Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Empty Promises: Personal Involvement

Sometimes I think the TV crime drama writers are on crack. Harsh? Well, let’s consider one topic that comes up on every single popular network show without fail. In fact, when it begins to show up, I know the show is too mainstream. What do you think my little pet peeve might be?

Of course, you looked at the title, it's the "empty promises." For some reason, and Crossing Jordan seems to be the worst offender, every week they have Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh, a medical examiner, (who never does any work in my estimation, she’s hardly ever in the autopsy area), making promises to victims. It could be a mother, a child, a girlfriend, hey, she makes promises to all the victims no matter; and says, “I promise, we’re going to find the person who did this!”

Argh. Give me a break. To begin, let’s assume that law enforcement and forensic scientists are professionals. In order to do their job, they must remain detached. Why? Well, most forensic scientists never leave the lab and when they do get evidence to analyze, it usually has a case number on it. In order to do what a scientist is supposed to do, and that is, to test evidence, they perform a series of whatever it is their department does, without trying to taint the evidence, convict someone in particular, or, it wouldn’t be impartial—the keywords for science. Looking for impartial results. And usually they are doing several tests to make sure that there are no assumptions—just chemical answers or adequate testing of unknowns against knowns. That’s it.

They would be a fool to make promises of any kind to a victim. First of all, with the backlog they’re working under, they might not see that evidence for weeks!

And if they got personally or emotionally balled up in a crime, they’d be in the loony bin before month’s end. Who has that much compassion? It’s just ridiculous. Every time I hear those empty words, “I promise you . . .” I just want to pull my hair out. It’s emotional drivel and good for a story, but honestly, not actual day time reality.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Media and Yates

I am sure if you read the news or had caught it on the radio, you will have heard about Andrea Yates. She will always be known as the mother who drowned her five children in a bathtub at home.

No doubt that Yates’ mental illness and troubled psyche predated the killings. She had a history of mental problems and was put on anti-psychotic medication, and had attempted suicide, I believe, a couple times before this incident. The murder case got a lot of press and there was even an issue that began here, it was about postpartum depression.

What you may not have known or remember hearing was that in 2002, a jury rejected Andrea Yates’ insanity defense. At that time, she had been sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of three of her five children.

But that conviction got overturned. Yes, a state of appeals court reversed that sentencing because an expert witness for the state, a psychiatrist, messed up. He testified that there was a television series called “Law and Order” that had aired an episode about a woman suffering from postpartum depression who drowned her children.

Then, when her next trial came up in Houston, Texas, (which has been called “the death penalty capital of the world”) the jury reached a new verdict. After 13 hours of deliberation over three days, the jury finally decided that Yates should be committed to a state mental facility in Texas until she is deemed to be no longer a threat.

Yates’ attorney Wendell Odom expressed the view that the correct decision had been made, he said that he believed his client was mentally ill and needed help and attention. But the Harris County District Attorney, Joe Owmby, essentially told reporters he was disappointed by the verdict. To paraphrase Mr. Ownby, he said that he’d always believed that she knew it was a sin and legally wrong to kill her children.

Now whatever you think, the television show and the media played a big part in this case. Once, in the overturned sentencing; and again with the final decision. My feelings are that she was definitely mentally ill, had many bouts with illness, and it’s a sad commentary that her husband did not do more to help his wife or intervene to save his children. But, the prosecuting attorney claimed he feels that the heavy media coverage and the editorials in the local paper must have had an effect on the jury. He wasn’t accusing them of not deliberating correctly, but said that after living with it for the past five years, that they were “human beings”. Did he mean that media changed the jurors' minds?

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Crime Scene Locations

I’m often taken aback by the way certain television crime dramas depict homicides. A few things bother me that don’t relate to actual life or the current statistics collected and published by major reporting services like the National Crime Justice Reference Service (NCJRS).

To begin, in 2004, homicide victimization rates for blacks were six times higher than for whites. Yet on almost every homicide case on your basic CSI-type show, the victims are white. And the majority of victims are killed by their own race: 86% of white victims were killed by whites; 94% of black victims were killed by blacks. That, too, is cast in a skewed manner.

The number of homicides in which the circumstances were unknown is greater than any known category of circumstances. Because sometimes the answer is never concrete. Arguments are often cited as a frequent circumstance when known circumstances are given for murder. And then the other reasons people get killed are: in the commission of other felonies such as robbery, drug-related problems, or rape; or gang violence, which has increased almost 8-fold since 1976.

And yet, you’ll watch several episodes of CSI-Miami for example, and the victims are mostly white. They live in extremely upscale areas. The people who are killed are rather prominent, judges, models, businessmen. And a lot of the action takes place in exclusive, glass-windowed homes on the water, or in expensive nightclubs, yachts, etc. In fact, I always comment to my husband how beautiful the camera pan-in shots are before each segment begins. It looks as if Miami has been whitewashed. The buildings are all deco, beautiful in shiny glass and steel. The waterways are immaculate and the ships upscale and very pricey. There is very little garbage. Even when they show a warehouse scene where they’ve chased a criminal, there is no trash and no graffiti. The houses that these victims get killed in also have no clutter, no knickknacks, no clothes lying around, no artifacts or signs of real life.

In reality, most places that victims are found are low rent dives, trailer camps, poor neighborhoods and trashy establishments. It is mainly victims victimizing victims. Why? Because most criminals are desperate. They probably do drugs. They have no resources or safety nets. And they are just getting by or scrapping to live. Crime is less passion-driven than one of lack of resources. Most of these people do not have family that care about them. And the areas that they live in are dirty, toxic and downright disgusting.