Showing posts with label Crime and Punishment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crime and Punishment. Show all posts

12 January 2023

A Tale of Tall Egos

As have so many of us, I've been following the case of the four Moscow, Idaho students (three women, one man) stabbed to death in their off-campus house in the middle of the night. When I first heard that the suspect was a criminology student, I thought of "Crime and Punishment". Roskolnikov was a young, handsome, intelligent law student who kills the old lady pawnbroker for money, and to prove that he is "exceptional", superior, like Napoleon.

Meanwhile, an old friend e-mailed "Leopold and Loeb", and that's a good comparison too. For those who haven't ever heard of them, L&L were two wealthy Chicago students who were obsessed with
Nietzsche's idea of the "Ubermensch", and came to believe that's what they were.

As Leopold wrote to Loeb, "A superman … is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do." So they decided to prove it.

They started out doing stupid petty thefts. They broke into a frat house and stole penknives, a camera, a typewriter (which they later used to write the ransom note). They got away with all of it, but the crimes were so minor that no one made much of a fuss, which wasn't what they wanted. They wanted to be recognized and, somehow, honored rather than held liable.

Anyway, theft wasn't doing the job, so they tried arson, but no one noticed that, either.

So they moved on to the next (to them) obvious thing to do: kill someone.

They spent the next few months planning the kidnapping and murder of 14 year old Bobby Franks, the son of wealthy Chicago watch manufacturer Jacob Franks. Bobby was also Loeb's second cousin.

NOTE: This would seem to prove that it's better to not be related to some people: as Augustus Caesar said, “It's better to be Herod's pig than his son.”

The two lured Franks into a rented car, killed him, mutilated his body, and dumped him at Wolf Lake, outside of Chicago. Then they called the family and said a ransom note was coming. And that's when everything went off the rails: first a nervous family member forgot the address of the store where he was supposed to receive the next set of directions. Then Bobby Franks' body was found.

Loeb went about his daily routine, but Superman (all ego, no tights) Leopold went around offering theories to anyone who would listen. He even told one detective, "If I were to murder anybody, it would be just such a cocky little son of a bitch as Bobby Franks."

And, even before DNA, the police found evidence: The typewriter. The car. Leopold's eyeglasses in the car. And an eyewitness to Loeb driving and Leopold in the back seat.

It became "the trial of the century", mainly because Loeb's family hired the attorney of the century, Clarence Darrow* to defend their boy. Darrow took the case because he was a staunch opponent of capital punishment, and the first thing he did was entered a plea of guilty on their behalf in hopes of getting them sentenced to life.

Darrow tried everything: the best testimony money could buy about the men's dysfunctional endocrine glands, psychiatric testimony about childhood neglect, absent parenting, sexual abuse (by a governess of Leopold's), and Leopold's claim that he and Loeb were lovers.

In the end, Darrow gave a 12 hour speech that's been called the finest speech of his career, pleading their youth (they were 19 and 20 respectively), and their immaturity ("Is any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche's philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it?"), and the judge sentenced them to life.

(Personally, I think it helped that they were white. I find it very hard to believe that a couple of young black men in the same situation would have gotten anything but the death penalty. If they even survived the arrest.)

Leopold & Loeb mug shots
Leopold & Loeb

NOTE: Loeb ended up being killed in prison. Leopold eventually got parole in 1958, and moved to Puerto Rico, where he worked for The Brethren Service Commission, as a medical technician at its hospital. He went on to marry, get a master's degree, and do work in a variety of social services programs. (Wikipedia)

I don't know if the current suspect did the Idaho murders. I know that People magazine has some interesting reminiscences about him from his high school and college years: weight problems, bullying and being bullied, heroin addiction (and perhaps sales), a college contrarian who seemed to have problems with women, super curious, very intelligent, and a bit of a creep with the women at the local bar.

And then there's this:

Joey Famularo had Kohberger as a teaching assistant in one of her classes at Washington State and previously spoke about her experiences with him on TikTok. She recalled that Kohberger was a tough grader early in the semester, but that his behavior changed after Nov. 12, 2022, when the murders occurred.
She noted that there were no real red flags about him and that her class of 150 students "didn't see him very often," but explained, "after November 12th, his behavior changed significantly." Famularo noted that in October, Kohberger had failed all of his students on a test and left several comments on their work.
"Then starting November and December, he started just handing out 100s and leaving very minimal comments," she said. "So that was, I think, probably the biggest behavior change." (PEOPLE)

Yeah, that raises a bit of a red flag of something, doesn't it?

We'll all have to wait and see…

* Darrow went on the next year to defend the schoolteacher in the "Scopes Monkey Trial", where his sparring partner was William Jennings Bryan. Everything from vilification to hilarity ensued, but the main thing was endless publicity for all. It all sounds so modern…

** Also, you could do worse than watch "Compulsion", the fictionalized version of the Leopold & Loeb case, starring Orson Welles (as the Clarence Darrow character), and Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman as the Leopold & Loeb characters. You can rent it on Amazon Prime or catch it on TCM.

Compulsion poster

26 September 2013

Born Bad. Or Not.

by Eve Fisher

I am, hopefully, on vacation for the next two weeks (mostly off-line), so here's something to chew on for a while.

