Friday, November 7, 2014

The Quest for Forgiveness, Chapter 4 (Part 2)

Last time, Ethan explained to the judge that he wasn't going to defend himself because if he did, extremist Muslims would probably kill Brijanna. The judge has now decided he's innocent. On with the trial!

(Note: This chapter does involve a fair amount of talking about child abuse. It's not graphic, but if that's something that's not good for you to read, you should probably skip this chapter.)

We start off with the judge anxious to tell everyone Ethan is innocent despite having no evidence one way or the other:
She glanced at the twelve jurors— eight women and four men.
Oh, no! Eight women? How will he ever get a fair trial? Because as we established in the last chapter, women are incapable of being objective, except for the judge, who also isn't being "objective" the way they want her to be -- she's decided Ethan is innocent entirely on a hunch.

And here begins the most annoying thing about this chapter:
The judge’s message was clear and precise. “This is one of the most difficult cases you could ever hear as a jury. First, it pits one family member against another. Both sides may sound believable. It is your job to decipher the information and decide who is telling the truth. Therefore, I am pleading for you to be open -minded. Listen carefully to both sides, and be prepared to make an unpopular decision. Start right now, clear your mind. Remove all pre-existing stereotypes or judgmental opinions.”
She makes a REALLY BIG DEAL about deciphering the information and removing pre-existing stereotypes. However, it's clear (and precise?) to the readers that what she means is, "Decide he's innocent, because I have, and if you don't, it's because you've pre-judged him."

This happens a couple times. And while I don't want to give away exactly what happens... we'll just see how that plays out.

The prosecutor's opening statement is essentially something like this: "You think handsome men can't be monsters? TED BUNDY, people. We have evidence and stuff, but you don't want to know about that now."

The defense's opening statement is like: "Ted Bundy? HA! There's no evidence! He just loves his little girl, so be fair and open-minded!"

They are the worst opening statements ever. I even went to look up some legal advice and found out that opening arguments are not allowed to be argumentative. They're restricted to stating the facts and the evidence that will be presented. Neither side here named any facts. The judge probably shouldn't allow either of these. It's hard to know whether Ethan's trial will go better or worse than it normally would, given that both of the attorneys here don't actually know how trials work.

The judge says:
“If no one sees a reason to recess, I would like to begin the trial. Is everyone ready?”
Haven't they begun the trial already? Pretty sure opening statements are called that because the open the trial. It's not like a "here's a preview before the commercial break, now everyone go get some popcorn."

When an author doesn't know how legal processes work, everybody in the courtroom becomes incompetent.

The prosecution's first witness is Doctor Alicia Burrows. When asked to swear in on the Bible, she says:
“Your Honor, I find this tasteless. Since the Bible is made up of lies and fairy tales, I refuse to abide by that rule.”
So she's gonna be a fun character. The judge gives a super loud passive-aggressive sigh and allows her to be sworn in without a Bible.

But it turns out Doctor Burrows is like... a sullen snarky 12-year-old. She won't raise her right hand, then she says "yes" instead of "I do," then she only raises her hand part of the way, and the judge yells at her, and the doctor sneers at her but finally caves.

What the crap? Is she still mad that they gave her a Bible in the first place? Was her super-strict mom a judge? Does she have a vendetta against the judicial branch? Is she Dr. Gregory House in disguise? Why on earth did the prosecution think it was a good idea to have this woman testify in person instead of presenting a written report or something?

And this section... I just... I can't... I can't do it. I'm just going to have to give you the whole chunk of it. Dr. Burrows is apparently a psychiatrist who treated Brijanna for awhile:
Dr. Burrows tensely shifted her position. “She suffered from severe mental instability brought on by continued physical, mental, and sexual abuse by her adoptive father.” 
Cain angrily jumped up. “Your honor. I object. What is this? Can she stick with the questions at hand and not let her own non-medical stereotypes enter in.” 
The judge faced the cynical witness. “Ms. Burrows, please just answer the question.”  
The doctor sighed loudly, obviously not in control of the situation like she wanted to be. “I’m telling the truth as I understand it.” 
Judge Summer’s voice intensified. “No, you are not. You are saying what you feel. I’m not interested in your personal opinion. It is the truth that we are after, your professional opinion. Remember, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.”
Non-medical stereotypes? What does that even mean?

Also, she's a psychiatrist. Her professional opinion is what she's giving. If she found Brijanna unstable and found that the most likely cause was abuse, and if Brijanna told her about being abused, then she has every reason to believe that is the case. It's not like when a doctor sets a broken bone without needing to know the cause of the bone breaking. In psychiatry, sometimes the whole point is figuring out why something has happened.

Now, granted, she can't be certain, because she never saw Ethan hurt her, and it's fair to call her on that. But she's certainly within her area of expertise to say that the instability in Brijanna was likely caused by prolonged abuse.

And the judge claiming that her professional opinion/the truth is what they are after -- what if her professional opinion was that Brijanna had been abused? Right now the doctor's acting like a doofus so it's understandable that no one believes her, but if she had been respectful and behaving like a real adult but said she thought Brijanna had been abused, would that suddenly not count as her professional opinion either?

