Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Civic Duty

I had jury duty today, didn't end up on a jury and I'm safely home, but it got me to thinking about the time I did serve.

It was an inside out and upside down trial. Technically, it was a civil trial, but the plaintiff was a criminal, whose freedom was at stake, represented by a public defender; while the defendant was the state, represented by two (count 'em two) Assistant District Attorneys -- and they were good ones, obviously the big guns. The jury's job was not to decide what the criminal had done, but what he might do in the future.

Said criminal, Wayne Chapman, had a bad habit of forcibly raping little girls, including but by no means limited to his own daughter. He got exactly what he wanted by such subtle methods as punching the girls in the face and threatening them with a knife. I was forced to hear a good deal more in the way of specifics, but you won't be. (By a very odd coincidence, there is a more famous gentleman by the same name in our state whose habit was to rape boys, whose present physical circumstances are exactly the same but whose legal situation is slightly different.)

The Wayne Chapman of my acquaintance had been caught about 15 years earlier. Back then, clinical psychologists had convinced several state legislatures and courts that they could fix people like Chapman. Just let us pop the hood, tune him up, and he'll be ready for the priesthood ... er, well, no, that's not what we meant but he'll be just fine, really. Based, presumably, on his lawyer's advice, Mr. Chapman pled guilty in exchange for a suspended 15 year sentence and civil commitment of one day to life to the Bridgewater State Treatment Center for the Sexually Dangerous.

One treatment at the treatment center consisted of showing the treatees kiddie porn, and making them masturbate until they were sick of it. Another method is to hook them up to a machine called a penile plethysmograph, which measures their erections. Then they are shown the kiddie porn, and if they get a hard on, they receive an electric shock or a disgusting smell. Then they look at pornographic pictures of adult women and masturbate in appropriate moderation. Really weird shit like that. They also do groups, drama therapy, and other non-bizarro psychotherapy.

Every year, a panel of scientists reviews Chapman's case and recommends that he either stay in, or get ten bucks, a cheap suit, and a bus ticket back to Lynn. He also has the right to petition for his release once a year, in which case a jury is called upon to decide if he is "still a sexually dangerous person." Without going into the details of Wayne Chapman's career at the State Treatment Center (I will tell you that he refused to accept penile plethysmography), but to cut to the chase, I do not see how it is possible that any jury will ever allow him to draw a free breath, at least as long as the DA doesn't want him to. District Attorneys are elected officials, and back in the early '90s, several individuals were furloughed from the Bridgewater center who ended up commiting murder. Now the DAs are engaged in an escalating competition to commit more and more offenders -- including picking people up at the jailhouse door as they complete their prison setences and trucking them straight to Bridgewater to be civilly committed. (For people committed a few years after Mr. Chapman, as I understand it, judges now make the decisions about release, not juries. Although the jury system is intended to protect the rights of the accused, in this case it undoubtedly has the exact opposite effect. I can far more readily imagine a judge releasing one of these offenders over the DA's objections, than a jury doing so.)

There were many complexities to this trial, to the legal context, to the jury deliberations, and to my own very painful deliberations as a member of the jury and in fact, as the jury foreman.

This post is already too long, so I'll just propose one quandary. If Chapman had not accepted the plea deal, and been convicted of his crimes, he might have gotten a sentence of 15 years. (Nowadays, it probably would have been stiffer, maybe 25.) He would be walking the streets, not even on parole, as free as Godly men like Bernard Law. But thanks to progressive theories of rehabilitation, he is very likely to die in our deepest dungeon. But one thing is for sure -- he'll never rape another little girl.

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