AMERICAN JUSTICE – STRANGE BUT TRUE

EXPOSED – THE BOSTON NANNY TRIAL


For those of you who follow “big trials,” there was a huge one in 1997 in Boston. Garry was working and covered the trial, along with a zillion other reporters from all over the country. We became as engrossed by the story as everyone else. Garry was in the courtroom every day. Each night over dinner, we talked about the day’s testimony. Garry gave me his opinion on who was telling the truth and what it might mean.

Law School – Harvard University – Photo: B. Kraft

So what happened? A young British woman — Louise Woodward — was nanny for a baby who died of what was apparently shaken baby syndrome. The jury convicted her of second degree murder which carried a sentence of 15-years to life. It’s also possible — based on recent evidence — that the baby did not die from being shaken, though it seems unlikely the issue will ever be proven beyond doubt.

Judge Zobel was not happy with the verdict. He reduced the conviction to involuntary manslaughter stating “the circumstances in which the defendant acted were characterized 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.”

His overturning of the jury verdict produced a storm of controversy.

I don’t think Judge Zobel believed she was innocent, merely that justice would not be better served by sending her to jail. I doubt the baby’s parents agreed, but I had my own issues with the baby’s parents who I felt deserved a piece of the responsibility for the tragedy. As two employed doctors, they had more than enough money to hire an experienced, professional nursemaid for their baby. Instead, they went for the “cheap” solution. They hired a kid with no experience. The guilt did not belong exclusively to the girl they hired. They knew better.

Lady Justice on Old Bailey, London

Our legal system is designed to be flexible, to allow human considerations to occasionally trump legal ones. Often, it means no one is entirely satisfied with a trial’s outcome. The wild cards belong to the judges who have enormous discretionary powers — which they mostly don’t use. Judges can always set aside a jury verdict, but it rarely happens in the real world. This is the only time I’ve seen it happen, other than in a movie or TV show. Zobel was an unusual judge.

Woodward’s sentence was reduced to time served (279 days) and she was freed. Assistant District Attorney Gerald Leone appealed the judge’s decision to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

Woodward’s lawyers also appealed, asking the court to throw out her manslaughter conviction. The court affirmed the guilty verdict by a 7-0 vote. However, in a 4-3 split decision, the higher 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, changed her mind and became a dance teacher. A story that leaves me saying “huh?”

After Effects


The conviction had an unanticipated side effect by causing the defeat of pending legislation in Massachusetts which would have restored capital punishment. I was glad. Garry not so much. It’s one of the few areas of the law on which we disagree, although I think these days, we are closer to agreement. Times have changed and our opinions with it.

The death penalty is not a liberal vs. conservative issue. I’m against it because I think if killing is wrong, making it legal doesn’t make it right. Garry believes some people deserve it, a point of view with which it’s hard to argue. It’s a matter of conscience.

The U.S. has a unique system of justice. Mostly, our magic works, sometimes not. Law is a human institution. It’s imperfect, but all things considered, it’s pretty good. I don’t know where you would find a better one.

MY SUNDAY HOMILY – RICH PASCHALL

A sermon on smoking and other pastimes by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

From time to time I think about this topic, but rarely come to the lectern to speak about it. If you have been attending Sunday services here at the House of SERENDIPITY, you may recall I spoke about Betty, a friend and co-author of a play (Liberation).

Emphysema robbed her of her breath. She was a chain smoker throughout the years I knew her. I also recalled the time I received a text message from a cousin to advise me that the husband of one of our many cousins had passed away of throat cancer and various complications resulting from chemotherapy. He was 52 and had been a heavy smoker. I am saddened by the people who die so young.  Years ago, I would tell people that my parents gave up smoking.  My mother had a stroke and my father died of lung cancer.

cig and ashtray-1When you mention these things to smokers you may get one of the following excuses: “What difference does it make?  You have to die of something.”

Under this sort of thinking you might was well jump in front of a fast-moving train or jump off the Willis (aka Sears) Tower. Of course we are all going to die of something, someday. That does not mean we should try hard to cut this life short. I don’t even care if you think there is another life out there for you. Why would you willingly give up a sure thing — on a bet?

2.  “It will never happen to me.” I never thought I would have nerve damage in my foot and have difficulty moving about. I never thought someone in an 18-wheeler would  run me off the road and total my car, with me in it. I never thought the rich would wish to deny healthcare to the poor. You never know, so why take chances?

3.  “My uncle smoked a pack a day and nothing ever happened to him.” OK, some people win the Lotto too, but I would not count on that as passing down through the family. My father’s older brother smoked as much and perhaps more than my father ever did and he outlived my dad by a lot. Perhaps it was because he smoked a different brand. Perhaps it was because he had a better diet. Perhaps it was just dumb luck.

4.  “I’m going to quit. I just can’t do it right now.” I think I have heard this one the most. So when is the time going to come? Will it happen after you have lung cancer, throat cancer, or whatever? Do you remember Roger Ebert? Do you know what happened to him? He had part of his jaw removed.  He had to give up his popular television show. He had to wear a mask in public. He lost his voice. While you are waiting for the right time to quit, you can end up like that.

5. “I can quit anytime I want.” Really? Then why don’t you? No one is fooled. No one believes you. You don’t want to quit or you can’t quit. Either way, you should get help, buddy. I am as serious as a heart attack. Maybe not the heart attack you might have, but serious anyway. If you don’t give it up, then you are addicted or you don’t want to quit. If you are addicted, get help. Your friends and family will support you. If they won’t, avoid them. If you don’t want to quit, you are not living in the real world and watching the cancer statistics. Google “smoking deaths” or something like that and tell us what you get.

6.  “Everyone has some sort of vice.” I am not sure about that, but yes, a lot of people drink too much, do too many recreational drugs, have too much casual sex or something that may kill them. Is that a reason to do something that might kill you?

Since it is Sunday, I confess that I have not been an angel on earth. As I get older, however, I am more aware of the stupid stuff that can do me harm and try to avoid it if I can. What about you? This may be the last Sunday I am going to preach on this topic, although I will not promise that.

Anyway, if you did not get the point this time, go to church next Sunday and pray for guidance. Seriously.

WHICH WAY BY THE MILL AND POND – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge – May 5, 2017


Passing the old Linwood Mill by the pond
The road passes between the old mill and adjoins the pond. Welcome to the pond!
Old stone steps lead down to the water, but only the swans use them today
Cross from one side of the pond to the mill on the other

IMPERFECTION IN BLACK & WHITE

BLACK & WHITE SUNDAY: IMPERFECT


I love it. No center to the composition, but I love it anyway. Also, this is a picture that absolutely doesn’t work in color. The leaves are gaudy yellow and dark green and it practically burns my eyes looking at it. It’s not MY fault. It really looks like that.

So, it is imperfect. It might make a nice pattern for fabric or even wallpaper. As a photograph, it’s rather “meh.”

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