Amanda Knox, Casey Anthony, Sephora Davis

Almost any criminal trial is going to involve a lurid tale.  The author is the government, through its prosecutor.  The story is that the defendant killed, or robbed, or assaulted, or conspired.  There was a motive, a back story.  Moral opprobrium is called for.

We have transcended gender, so we think.  But not really.

The government’s tale is almost invariably directed at a man.  On rare occasions it is directed at a woman.  On even rarer occasions, it is directed at a very attractive woman, and on those occasions it takes on a curious quality:  it becomes frenzied, and irresistible.

Why?

The short answer is, I’m not sure.  If I was, it wouldn’t be so frightening, because there might be a way to address it.

So it’s interesting to see the media take up this issue and wrestle with it a bit.  Author Nina Burleigh seems to think that in the Knox case it has something to do with Italy and their “veneration” of the Virgin Mary:

One reason for the focus on “Foxy Knoxy” to the exclusion of the men is the Italian attitude toward women. The story is rooted in a spirituality based in sex and the worship of the female. In Italy, the word “veneration” comes from Venus, goddess of fertility, called in Italian, Venere. The primeval object of “veneration” was the goddess with the power to call forth desire from men, and to make barren women fertile.

So there’s that, then.  How would you address something like this in a criminal trial?  What sort of questions could you ask prospective jurors during jury selection that might root out this primeval perspective and neutralize it?

The “power to call forth desire from men”.  It’s a subtle thing, but I’ve seen it both in life and in the law – the tendency, on a very deep and subconscious level, to find fault with an attractive woman for provoking a man to sin.  We are tempted, so she must be a temptress, and the fault is hers.  And it isn’t just men who engage in this blame-shifting;  in fact it is arguably more prevalent in women.

In reaction to this sub-rational impression, we have witnessed in the last year the advent of the “slut walk“, which makes more sense than it might seem at first blush.  The idea seems to be to get the primitive mindset out into the open where it can be discussed and seen for what it is.

Then again, what is it?  Wikipedia calls the “femme fatale” an “archetype“.

It’s dangerous to tap into the primitive impulses of human beings.  We are rational creatures most of the time, and up to a point.  But when you cross that line it gets dicey.  On an aesthetic level, transcending the rational can result in some of the most beautiful human expression, but also some of the most horrifying.  Mozart, or The Dead Kennedys.  Which will it be?  There is often no way to know beforehand.  So be careful.

Trials are always morality plays, and morality plays embody this danger – the unleashing of primitive man.  It is a step removed from the lynch mob, but there are times this is a difference in degree but not in kind.  The black man sitting silently at the defense table who does not testify is found guilty because he appears guilty on a primitive level.

And the temptress deserves what she gets, so she is found guilty as well.

I’m often surprised, even shocked, at how willfully unaware self-styled criminal defense lawyers often seem to be about the morality play aspect of a criminal trial.  It’s not about morality, or right or wrong, or truth and falsehood, or good and evil, they say.  It’s as if they are in denial that the government is seeking a “verdict” of “guilty”.

I suppose on occasion such a position might effectively change the terms of the debate in your favor, but you would have to overcome the government’s power to frame the issues in a case.  They possess that power both because of their status as the government and their status as the litigant who brings the case and makes the allegations.

Casey Anthony was able to thwart the primitive impulse to destroy her because of the excellent work of her attorney, who did not run away from the morality play aspect of her criminal trial, but rather turned that aspect to her advantage.  Amanda Knox benefited from a better justice system in Italy, at least with regard to its capacity for self-correction.

Sephora Davis?  There’s one last chapter being written, in collaboration with the government of Canada and the United States Supreme Court.

8 Comments

Filed under financial crisis, Judicial lying/cheating, Striking lawyers, wrongful convictions

8 responses to “Amanda Knox, Casey Anthony, Sephora Davis

  1. Heather Soper

    I’m very interested in the law and what lawyers think. I was badly harassed for 6 years, all because of women, a whole group of them and so their husbands were roped in as well. I couldn’t get legal aid, so took my own case with 5 neighbours to court. The Judge, even though I had proved lies in the courtroom, went on the side of the defendants and put me through a 4 day trial, only to throw the case out, saying that the defendants ”all seemed decent people”.. he then went on to say that I was articulate and intelligent, ”as opposed to the defendants who are all of working class.”.
    To this day I have no idea why they took delight in harassing me and making my life a misery for 6 years as I hadn’t even spoken to them apart from welcoming them as my neighbours, and reading your blog and Pitchforks, I do feel so much better. Women are the worst when it comes to ripping into other women, its dreadful.
    .

