we liven things up by laying odds on when the writers will leap on a cliché and what the precise wording will be. Our favorite is when a cop has someone with him or her in the cruiser — a child, relative reporter, friend, former cop (retired, of course), journalist — who is by chance and script on site when the star is called to the scene of a crime.

So. What does he or she say?

You got it.

“STAY IN THE CAR!” “Stay here!” “Whatever you do, don’t follow me!” “If I’m not back in 5 minutes, get away …”

You’ve seen it a zillion times. It never gets old and unlike most jokes, it always gets a laugh. It pops out of the mouths of television and movie heroes and it brings the house down every time. It actually showed up in a book I was reading earlier today. It’s included in every show … brand new shows, with brand new writers, directors and stars.

Nah. I bet they only look new. They are probably using the same script as all the others.

Whether it’s a 9-alarm fire, gun fight, crime scene, stalker, serial killer or zombie attack, it doesn’t matter. No one stays in the car. Cop, kid, or an extra destined to die before the opening credits, no one in film or television history has ever stayed in the car, truck, or anywhere else. They never will.

Pauley Perrette in the season opener of NCIS.

In life, we generally know when we should really stay in the car. Not get involved. Let someone else take this one.

Who stays in the car and who gets out?

Until recently, I never stayed in the car. I took chances. In a different world, I might have been a cop or a detective. Something exciting, anyhow. Alas, but the need for a steady paycheck sent me down a different professional path, one on which opportunities for adventure were rare. Okay, non-existent. Software development does not offer an edgy lifestyle.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (season 6)

So I did what I could to make up for it in my personal life. I had too much fun to regret it, and anyway the experience taught me to deal with the unexpected. There’s been a lot of unexpected to deal with. If you never venture out of your comfort zone you aren’t going to survive the disasters that drop like car bombs into your life. Sooner or later, you have to get out of the car, right? Especially if someone planted a car bomb … is that too much analogy?

Time has marched on. These days, I do stay in the car. Family drama is enough. More would be redundant. I can sustain my sense of adventure through television reruns, memories of the good old days and an occasional terrifying ride on a killer roller coaster. I’ve had a lot of out-of-car experiences. I could use a dose of calm, dull and ordinary.

But you never know. I mean, anything can happen, right? If I’m on the scene, if life  just puts me where stuff is happening … would I really stay in the car? Would you?

Slaughter in a quiet suburb

Yesterday, while putting together awards, a too-long deferred project, I happened to click onto WBZ radio, Boston‘s CBS affiliate. The events in Newtown were just being broadcast. They didn’t know exactly how many children and adults had died. The massacre had just ended — to the degree that such tragedies really ever end. I’m sure that for all the families who lost loved ones, it will never end. There’s no “over” for the slaughter of innocents.

This is the kind of horror story that leaves you with questions that can’t be answered. Even if you know everything there is to know, you still couldn’t make sense of it because it doesn’t make sense and can’t make sense. There is nothing sane, sensible, reasonable or explicable about it. What could possibly make someone — anyone — think murdering children is an acceptable or sane response to anything? No matter what dark secrets or strange thoughts are tangled in the head of the kid who took all those lives … nothing makes it more understandable because our minds reject any answer. There is no reason good enough. Nothing makes it comprehensible nor should it.

I can and will say that had the shooter not had guns, this would NOT have happened.

I do not care how treasured our “rights to bear arms” is to Americans. This is exactly what is wrong with having guns, so many guns, in so many hands. However true it is that guns don’t shoot themselves, the fact is that if they were less accessible to everyone and there were more controls on them to make sure that those who own them understand the responsibility that comes with owning deadly weapons — like the need to keep them out of irresponsible hands — many deaths would not occur. If the same young man had to take whatever weird revenge he sought with a bat or even a knife, he would have been stopped long before the body count had grown so godawful huge.

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Morons at play

Guns don’t kill people all by themselves, but in the hands of people, guns do a lot more damage than the same person could do without guns. These were legal, registered guns.

Why a kindergarten teacher had an arsenal at home where she also had one (more?) mentally ill children is another one of those questions that can’t be answered. Personally I think if all guns disappeared tomorrow and we were reduced to throwing rocks at each other, it would be a better world. Since that’s not about to happen, at the very least, regulating guns so that those who own them are required to keep track of them (how many guns just “disappear” only to reappear as the weapon at a crime scene?), some degree of mental stability has to be established before being allowed to own them, anyone who owns guns has appropriate means to secure them and knows how to properly maintain them … these are minimal sensible requirements. Soldiers aren’t just handed weapons to use indiscriminately. They are taught how to use them, maintain them, and woe to any soldier who just happens to “lose” his weapon.

Yet in the private sector, most states have no requirements other than your ability to fill out a form and wait a few days. Most illegal guns didn’t start out that way, either. They were legal when they were bought … but they roamed to other pastures. If there are simply fewer guns and those who have them are required to account for their whereabouts on a regular basis, secure them when not in use … in short, to be at least as responsible with their guns as they are with their cars for which you are required to take a test, have a licence and registration, and maintain insurance … there would be fewer horrors like that which took place in a quiet Connecticut suburb.

