Monday, March 16, 2009

Imported Post: Witch Hunt

Originally posted: Friday, February 13, 2009

Finished The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. It ends on a sad and sombre note, the expression of the mother of one of the victims who has gone bankrupt financially and in almost every other sense during the decades since her daughter's death. "I'll take these pictures down and put them away. I don't care about the truth anymore. There can be no truth that will make up for this pain. I have forgotten I am alive." (I'm paraphrasing there, but you get the idea). Heartbreaking. It put me in mind of the appearance by the mother of one of Ted Bundy's victims on the local news--this was back in 1989 and she appeared together with Bundy's mother, discussing his imminent execution. Her grief was devastating. It was a life-scarring trauma, and she still bore the wounds of it 20 years later. Still, her daughter's death was no mystery.

There was never nor will there ever be a solution in the Monster case. However, finding and punishing a malefactor was not the theme of Preston & Spezi's book. The cerebral romp of pawing through suspects and clues takes a decided turn into uncharted territory for Preston as his temerity to review evidence and come to a different conclusion than the ministers, lawyers and policemen in charge of a seriously derailed and deranged investigation, earns him their scrutiny. He goes from being an obstructionist, to a libeller using the media, to a perjuror, a planter of evidence, and finally, an accessory to the Monster himself.

Preston says that until you've been interrogated you cannot possibly know what it's like. I believe him. In the case of the Monster of Florence, police interrogated poverty-stricken, mentally retarded witnesses who were all too willing to offer testimony confirming the police and prosecution's theory, that a satanic sect was behind the Monster murders.

This testimony would be rejected by parallel court proceedings, invalidated by one jury, yet used to uphold the convictions of others! Incredible. Only in Italy could this happen, yes? A nation of supersitious, backward peasants or excitible Roman Catholics.

Not so fast. Here in my own State of Washington, something quite similar took place in 1995--known as the Wenatchee sex ring. Again, based solely on questionable witness testimony, prosecutors and detectives ruined many lives and reputations looking for a vast network of pedophiles that didn't exist - or so the jury found. Again, the police based their case on confessions gained from poverty-stricken mentally deficient witnesses, who pleaded guilty to charges and then turned around to give evidence against others charged with the same crimes. This evidence and testimony was eventually completely rejected by the juries, but those witnesses still rot in prison as a result of their guilty pleas.

But the worst of the worst--and the theme of this post, is the Witch Hunt. A witch hunt is more than just ruthlessly seeking out a certain group of people, using questionable tactics in single minded obsession on the part of law enforcement. A true witch hunt occurs when the hunt becomes more important than the truth, more important than justice, and more important than reason. In a witch hunt, the investigator feels personally that his theory is correct, it is sacrosanct and can bear no review, anyone who might disagree with his conclusions is automatically on the other side, aligned with the forces of darkness, an enemy, and hence, in league with the malefactors. As in the Monster case, when a person who criticizes or questions the investigation itself falls under suspicion as being involved in the conspiracy--you know you have a witch hunt. Precisely that happened in Wenatchee. America, with all her checks and balances has no defense against irrational, paranoid, factitous rumor--and god help us all when those rumors are believed as truth by a prosecutor.

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