March 23, 2008

Elizabeth Smart: Hey, You Brought It Up

A post sure to offend everyone, conservatives and liberals, parents and pedophiles.

No one asked me if I wanted to see the docudrama that was Elizabeth Smart, incessantly for  almost a year, at the expense of a thousand other more relevant news stories.  Fine.  Can you at least tell me how it ends?

Elizabeth Smart: "If someone comes up to me and says, 'we prayed for you,' I say, 'thank you very much, we couldn't have done it without everyone's prayers and support.'   Who's "we" and what did you do?

Elizabeth's boyfriend never asks about the abduction.  He just ignores 20% of her teen years.

And the mother:  "In order to move forward, we have to let the past go."

I think, "why?"  I think that these words can't be emotionally connected to Brian Mitchell (the kidnapper.)  They must link to Elizabeth.  It sounds like forgiveness not to a man for taking their daughter, but to their daughter after finally coming home.


So that's my opinion, anyway, uninformed, instinctual, semantic.  In my worldview bad people facilitate bad behavior from otherwise neutral people.  But what I think isn't really important since I don't have the facts. It's easy for me to speculate that she wanted to go, or at least was ambivalent about escape.  Certainly you'd expect Mitchell's defense to suggest this. (1) Fortunately, through the magic of trial, we get to hear all of this evidence, we don't have to speculate.   

But wait, hold on a second: where have kidnappers Mitchell and Barzee been for the last five years, since they were caught?  In jail, awaiting trial.  I'm sorry, let me rattle my GPS-- for some reason it doesn't show that I've been teleported to Russia.  How is it that someone can be in jail for five years without a trial?

I'm no liberal-- if execution is what they deserve, let's get on with it.  But in no way is it logical or ethical to have non-convicted people in jail for years, no trial in sight.   How can anyone justify this?  Oh, yeah: psychiatry.  They're "not competent to proceed" with trial and are "recommitted" for a period of X days (and renewable indefinitely after that) for treatment  to restore their competency.

Now, there are a number of intelligent explanations for why such a system benefits  defendants and serves justice, and they are all wrong. (2)


And so I am left with the suspicion that this is-- I'll say it-- a stonewall.  Or a whitewash, whichever.  No one in Salt Lake really wants a trial because no one really wants to know what really happened.  And I have to wonder if there wasn't the backest of back room deals to keep the story suppressed, leaving Mitchell in jail forever (but not getting the death penalty) so that the truth need never be told.

I wasn't there.  But if my 15 yo daughter was kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to... and they  catch the guy, I don't think my response would be the same as Ed Smart's: "I just wish he would take a plea deal so this could all be over."  I'm not saying he has to pull a Ransom, in which Mel Gibson goes on TV to announce that the ransom money will be instead be paid as a bounty on the heads of the kidnappers--

-- but no anger?  None?  No desire for any vengeance?  I know, I know, he's religious.  Me, too.


It calls to mind David Chappelle's routine, "How old is 15, really?" in which he observes that if 15 is old enough for a black male to be responsible enough to get the death penalty, it probably is old enough for a white girl to try and escape, or at least not go with your kidnappers to a public party, with burka and beer.  Chappelle also observes it's old enough to get peed on by R. Kelley, which isn't relevant here, but funny anyway.

I know, I know, she's only 15-- terrified, Stockholm Syndrome, etc.  And I have no right to judge her (in)actions since I am not her, I didn't live her life. Though that brings us back to the black teen: why is fear an acceptable explanation for poor judgment, but anger is not?  (Hint: they're both not.)

How old is 15?  Well, not old enough to get executed in the U.S. anymore.  That's a good thing, but it was decided for the wrong reasons.  When Chris Simmons was 17 he broke into Shirley Crook's house, tied and gagged her, and threw her into a river.  He did it, but the Supreme Court decided he wasn't accountable for it, only because of his age.

The Supreme Court unilaterally decided that juvenile executions were wrong.  Awesome.  On the one hand we have the old conservative refrain of an activist judiciary doing whatever it (and France) wants, and on the other the liberal refrain that Congress lacks the balls to simply do the right thing, ever (e.g. make a law banning juvenile executions.) I guess that's a conservative refrain as well.

One of the reasons, other than France, that the Court banned juvenile executions is that science has evidence that the adolescent brain is immature, and thus cannot be as accountable as an adult brain.  Which makes the France argument not nearly as stupid by comparison.

If you're using the science argument, than the age cutoff is inappropriate, antithetical to science-- period.  If science says your brain is immature, then science should be checking each person's brain for immaturity.   It can't generalize and say all 17 year old brains are immature-- you have to check each defendant individually.  And if there's no reliable way to check, then it's not clear how you knew they were all immature in the first place.  And if its immaturity alone that is important, than that opens the door for a lot of other reasons for immaturity.