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    • I agree that Amanda Knox falls into that category of attractive intelligent women who make good photogenic copy and who arouse condemnation as luring temptresses, but in her case I think there were far more complicated cultural issues at play, and I say this as someone who is fluent in Italian and has had extensive experience of Italian culture. First she was a foreigner, an American, and her victim was British, in Tuscany, a part of Italy where foreign ways are automatically viewed as suspect, or at best, as being inferior. This was exacerbated by their being in Siena, a city that even among Italians is viewed as archaic, insular and disdainful of outsiders. Add to this a judge who reportedly had an unhealthy and excessive preoccupation with the role of satanic ritual in crimes and who by all accounts was under investigation for said interests intruding inappropriately into his work. Italy is a country where at least among older generations, those that still have the power, men taking mistresses is an accepted part of the culture, where men almost view it as their right. Women are either annoying wives who nevertheless contribute to your bella figura (social veneer of respectability) or sultry temptresses – as long as they accept your advances, otherwise they are stronze (female pieces of turd) for daring to resist an age-old male prerogative. Ask most people over 40 about the concept of “sexual harassment” and they won’t know what you’re talking about. The Italian press appears to have no limits or scruples about how it describe crimes nor how much they show in photographs of dead victims. I remember reading with disbelief in a relatively respectable newspaper, certainly not a tabloid, an account of a domestic murder describing in meticulous detail the different shades of red and brown of the many different blood spatters, smears and puddles. How delightful, then, given this backdrop: a story about some cute foreign chicks with strange sexual morals that Italians can hypocritically frown at, and a gruesome murder that will be highly marketable and that will reinforce Italians’ prejudice about the brutality of Anglo-Saxons. This is the country where during the course of over 20 years when the Mostro di Firenze (Monster of Florence) was murdering and mutilating courting couples around Tuscany, the prevailing belief was that the killer could not possibly be Italian because Italians didn’t kill in that way, but was probably Northern European where there was a stronger propensity towards such sick methods of murder. I have to take issue with your statement that Amanda Knox benefited from a better justice system in Italy. The trial was a farce, as most administrative procedures in Italy are. The crime scene was not processed properly, highly contaminated by the investigators and there was no definitive agreement by the experts on the forensics. They got their man, at least it appears so, but just couldn’t let go of the star-crossed lovers’ theme, a nice Italian boy lured in my the kinky foreign harlot, and they appear to have gone to some lengths to work them in somehow, again, satanic ritual being an important component – this was much sexier than the story of a casual sexual encounter gone wrong. Things began to sound like the absurd plot of a Puccini opera spoof. The “capacity for self-correction” was probably more to do with the Italian propensity for throwing one’s hands up in the air and walking off in a sulk when one realizes one has made an unconvincing mess of things and can’t continue to carry it off. Amanda Knox was very, very lucky. For once, Italian inefficiency, ridiculous chaos and ingrained societal corruption worked to someone’s advantage….

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      • Heather Soper

        By the time I had looked at the Amanda Knox case, I had come in in the middle of it but I did follow it on the TV and in the papers, and a farce? Ohh yes, no one seemed to know what they were doing, there were glaring errors!
        I agree she was very, very lucky; again she was a very attractive woman.. (thoughts now back to Jodi Arias..) I honestly thought it was touch and go if Amanda Knox would be found innocent, and was so happy when I saw she had been released. As I have found out, it isn’t just about evidence or lack of; I was very naive when I started proceedings against my neighbours, having never been inside a courtroom before, and thought that as long as I could show, thus prove conflicting evidence, I would be home and dry and win my case.. I cringe when I think of my naivety and innocence.

        I have always wanted to go to Tuscany, in particular, to Sienna.. on my own…? I now cringe at the very thought! I might be infamous in the UK but that’s where I draw the line!.

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      • I agree the Amanda Knox trial was a farce. The interesting contrast from an American lawyer’s perspective, though, is that in Italy the appeal process is much more wide open than it is in the US. Errors of fact, as opposed to errors of law, are effectively not reviewable here, but it appears to be otherwise over there.

        Indeed you could go so far as to say that errors of law are not effectively reviewable here either, because for the most part the intermediate appellate courts pretty much ignore everything and mindlessly “affirm” the judgments of trial courts, unless the trial courts do something unusual and side with the disfavored litigant. When that happens, the favored litigant – government, bank, insurance company – has a comparatively very high rate of success on appeal.

        I appreciate your far greater knowledge of the cultural aspects of the Knox case, though. That aside, I think we have to give credit where credit is due: the Italian justice system eventually did overturn the conviction, and in a relatively quick four years. Here in the US the innocent typically rot in prison for a decade or more before they can hope to be exonerated.

