Wednesday, July 15, 2009

You can't make this s#(*&^ up

Back in the days before I went to law school, while I was writing my dissertation on the Sixteenth Century English Poet Edmund Spenser, and while I was teaching freshman comp and sophomore surveys of literature to students at Texas Tech University, I also tried my hand at writing crime fiction.

Along with writing a couple of short stories and beginning a novel, I kept a running list of ideas for some future work. There were titles, paragraphs, character names, odd notes (I once saw, on a bulletin board by a registration table at a conference my wife was attending, a note that said, in its entirety, "Raul, I won't be able to make it tonight." I wrote that down, thinking it would be a great hook for a story and had it taped up on the wall over my typewriter for a year or more, never being able to think of what to do with it.)

I also wrote down plot ideas. I recall almost none of these things now, and have long since lost the notebook where I kept all this stuff. But as I was reading Mark Bennett's blog, Defending People, a little while ago, I recalled one plot idea I had built around the idea of the perfect crime: the murder of a person who doesn't exist.

What got me thinking this way is this extraordinary story Bennett posted: Anita Mugeni, one of the very few lawyers (let alone criminal defense lawyers) in Rwanda, spent who knows how many hours of her own time, pro bono, defending a woman facing the death penalty who had confessed, after a serious beating by the police to murdering her neighbor by poisoning her. Mugeni won an acquittal by proving that the murdered woman was still alive - something that apparently the police and prosecutors knew.

So there you have it. I wanted to write fiction about someone who kills a person who never existed. Mugeni successfully defended a woman charged with killing someone who wasn't dead.

Amazingly, this isn't the only case of defending against a murder charge by proof that the victim isn't dead. See here.

It's enought to make me give up writing fiction.

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