I have a client who is accused of murder -- the murder of her husband. She is one of those women who really has no defense. She has been beaten, abused, insulted, threatened, and generally derided to the point of having no backbone. She is a woman who has no self confidence, no belief that her life is worth a copper penny. She believed that her husband had all the control. There is no “but” after that statement; it is absolute and final.
One day he went too far. He called her names. He threatened her with death. He called her a “f---ing b---h” and said that he was going to kill her. He said it over and over ... yelling in her face, holding a gun in his hand. Unfortunately for this abusive, overbearing man, this woman now had a gun of her own. She shot him, not just once, but twice.
Shooting two times is a bit more troubling for a defense lawyer than just one time. Why is there a need to shoot two times? Maybe she shot two times to be absolutely sure that she would never have to endure this overbearing, arrogant piece-of-crap husband again -- ever! And because of this second shot, she won’t. He is now dead.
If a prosecutor said, "So, show me the evidence that all this abuse happened," how would this woman do that? There was no other person around, just herself and her husband. No one else. Who would believe her? His family thought he was a wonderful man, a wonderful husband. She knew differently. But she never told anyone because she felt no one would believe her.
What does this woman do now? She is charged with murdering her husband. She could go to prison for the rest of her life, or a major part of it. She certainly would be an old woman when she was eventually released.
She gets an attorney -- either hired or appointed. If she has to have an appointed lawyer, she has to pray with all her heart that he or she is an attorney who will find some sympathy for her life story. She prays that this lawyer will understand her story, stand by her and take up for her.
I am relating this to you because this is where I enter the story. I was appointed to represent this woman. She has never been involved in the criminal justice system before, ever in her life. She was married to this man for several years, and each year was worse than the year before.
I came into the story after the husband was dead. How am I to defend this woman? She is a worker, a person who has always had a job -- and not just any job, but a job that requires hard labor. She does that for a living. Her hands are rough and calloused. Her face is weathered and beginning to get some early wrinkles. She is thin, and when she has to dress for court, either in a skirt or a dress with some sort of heels, she looks out of place and obviously uncomfortable ... as if she would feel better in a pair of Levi's, work boots and gloves. I sense that, and I almost wish that it would be acceptable for her to show up in court in her usual, comfortable attire. Would the jury have more empathy, or identify more closely with her? I cannot help but feel that they would. But for now, it is better that she conform with society. Let’s not rock the boat.
Trial has not yet started. I am trying to put her in a position of power, or at least at a place where she can give me an opinion about what she wants out of this trial. Does she want me to work out a plea? (I am hoping she does not want that option.) It is difficult for her to make a decision about her own well-being since she has had no position of power in all of her married years.
I want her to help me with her defense in this case. It is hard to talk to her because she speaks in a whisper. Her voice is almost nonexistent. How did that happen? How can another human being get to the point where she has no voice, no power, no idea that her feelings can have any impact on anyone, especially on anyone in any authority.
Women like this one have been used and abused all their lives. Often, they have been sexually or physically abused during childhood and early adolescence. No one has ever asked their opinion about anything. They have never been of any value to anyone.
You, who are reading this are probably thinking, “Well, this is just impossible. There are no women today who are really like that.” I beg to differ with you. Yes, there are many women like the one I just described. They are good people. They may have been raised in a good family, with good parents and had a normal family life. But, somewhere along the road to adulthood, they ran into a man who was not normal. Is there a gene in these women's makeup that allows them to fall under the control of this man? I do not have a background in this field to tell you the answer. I can only say that it happens and it is scary to know that women like this are floundering - there is not much hope for them because they do not know how to fix the problem. Many of them do not even know they have a problem.
So, what will happen to my client? She could possibly spend most of the rest of her life in prison. We are awaiting trial right now. I am hoping that the trial will end with a not guilty verdict. But, I cannot guarantee that verdict to her. I can only assure her that I will work very hard in her defense. For now, this woman has some hope -- enough for her to hang on to and believe that her lawyer is working for her. What else does she have?
Tuesday, September 7, 2010