One of the most infuriating things about this whole chapter is that the judge keeps yelling for fairness and objectivity, but she is clearly biased in favor of Ethan, and what she means by "fairness" is "finding him innocent." Just as she claims everyone else is biased in favor of Brijanna, she has just as much bias on her side, but she's so convinced she's right that she accuses everyone else of being biased.

It's like the battle of the "unbiased" news channels...

Dr. Burrows goes on to share that Brijanna hated living with the Andersons, mostly because of:
“I would have to say their Christian beliefs. They were trying to teach her false teaching, and false hopes, in a false God. At the same time, they were trying to teach her to be perfect according to their beliefs.” 
And then EVERYONE flips out because she's insulting Christianity.

The judge's response:
“Doctor Burrows, I’ll have you know that I am a Christian. You can think and believe what you want, but how dare you talk about Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, as being false teachings with false beliefs, and hopes in a false god! That is your opinion, not mine, not of this court, or the accused. This country was founded on freedom of religion, or in your case, freedom from religion. However, I already told you, do not give your opinions in my courtroom. Give facts! It is up to the jury to decipher the facts and make a judgment, not yours. I will not warn you again, Doctor.”

For one thing, it sure sounds to me like she's telling them what Brijanna thought.

If Brijanna herself had taken the stand and had said that she objected to being taught Christianity, would the judge have flipped out on her like that too?

Secondly, don't you dare try to throw that "freedom of religion" speech around. Freedom of religion means that people are ALLOWED to think and say that Christianity is a false teaching with false beliefs. If the doctor was giving her own personal opinion, sure, it'd be completely irrelevant to the case, but it would hardly be a freedom of religion issue. And since she's explaining what Brijanna didn't like about living at the Andersons, it is very relevant to the case and needs to be said.

But, no, the judge strikes it from the record because apparently Brijanna's complaints about learning Christianity don't really count because she believes in false teachings with false beliefs.

So the judge asks her again why Brijanna was so angry, and the doctor just says, "Their Christian beliefs." The judge responds:
“Why would their Christian beliefs cause anger in the child? There are millions of Christians in the world who have good, loving homes.” 
Well... MAAAAAYBE it was because she was raised Muslim and thought that the Andersons were trying to teach her false teachings and false hopes in a false God. But the doctor is apparently not allowed to explain the real reason Brijanna gave, so she has to tiptoe around it and says Brijanna was raised Muslim and was "conflicted."

(Incidentally, Ethan's decision not to speak up has done absolutely nothing to hide the fact that Brijanna was Muslim and "converted" to Christianity. Guess she's gonna get killed now.)

The doctor talks about Brijanna being traumatized and sad when she was working with the doctor, and they talk generically about child abuse for awhile. Then this happens:
“So in your professional opinion, the defendant , Ethan Anderson, abused his daughter because he did not have a physical relationship with his wife?” 
...And the judge was OK with that. WHAT? The psychiatrist wasn't treating Ethan, she'd have no way of knowing why he was abusing his kids. Apparently she's allowed to make wild guesses on why he was abusive despite not having met him, but she's not allowed to say that judging from Brijanna's mental state, he had abused her?

Gosh, I'm beginning to understand the doctor's disdain for this courtroom...

The defense takes the stand and narrows in on the fact that the doctor says Brijanna sang a lot to cope. He tries to suggest that she's actually singing because she's happy, and she must be happy because she's musically talented. (?)

They talk a bit about the sexual abuse. The defense suggests that Brijanna made the whole abuse story up, and the doctor is shocked and says no, She does eventually admit that the hospital report says she wasn't sexually abused, but that in her professional opinion it was just a matter of time before it got to that point. The defense makes a few snide remarks about the doctor being a crappy doctor and then dismisses her.

They call a detective to the stand, and he also makes the mistake of saying Brijanna was abused, and instead of just calling it out as hearsay or unfounded, the judge gives another long speech about how people are INNOCENT until proven GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt (and, yes, the book says she emphasizes those words).

This part isn't terribly interesting, it's just a detailed explanation of them talking with Brijanna. She said she'd been beaten and insinuated she'd been sexually abused but didn't say so explicitly. The defense claims again that she made the whole thing up because she wasn't detailed enough, but the detective says it was very confusing and she was bruised and terrified.
As he eyed the twelve jurors, he noticed one of them smiling at someone in the courtroom. Another was scratching her head and yawning. Obviously, some of the jurors were not paying attention to the testimony.  
He turned to look at the witness. Then suddenly, trying to capture the jurors’ attention, he yelled, “Detective!” His action startled everyone in the room. “Was Janna sexually abused or not?”
They're not paying attention... time for some BIG DRAMATIC MOMENTS!

They reiterate once again that she wasn't actually sexually abused. But here's the thing: Brijanna apparently never outright said she was, so this doesn't discredit her. She did say she was beaten, and there does seem to be proof of that. The defense tries to paint it as "only a confused twelve-year-old girl's word" but let me tell you, if I was on the jury, I'd be pretty convinced.

