Monday, March 24, 2014

Thoughts on a homicide

I wrote this at the conclusion of my first homicide trial in October 2013, but wanted to give myself ample time to consider the wording and thoughts before publishing. Here goes. 

As my brain winds down from conducting a 2-week homicide trial, multiple thoughts run through it. The prosecution was successful, the accused was convicted, my colleague and I presented the best case we could to the jury in the circumstances, and yet I cannot help but feel partly responsible for the human carnage that results.  By presenting a solid case to the jury, I am responsible for that jury having the necessary evidence to convict the accused of second degree murder. I am also responsible for that convicted person being sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 10 years. By the time she becomes eligible, her eldest children will likely have children of their own, and her youngest will be teenagers. The mind reels.

However, I also felt a responsibility to the deceased. Have you ever seen the musical Chicago, or heard any of its music? The song that immediately springs to mind is "He Had It Comin'", in which a group of women, either convicted or awaiting trial, regale the audience with their stories of being wronged by their men and the revenge they took. This is the stereotype that prevails in our society: that when domestic violence occurs, women are the usual victims, but when it happens to a man, somehow he deserves whatever happens. This is where Kander & Ebb's aforementioned song becomes wittily subversive: the tales the women tell in the song are mostly of infidelity, either alleged or "caught in the act." However, the first story is an inconsequential misdeed: a man who "pops" his gum, so his lover "pops" him with a shotgun. The point being made in the song is that nobody deserves to die, no matter how wronged the offended party may feel. 

It was a similar situation with this homicide. Wife gets angry at husband for coming home drunk and high. They promised (or "gave each other a pledge"; again with the musical theatre references, this time Fiddler on the Roof) each other that they would stop drinking and doing drugs, and had done very well for a year and a half. This, however, was New Year's Eve, and in a moment of weakness, the deceased went out with some family members whom the wife considered to be bad influences. When Husband comes home, Wife starts nagging, and the fight is on in their bedroom, with some children being present initially, but leaving within a short period of time. Names are called, some viciously offensive. Husband gets angry, but rather than take it out on Wife, he tears down posters on the wall; he throws a TV on the floor, and destroys his gaming console and stereo. He punches holes in the walls. 

Wife claims she is afraid and runs up to the kitchen and grabs a knife. She goes back downstairs and tells Husband she's going to stab him. The accounts (all from the wife, since "dead men tell no tales") vary, with Husband in all versions telling her to go ahead. She takes the knife, which she describes as being used to cut tough meat, and slides it across the left side of his neck with no effect. Husband turns around to leave, and she stabs him twice in the back, one wound penetrating several centimetres. Husband, who has a bum leg and a bad back, walks over to a couch and leans over, obviously hurt. Then leaves the room.

Wife comes out of room, holding the knife up. She says she should have dropped it, but she didn't. Husband, seeing her with the knife, throws a plastic block, approximately 45 cm cubed and hollow, at her, striking her in the shoulder, clearly a "leave me alone" response. Wife is on the warpath and attacks Husband who, being 6'4" and about 185 lbs, throws her into a wall, knocking her glasses off and the knife out of her hand. Some would expect him to pick up the knife at this point and kill her, but he doesn't. Instead, he retreats up the stairs. Wife grabs her glasses and the knife and follows Husband up the stairs, stabbing him in the back 10 more times, but yielding only superficial cuts. Husband turns around and she stabs him two more times. The fatal wound is to the chest, almost in the armpit, but it passes between two ribs, puncturing the middle lobe of the right lung and cutting the lower lobe. Husband is internally bleeding, but Wife continues the fight, yelling at him to get up. When Husband does get up, he shoves Wife into a stove, telling her, "Leave me alone; can't you see I'm bleeding internally?"

He then exits the house and sits on the back stairs. Wife cleans up the blood with a mop, changes her clothes, then takes a blanket outside to her dying Husband. Then, and only then, does she call the local ambulance, asking them not to get the police involved. The ambulance arrives, along with the police, and numerous life saving measures are taken on Husband, but he eventually dies, due to massive blood loss.

Second degree murder? Yes. How could it not be? Yet the finding of the jury brings me no joy. Sometimes, when I run a trial, I get profound satisfaction from the judge's decision. Even my last jury trial brought more joy and that was a child sexual assault. This is different. I have pored over the material several times, most of it very graphic, and I will never look at a Victorinox kitchen knife the same way, nor will I look at camo pants without thinking of the facts of this case. When I looked over at the convicted Wife sitting in the prisoner box, the look on her face was one of relief, not of sorrow or of feeling wronged. I truly believe that at that point in time, she was glad this gruelling experience was over, though she sat stone-faced through most of the trial, only becoming talkative and even smiling at some points when court was adjourned once the jury had come back from its deliberations and rendered the verdict. 

The family of the deceased is understandably still bitter, but philosophical. They know this is the best result we could get, but they are bound and determined to keep Wife away from her 3 youngest kids for the foreseeable future. They have a right to feel that way; all 6 kids have been irrevocably scarred by these events, and the older 2 have attempted suicide. This is a truly broken family. 

I keep coming back to the question: Am I allowed to be happy about the outcome of the trial? I don't mean happy in the sense of, "Oh yeah! She's going to gaol! Let's do the happy dance!" I want more of a sense of satisfaction; the feeling that I did a good job, and that the outcome is the right one. Maybe that will come with time, as I distance myself from the case and can view it objectively. Here's hoping.