Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Victims Upon Victims

I've written about victims before.  I've explained why it is that the victims of criminal acts have no proper role in the criminal system except, perhaps, witness.  I've talked about the hidden and ignored victims of crime, the families and friends of the accused and convicted.  Those are, of course, two very different sorts of victims.  But you know, there's a third sort, too.
Back in March, while writing about lethal injection, I told this story.
There was a death penalty trial in Toledo some years ago.  After the jury returned and said that the defendant should die, the judge thanked them for their service.  In very rough paraphrase, here's what he said.
What you've done is difficult, but the system required it.  Thank you for your service to the county and the system of justice.  We understand that this choice may continue to cause you stress and pain.  Should any of you need counseling as a consequence of this decision, the County will provide help you find a counselor and pay for the counseling.
And after the Steven Hayes trial, I noted in passing that the judge offered the jurors counseling (or something) for post-traumatic stress.
Because see, being a juror in a capital case means deciding whether to kill someone.  That's a hell of a note.  And it affects people.  I know judges who cry after sentencing people to die.  I know one who takes a week off, every time.  Another told me that she didn't impose an execution date, which she thought the law required of her, because she just couldn't bring herself to do it.  And one talked movingly about staring out the window of his courtroom and wondering just who he was to play god.
Oh, they do it all right; they're paid to, after all.  (Though some just refuse the job.)  But it eats them up.  Jurors, too.  This business of ordering a murder.
That's not what William Glaberson, writing in the New York Times, told us about though. His article on the trauma to the Hayes jurors isn't about what they suffer for ordering a killing.  It's what they suffer simply for living through the trial.
THEY check and recheck the locks on their doors and windows. Tears can come from nowhere. Images of one of the dead girls pop into their heads. Some have nightmares about children who need their help. 
“It reminds me of what men in war must go through,” said one of them, Paula A. Calzetta. “They bond in such a terrible experience, and no one else can understand.”
They are the 12 jurors who, for two months, heard the tale of the Petit family home invasion in Cheshire, Conn.: middle-of-the-night intruders; a mother raped and strangled; her two girls, ages 11 and 17, killed in a scorching blaze after gasoline was poured on the girls. Day after day, the 12 saw pictures they cannot forget and dwelled on the harrowing night and morning when random terror came to the suburbs. 
Sure.  It's horrific to have to sit through that.  (As it will be at Joshua Komisarjevsky's upcoming trial.)  To hear those events detailed.  To look at crime scene and autopsy photographs.  To hear the anguish in Dr. Petit's voice as he testified and to watch him, day after excruciating day, sitting in the courtroom.
So they have flashbacks.  
Diane N. Keim, of Madison, said she could be driving along and suddenly get a mental image of a fire, like the one they had heard so much about. It can be an instant, she said, “like a little stab.”
They have bad dreams.
Night can be the hardest. Maico S. Cardona, 31, of Hamden, says it is then that he checks the doors and windows. But going to sleep can be worse than staying awake. He has had a recurring dream. “It’s a little girl,” he said. “She’s tied up to a bed. She’s crying for my help. I’m unable to get to her.”
They hope time heals.
Ian Cassell, 35, of New Haven, takes his two little boys to tae kwon do lessons. Recovery from the trial, he said, is something of a “work in progress.” 
They want what the more readily recognized victims of criminal acts are said to want.
On Dec. 2, some of the jurors went to Superior Court in New Haven to see the judge impose the death sentence on Mr. Hayes, the habitual criminal who called himself “an angry monster.” They said they were looking for closure. 
The judge, the prosecutors, the defense lawyers, the cops who investigated, the experts who tested and examined and theorized, they all signed up for the work, if not this case specifically, for this sort of thing.  They're volunteers.  Not so the jurors.  They didn't ask for the job.  They were drafted, and they're the ones who didn't get kicked out.  Unwitting survivors.
In a capital case, regardless of the law, the state wants to show the jurors that the defendant is a monster.  It wants the jury to act out of prejudice and passion.  So it poisons them with gruesome slides and gory details.  That's improper, but the courts allow it because how the coroner peeled back the scalp to see the cracks in the skull (or whatever) is somehow relevant, and if she can testify about it, she can show pictures of it.  Oh, it's not really relevant.  But if the courts start saying it's not, then prosecutors can't put out those pictures.
And the jurors?
The Hayes trial was excruciating.  More than most.  It would have been even without the prospective murder of Hayes himself hanging over it.
But that prospective murder was there.
Glaberson wouldn't have been talking to the jurors otherwise. 
And though the article barely addresses it, it's the elephant in the drawing room.  Because when all was said and done, the jury said to kill.  Even Lenus Gibbs.
Lenus Gibbs, 65, an accident investigator who had the Vietnam War experience, said he had coped well with the gruesome evidence but still could not seem to shake his preoccupation with the sober experience of the trial. He voted for the death penalty, he said, though the trial convinced him that he is opposed to capital punishment.
Because nobody emerges from this process unscathed.
Victims upon victims.
  • The Petits who died.
  • Dr. Petit who survived.
  • The cops.
  • The prosecutors.
  • The defense counsel.
  • The judge.
  • The jury.
  • And, oh yeah, Steven Hayes.
And the rest of us.
Victims upon victims.

1 comment:

  1. Jeff,

    unfortunately there would be victims upon victims without the death penalty, too. Just because of what happened - murder.

    So it seems to me that your (well written!) article is kind of an existentialist essay...