How can we allow mass murder by deranged gunmen and then turn around and say we don’t need gun control? I actually saw posts on Facebook blaming it on not having enough guns. So, now we should arm children so they can shoot each other in schoolyard disputes? That’s your answer? I saw other posts pointing out that we’ve banned school prayer. And you figure that a prayer in the morning would have prevented this tragedy? Really? Has prayer prevented war? Genocide? Plague? Not that I’ve noticed.

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God gave us brains to use. God gave us a conscience to guide us.

In all ten of God’s commandments … nor in anything that Jesus said … is there anything indicating that good people should own weapons. Quite the opposite, actually. Our constitution says that our citizenry is allowed to maintain militia and guns to protect the population, not that ever Tom, Dick, and Jane can have a personal arsenal to use as he or she feels inclined, with no restrictions, no oversight, not even an insurance policy.

It’s outrageous and it’s wrong. If we don’t start to use brains instead of that knee jerk reaction that “Oh my God, the government won’t let me buy an assault weapon! That’s outrageous!” there will inevitably be more of these mornings where families are burying their dead and wondering how it happened. If you want to know how stupid people really are, check out this disgusting website. If you suspected we let insane idiots own arsenals, this website will confirm your worst fears.

It happened because a mentally ill kid was able to get his hands on guns and instead of acting out in a non-lethal way, he instead murdered his family and all those other people too. That’s what happened. Why did it happen? Because we didn’t stop him, that’s why.

Stay here! Don’t get out of the car! Did you hear me? Stay in the car!

 

Unless you are living on a different planet than I am, you have probably watched a lot of cop shows … first run, rerun, 200th run. There are so many you could watch them 24 hours a day 7 days a week. At one point, I was a  “Law and Order” addict. I needed frequent fixes. I discovered that any time, day or night, there’s a rerun of “Law and Order” playing on some channel … you just have to search.

As it is, Garry and I watch a lot of  cop show reruns and we can recite the dialogue in most reruns of NCIS. It’s not the only stuff we watch, but it is a major component.

If you watch enough of them, eventually you don’t even need to know the plot: you know who the perp is the moment he or she shows up on your screen. You just know. I often wonder if these shows are all a single script, written by someone long ago, then periodically altered slightly as needed for various  episodes of different series.

Our absolutely favorite moment in all of such shows is when one of the cops has someone in the car who isn’t a police officer or other official investigator. Maybe it’s a child or relative of one of the officers (aka, stars) … perhaps a friend, former cop now retired, journalist, or other person who by chance (and script) happens to be there when the star or co-star is called to the scene of a crime. What does he or she say to their ride-along person? They say it (or one of its close variations) every time:  “STAY IN THE CAR!”

It pops out of the mouths of television and movie heroes with alarming frequency. On the NBC TV series “Chuck.”  it was a gag line. On most shows it is real dialogue  and not supposed to be a laugh line … but it is. At least in this house.

One of my favorite versions can be found in the  Last Action Hero (1993):

Cover of "The Last Action Hero"

01:08:06 - Stay in the car. – No way. I’m coming with you.
01:08:11 -  How many times have you heard someone say, “Stay in the car” and the guy doesn’t?
01:08:19 - Good point. I’ll stay in the car.

Subzin.com say the exact phrase “stay in the car” can be been found in 356 phrases from 296 movies. I think they are missing a few thousand instances in a wide variety of TV series. Also, they are not counting variations like “don’t leave the car,” “don’t get out of the car,” and “remain in the car.”  If you include the more generic “stay here” Subzin  finds 20781 phrases from 11645 movies and series which is a lot of instances even if you say it quickly.

Regardless of the situation, whether it’s a 9-alarm fire, gun fight crime scene, being stalked by a serial killer or it’s the Zombie Apocalypse and the undead are gathering to attack: no one stays in the car. Cop, kid, or an extra obviously destined to not survive past the opening credits, no one in film or television history has ever stayed in the car.

In real life, as we stumble through our lives, we get a lot of hints from The Universe that maybe this time, we really should stay in the car. Don’t get involved. Let other people take care of this problem, this episode. Let the cops do what they are paid to do. Someone else can catch this bad guy, report this fire, deal with this crisis. Who stays in the car and who gets out?

I never stay in the car but others do as they are told, careful and mindful of authority. They want to be safe, and believe that following the rules guarantee nothing bad will ever happen. Except that life doesn’t follow a script. Or if it does, you don’t get to read it before you have to play your role.

Aside from the boredom– which alone would be enough to get me out of the car — is you don’t learn much staying in the car. If you never take a chance, you don’t find out how to deal with the unexpected and there’s a lot of unexpected in everybody’s life, no matter how safe you try to play it. If you never venture out of your comfort zone, when things get crazy, you’re going to have a really rough time figuring out how to take care of yourself … or anyone else. I’m not talking about manual skills like CPR or self-defense. I mean emotional skills, the ability to keep it together when what you really want to do is start screaming and not stop until it’s over, whatever “it” is.

For all the times I’ve been told to stay in the car then promptly jumped into the fray,  against all logic and common sense, I’m glad I did it. Life’s too short and the ride from start to finish is too bumpy to sit on the sidelines. Who knows whether there will even be a car to stay in when I want to hide? No way am I staying in the car when all the interesting stuff’s going on somewhere else.