The defense is apparently also concerned about that because they ask for a mistrial, since the two witness "have tainted the minds of the jury" and make it impossible for Ethan to get a fair trial.

But here's the thing... they apparently tainted the minds of the jury just by giving their professional opinions that, as people who deal with abuse victims, they believe Brijanna. The psychiatrist was a little nastier about it, but her professional opinion was that Brijanna was abused. They were both doing exactly what they were asked to do: present the evidence they have, and share their professional conclusions.

Once again: If Brijanna had testified in person about the abuse, would they have complained that they were "tainting the minds of the jury"?

What does the defense expect? Does their demand for "fairness and open-mindedness" require that the professional experts say "this girl was traumatized, bruised, and claimed she had been beaten, but she probably wasn't"?

The judge refuses a mistrial, but tells the prosecutor that she will if her witnesses "step out of line" one more time. By presenting evidence of abuse, I guess.

The third witness is Ethan's wife, Susan.
He watched the woman, who once was the love of his life, approach the stand . She was dressed in a tight, short skirt, and a low-neck fitted sweater.
She's dressed like that because she's an evil heathen, you see.

She begins to testify, but before she gets a word out:
Ethan had enough! Impulsively, he jumped to his feet, shouting, “No, Susan. No! If you ever loved me, don’t say anything.”
...Well, THAT sure makes him look innocent.

Susan says that she suspected Ethan and Brijanna were having a physical relationship. They spent hours in her room together and she was weirded out by how close the two of them were.
Judge Summers was fatigued. She could only imagine how emotionally spent the defendant must be. “Does the defense have any questions?” 
Ethan gripped the edge of the table and leaned in. “No,” he shouted.
This is an inadvertently hilarious image in the middle of this "serious" scene. I keep trying to picture it in my mind: Ethan grabbing onto the table and leaning forward yelling, "NO" -- but not with an exclamation point, so I can only assume it sounds like a firm kind of "NO" that you would yell at an animal or a difficult child to get it to stop misbehaving. It makes me giggle.

Turns out Ethan doesn't want to ask Susan questions because:
“But if the truth comes out, Janna’s life will be in danger. Susan knows the truth... the whole truth,” Ethan whispered.

I honestly can't remember if there's like... a secret extra layer here. It's already come out that Brijanna converted from Islam to Christianity, so he can't be worried about that, unless he's somehow totally forgotten that happened. What the heck "whole truth" is he talking about? I guess we'll find out. Or maybe not. I don't know. I can't remember how this wraps up.

Finally Ethan agrees to let his attorney ask Susan some questions as long as he doesn't ask anything about Brijanna's past. The guy starts off by snarking at Susan for being dressed nicely for the woman's magazine journalists in the room, so he's certainly nothing like that other attorney in the courtroom who makes personal attacks on the people she's fighting against.

He pushes her to give examples of inappropriate touching but discredits all the ones she gives, explains that the time spent in her room was probably spent playing music, and then gets Susan to break down in tears admitting she was jealous of Brijanna. He accuses her of testifying against him for free publicity (because this is exactly the kind of publicity a marketing expert would want). She doesn't answer and takes off.

The prosecution rests (after the judge tries to badger Ethan into badgering Brijanna to testify and he says no), and they decide that the defense will present their case the next day, though I don't really know what they have to present, as Brijanna isn't testifying, Ethan isn't testifying, and Susan and the experts testified against him.

I thought this trial just took up one chapter, but turns out we've got some more to go. The most frustrating speech of all is yet to come. Oh goody.

1 comment:

  1. So many things!

    For instance, the judge calling the doctor "Ms." instead of "Dr." is some passive-aggressive sexism. I won't even get into how entirely out of line it is for a judge in the United States to declare that Christianity is the way of her court room because DAMN.

    Then there's the Islamo-ignorance. For starters, Muslims believe in THE SAME GOD AS JEWS AND CHRISTIANS. Their religion traces itself right back to Abraham. That should be common knowledge in the United States by now, but the Rothdeiners of the world keep perpetuating this They Worship A False God! nonsense.

    Then there's the matter of whether Brianna converted to Christianity at all, or whether it an involuntary thing chosen for her by Ethan. It's not evidence of physical or sexual abuse, but it would be a legitimate basis for psychological abuse constituting a violation of her freedom of reli--oh, right. Never mind. Forgot for a moment what world this story takes place in.

    I also like that this judge not only yells at witnesses for delivering their professional perspectives and admonishes the jury to acquit Ethan, but she also lets Ethan shout when he wants with impunity. Bonus points for her using the term "innocent", when in fact there is no such legal term; the verdicts are either "guilty" or "not guilty". You can't prove innocence; you can only prove or fail to prove guilt. Judge Summers might even be worse at her job than Judge Judy.

    As for Dr. Burrows's testimony, the only legit rebuttal question is, "Based on what?" Unless there's something big you've omitted from your recap, she's only given her conclusion but no account of how she reached it. Instead, it seems that "Nu-uh!" is a viable counterargument from both the defense AND the judge.

    I know research isn't his thing but has Rothdeiner at least seen a single episode of any Law & Order series ever? I'm pretty sure he hasn't.