“Ignorance is no defence,” we are told by those who administer justice in mature democracies. Last night my girlfriend and I watched with an uncomfortable mixture of amusement, amazement and disbelief the prosecution of a man by a District Attorney and an Assistant DA in North Carolina. It was the trial for murder of a middle-aged fiction writer, accused of murdering his wife by striking her with a blunt object before pushing her downstairs and hoping that the injuries would be interpreted as a brain haemorrhage — an MO he was purported to have used some 17 years previously on a female friend in Germany, though without any apparent motive.
The prosecution was ugly and sinister in its prejudicial aggressiveness from the outset. They had hired a pathologist who said that — without a doubt — the injuries sustained by the victim indicated homicide: in my view an outrageously prejudiced claim for an expert witness to make in a non-totalitarian society. In the absence of any motive at all for the alleged murder, in her summing up of the prosecution’s case, the Assistant DA went on to accuse the defendant of having had anal sex (emphasis hers) with men that he’d met online. Furthermore, she suggested that a ‘fictional writer’ (sic) would have found it easy to make up the whole story about his wife having fallen downstairs.
“Fictional writer?” shouted my girlfriend at the television. “So if the guy doesn’t actually exist, how can they prosecute him? And having had anal sex makes him suddenly homicidal?” She explained that you might expect this kind of bigoted irrelevancy in South Carolina, but not in North Carolina. My discomfort is that we should expect it anywhere in this day and age. My outright disbelief is that someone with such a poor and imprecise grasp of the English language can not only get through Law school, but pass state Bar exams and go on to become an Assistant DA.
If ignorance is no defence, what’s the prosecution’s justification for it?