Many people think philosophy is an esoteric subject, a plaything, a hobby, irrelevant to daily life: but the one place where the rubber hits the philosophical road is when it comes to criminal justice.  Basically, there are only two theories of how human beings tick:  (1) we're born bad; (2) we're not.  In the Western World, these were the (classical - not current!) Conservative v. Liberal views.  In Asia, this is Legalism v. Confucianism.  In every world, it's the divide between (1) those who believe that human beings need to be kept under tight control, with strong laws and punishments and (2) those who believe that humans respond well to education, encouragement, rehabilitation.  Original sin; good at heart.

This is more than a question of religion or philosophy.  It's also a question of laws.  The idea of  "innocent until proven guilty" was first postulated in Ancient Rome - but it did not apply to slaves, which were a large percentage of the population (some calculations say 40% during the height of the Empire).  And in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, it crumbled entirely, as crime became linked with sin, and the general impression was that, at the very least, if accused, you had to undergo some kind of trial to prove your innocence.  Walk on burning coals; drink contaminated water; hold a red-hot poker for a certain length of time; sink when thrown in the water.  If you were innocent, your burns would heal without festering, you would not become ill or die from the water, and someone would fish you out before you drowned.  If your burns went gangrenous, if the water made you sick, or if you floated, you were guilty, and you would be punished, usually by death.  It wasn't until Cesare Beccaria's 1764 book "Of Crime & Punishment", that sin and crime were unlinked, with the idea that perhaps sometimes you stole because you were hungry, not because you were evil.  He said some fairly radical stuff:  that the corruption and injustice of society could provoke criminal activity, that punishment should lead to rehabilitation, and that capital punishment should be abolished.  Yes, he was a softie.  He was also the first to be called a "socialist" - although it didn't have today's connotations.

In the East, in Asia, Confucius (551-479 BCE) said that men were educable, and perfectable.  That we are indeed born good at heart, and as such persuasion and education were what was needed.  (This did not apply to women or servants:  "if you are too familiar with them, they grow insolent; if you are too distant with them, they grow resentful."  Awwww....)  He was a great believer in benevolence (ren), ritual a/k/a in correct behavior (li), and, of course, filial piety (xiao).  Perfect fidelity to these three things would lead to a perfect man, from whom one could find the perfect rulers, including that elusive philosopher king that everyone since Plato has been seeking.  Confucius was the basis of almost all Chinese education, political science, economics, and law until Mao's Cultural Revolution in the 1960's.  And there was a resurgence after the death of Mao. 

Confucius' antithesis was Legalism, which argued that men are basically selfish, fundamentally amoral, and barely worth the trouble of ruling them.  One of the chief Legalist philosophers, Han Fei Zi (280-233 BCE), said that the purpose of government was to serve the interests of the ruler, because men were such beasts they couldn't recognize good government when they saw it.  (We have a local civic leader that likes to remind everyone that we live in a Republic, not a Democracy, and thus we don't have to be told everything that's going on...  Legalism lives.)  Legalism was enthroned by the Qin Shihuangdi Emperor (ruled 221-207 BCE), who was the great unifier of China in everything from land to language to weights and measures and, in addition, built most of the Great Wall of China.  The Qin Emperor tried to wipe out Confucianism, with massive book burnings and slaughter of scholars.  And, under his rule, the idea of collective responsibility was made a permanent part of Chinese law:  if you committed - or were accused of - a crime, your entire family, perhaps your entire clan, was shamed, arrested, tortured, and/or killed as deemed appropriate by the authorities.  After all, if they had raised you better, you'd never have become a criminal.

Collective responsibility may seem extreme, but when you think about it, it's universal.  Privately, who would want to be the relative of the Unabomber?  Arial Castro?  Ted Bundy?  There are all sorts of people wrestling with the shame of having a family member in prison.  (For that matter, even in our enlightened age, there's a whole range of things, like mental illness and addiction, that still carry a stigma, and not just for the sufferer.)  And then there are the "good wives" who stand by their man (and, I'm sure, also "good husbands" who stand by their wives, though they don't get the press), and nowadays have to defend that decision... 

And then, nationally:  How long will the Germans be guilty for the Holocaust and WWII?  What Germans who were alive at that time could claim innocence?  How about the Japanese during WWII, with comfort women and concentration camps and Unit 731?  What level of culpability do the people of a nation hold for that nation's acts?  And for how long?  Is there an expiration date on slavery, or war, or genocide? 

Cruel and unusual punishments:  what's the definition?  Was the 17th century idea of execution for everything, including stealing a handkerchief, excessive?  Is no death penalty unbelievably soft?  (Norway, for example, reinstated the death penalty to execute Vidkun Quisling and other WW2 Nazis, and then promptly re-abolished it.)  Today the United States is the greatest incarcerator and last Western country with capital punishment (some states with an express lane, others abolishing it)...

It all depends on whether you think people are capable of rehabilitation or not.  If people are born bad, well, why not kill criminals?  If people are born good, though, and we do not pursue rehabilitation (turning, for example, to for-profit prisons) what does that say about what we really believe?  Or are willing to do?  This isn't about history, it isn't really even about crime:  it's about philosophy.  What we believe.