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    • Heather, this sounds like a classic case of inverted snobbery, very prevalent in the UK where people are judged very quickly by the way they speak and a person who is deemed by “working-class” people to “speak posh” will often be ridiculed and despised simply for that. I lived in the UK for some years and saw that many times.
      It sounds like you moved into an area where you immediately identified yourself as “stuck up” by saying hello and introducing yourself with the wrong accent, so got bullied.
      The UK also appears to have taken political correctness to ridiculous extremes over the past 20 years where it is no longer acceptable to speak with an accent that suggests you come from a middle-class background. Middle class, for the benefit of Americans reading this, does not mean the same thing as in the US. In the UK it suggests, though does not necessarily mean, a certain amount of privilege in terms of socio-economic level and education. It generally refers to skilled, academically qualified professionals, or at least having parents who are. Having a middle class “accent” means you sound educated and articulate and don’t make grammatical errors.
      “Working class” people sometimes make inaccurate assumptions about a person’s socio-economic status if they sound middle class. I have heard of people coming from middle class backgrounds who dumb down their accent in an attempt not to sound too “posh” because of this stigma. A classic example was Nigel Kennedy, the violinist who came from a very middle class background and changed his accent to sound as though he came from Walford in Eastenders…..
      Your judge might have been afraid of appearing to give preference to a person who appeared more privileged. What a mess…. – the class system turned upside down but just as ingrained in a different version.

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      • Heather Soper

        Yes, what a mess indeed, and you are absolutely right again, it Was because of the way I speak; I was assaulted in the previous place I lived, too, purely for that reason; one of the nicer neighbours told me this. I had never been around people like this when I was growing up, so it was a total shock to me to realise such malicious and malevolent people existed; in my world everyone was nice to me and everyone around me, and reciprocation was normal.
        I have the Judgement of the case; I had to stop to get my breath as I read each paragraph at least 3 times, the Judge had made everything fit the way he wanted it to fit, damning me at every opportunity. On the first day of my case the Judge had me on the stand and asked me, in front of the defendants, ”Well, are you a prostitute, Miss Soper?” I answered tersely, ”Of course I’m not”, purposely not addressing him. He asked my Witness where I was ( the defendants sought to blacken my character as he came to my home to visit me), my Witness told the Judge that I was in bed with the ‘flu, to which the Judge then asked, ”Oh yes… what was she wearing, a nightie or pyjamas?” Yes, this actually happened and I found myself feeling very murderous towards the Judge at that point!
        None of us were represented. The defendants went on to play the Judge and he let them; they maintained documents were missing in their bundles, this of course displeased the Judge and he just glared at me, which of course is what the defendants wanted. One made out she was too timid to speak, and the Judge’s answer to that, was to say that there was ”only one person clearly depressed, which is Miss X, who is clearly a down trodden woman with a low self-esteem”..
        The Judge looked positively gleeful when telling us, that in the whole of his career he had ”never taken a case with 6 litigants in person” , however, when I reported the Judge to the Judiciary after the trial was over, I eventually received a letter to say that my letter had been shown to the Judge, and had said that he had no recollection of the case! (self induced Amnesia).
        I was truly exhausted by the end of what was almost 7 years, and although I wanted to Appeal, my spirit was willing but my flesh was weak, so I let it go. The Judge did tell me I could Appeal to him now or to the court of Appeal. I told him I would appeal to him there and then; his answer? ”Permission refused.”
        After the case was over, my father told me that he took his hat off to me and congratulated me on my endeavours, saying that he didn’t know how I was still standing. I must say, that I didn’t know that myself!
        He also told me that I had had my eyes opened wide to the Judicial system! Never a truer word!

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      • Heather Soper

        Hello Pitchforks, evidently I left my reply to you in the wrong box! Please see my reply below.

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  2. Heather Soper

    I forgot to add, that, apart from a lot more that that happened in this case that would take far to long to say here, I had taken 15 court Hearings, some of them were for Adjournments. I found out afterwards (to my amazement) from someone I happened to meet during my weekly visits for 5 years to the CAB, who socialised on occasions due to his work, with Judges, that Judges are known for not reading the case files before taking a case; out of 15 Judges in my case, I later found out, through this person, that only one Judge always insisted on reading the case files; this particular Judge took my case for an Adjournment and glared at the defendants, who whined that they had just started new jobs and their employers weren’t happy they were having to go to court, however, all he could do was give me the Adjournment I had requested.. on condition that I didn’t ask for any money at the Mediation; very clever of him, I thought, considering that one of the rules of Mediation is that one doesn’t ask for money!

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