You have to be consistent-- either we're doing science, in which case we're looking at a spectrum of immaturity that can occur any time for any number or reasons, or we are not using it because it isn't complete.

Psychiatry really excels at butting in where it is neither wanted nor needed.  The moral argument for banning executions is entirely sufficient: "you know what?  Shut up. We're not executing kids.  Go to hell."  But, instead, it turns to make believe science: "there's some evidence that the brains of adolescents are different than adults."  Really?  So are hormone levels-- is that relevant?  Why is it less relevant?  And this "brain" you speak of: it's large, no?  Which parts are different?  Do you actually know what those parts do?

Psychiatry has no business here, but here it is anyway, with its trite observations projected as an evolving science.  It is, as Pauli said, "not even wrong."  Only psychiatry has the power to be wrong from both political viewpoints.

You know where else you find brain immaturity?  Pedophilia.  So if having sex with a 15 year old is pedophilia (definitional) we can just generalize that this pedophile, like all pedophiles, has brain immaturity.  And so can't be exectuted.  Though this defense probably isn't necessary for Mitchell and Barzee, as they likely have both the mental retardation exception and the soon to hit mental illness exemption.

There's some irony that 15 is too young to expect a girl to try and escape, but apparently it is old enough to consent to a polygamous marriage (with court approval, of course.)  Oh, I know, polygamay is illegal in Utah.  Sure.


I get this kind of idiocy from parents, as well, especially concerning marijuana. I say, "I'm not going to let my teens smoke marijuana," and I get these smirks back, "you won't be able to control kids from doing what they're going to do.   They're going to experiment, you won't be able to stop them."  Really?  It's possible I won't be able to stop them, but is it a foregone conclusion?  Are parents completely powerless?

Seems hard to believe that parents have "no" control, but at the same time tell me Elizabeth was entirely under Mitchell's control.


More than a few people have observed that when there's a story in the media about a kidnapped girl, she's invariably white.  Some, but not a lot, have observed that when it's a kidnapped girl who escapes on her own-- she's black.  This seems to support my observation that minority kids are generally considered responsible for their situations (e.g. can be executed; can escape) while white kids aren't (can't be executed, can't escape.) Maybe this isn't a bias, but real: perhaps minorities learn, are raised, observe, whatever, that they have no one to rely on but themselves, their wits.  While for whites, there's always a higher authority to appeal to.  Or maybe this is the bias that the media has, in reporting these kinds of stories.


While we're on the subject: are the Smarts, the cops and the media going to give Richard Ricci's survivors a formal apology?  You know, for giving him a stroke?


(1). It can be suggested that whether or not Elizabeth wanted to go with them is irrelevant, as she is a minor and can't consent.  Maybe.  Aggravated kidnapping, one of the charges, gets you the death sentence.  So you know what?  It's relevant.

(2.) "Justice is not served sending to trial people not able to assist in their own defense."  That could be a valid reason, except that this is rarely the reason competency evals are done.  In other words, competency evals aren't information, they are tactics.  As in, "we're not prepared to defend this guy yet, let's postpone for 30 days by... oh, yeah, he seems wacky."

So, yes, if your name is John Dupont, after killing a wrestler in your house you might have some useful information to give to your highly paid lawyer(s) which could help in your defense.  However, if your name is, say, Darnell Jones,  then it is more likely that your (in)ability to aid in your own defense is irrelevant since your public defender doesn't actually care what you have to say: he's just going to suggest you plead guilty and take time served, whether you're eating feces or communing with thrones, or not.  (You want to guess if Mr. Jones is a real person?)

(2b.)  Some have argued that lingering incompetently in a pre-trial jail indefinitely is better than lingering in a post-trial death row cellblock.  So Mitchell and his lawyer came up with this scheme to stay incompetent.  Well, a) why is such a loophole allowed? If society wants the death penalty, there shouldn't be all these back doors to avoiding it.  Otherwise, simply get rid of the death penalty (which we should, IMHO.)  Have some fortitude, conviction, don't play games with human life.  Either we are executing people, or not, no more escape hatches for some and not for others.  b) If he did was able to put this scheme together, then he probably isn't incompetent to stand trial, which means the whole thing is a farce;  c) if he is "faking," then why isn't the treating psychiatrist, who is responsible for medicating him back to competency, not detecting the faking?  Why doesn't he say, "nothing here to treat?" Oh: Mitchell's not been medicated in 5 years.  So is the treating psychiatrist in on it, or is the court recommitting him despite the clinical assessment of the psychiatrist?