Forced miscarriages, however horrible, should not qualify as “murder”

Yesterday I heard that Ariel Castro was being charged by the prosecutor with several counts of “aggravated murder” for each of the miscarriages he caused Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and/or Gina DeJesus. I don’t have a problem with Castro, assuming he’s found guilty of the various crimes that he’s been charged with, being locked away forever or even put to death. But something about the fact that Castro is being charged with “aggravated murder” regarding the forced miscarriages bothers me. It’s the word “murder.”

The prosecutor in this case is not stretching Ohio’s murder statute in any way to bring this charge against Castro. The statute is written specifically to permit charges of aggravated murder in this kind of situation. Ohio statute 2903.01 applies the term “aggravated murder” to homicides as follows:

(A) No person shall purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the death of another or the unlawful termination of another’s pregnancy.

(B) No person shall purposely cause the death of another or the unlawful termination of another’s pregnancy while committing or attempting to commit, or while fleeing immediately after committing or attempting to commit, kidnapping, rape, aggravated arson, arson, aggravated robbery, robbery, aggravated burglary, burglary, trespass in a habitation when a person is present or likely to be present, terrorism, or escape. (emphasis added)

There’s no question that, by the statute, inducing a miscarriage by repeatedly punching a kidnapped, pregnant woman in the stomach qualifies as aggravated murder. Yet I still question why a forced miscarriage should belong in any homicide statute.

The way it’s written, the statute is really, really close to defining a fetus (or a zygote) as a person, and that’s a very unwise thing to do. Zygote personhood laws would have all sorts of unintended consequences, and as someone living in Colorado who has written about these laws (and where voters have wisely rejected at least three zygote personhood laws at the ballot box), I’ve had a greater opportunity to consider those unintended consequences than most.

But I’m also a parent of two children. Having children was and is an amazing experience for me and my wife, but it’s also one hell of a lot of work that can be both physically and emotionally exhausting at times. Kids are not all sweetness and light, however much you love them. That’s why being a parent has made me more pro-choice, not less – no-one should be forced to raise children they are not able or willing to raise.

I won’t speak for my wife on this (I’m not stupid) but if someone had attacked her and she’d had miscarried either of our children, I would personally have considered it murder. Not because I felt the fetus was fully human in the same way a newborn or adult is, but because I wanted that child to be born. I had imagined that fetus as my child, and I already loved the child it was becoming. I would have been devastated if my wife had miscarried spontaneously, and my devastation would have been greater if she had miscarried as a result of an attack.

But while I would have considered it murder, I don’t think it really would have been one. It certainly would have been been the murder of the idea of my son or my daughter. It certainly would have been the murder of a hypothetical being. But however much I could have imagined what the future would be with the hypothetical child, the reality of my children has been unique and truly unimaginable.

Furthermore, the fact that I was already in love with my future child and wanted him or her shouldn’t matter to the law either. We only charge people for crimes against real things, not against someone’s desires or emotions. Nor do we don’t charge people with a crime for killing the idea of a person.

So I’m conflicted about the charges of “aggravated murder” in the case of a forced miscarriage. I absolutely feel that battery leading to a forced miscarriage (or, if you prefer, a forced abortion) should be a crime. The battery itself is criminal, and I’m OK with criminalizing the “unlawful termination of a pregnancy.”

Call it “feticide” if “unlawful termination of a pregnancy” isn’t pithy enough. Define types like “simple” and “aggravated” if you must. By all means have a public discussion about what kind of punishment fits the crime. Debate the unintended consequences of criminalizing “feticide” and work to minimize them.

But don’t call it something it’s not. Don’t call it murder.

A question for NRA and LaPierre: where is that $4 billion going to come from?

by Patrick Vecchio

National Rifle Association Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre is not a gifted public speaker. At yesterday’s press conference—the NRA’s first statement after the Sandy Hook school massacre—LaPierre’s head bobbed distractingly as he read from his notes.

I mention this because in their account of LaPierre’s speech, Eric Lichtblau and John Cushman Jr. of the New York Times described LaPierre as “angry and combative” with a “defiant tone.” I wanted to see if these descriptions were true, so I stopped reading the Times, decided not to read any accounts of the speech at all, and then watched a video of the entire press conference. Instead of seeing a combative man, I saw a man for whom the word “glib” doesn’t exist. I also saw a man oblivious to the $4 billion cost of a plan he was proposing (more on that in a bit).

The first thing I noticed, though, was a man whose version of a persuasive speech was so flawed that I would expect more from an eighth-grader. Middle school students are taught (or should be taught) that compromise is an essential ingredient of a persuasive essay. You acknowledge the other side has points worth addressing: some of them very good and worth serious consideration, or even implementation; others of the “your idea sounds good, but I disagree—and here’s why.” Even bad ideas should be politely dismissed.

LaPierre delivered none of that yesterday. He blamed random mass shootings on violent video games, on bloody movies, on the bloodthirsty media—on anything but guns. In fact, he spent so much time bashing the media that it began to sound like his strategy was to hammer the “media: bad” idea so many times that it could be turned into truth through sheer repetition. He did everything but accuse reporters of buying the guns and bullets.

LaPierre’s opening act of “blame the messenger” took up seven of his speech’s 10 pages [transcript here]—a mélange of prevarication ineptly designed to distract people from the legitimate idea that maybe the availability of guns also has something to do with school shootings. He never addressed this point, which was about as predictable as the fact that the world indeed did not end today, despite Mayan prophecy. Instead, at the top of page 8, LaPierre called on Congress to “act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school—and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January.”

If that idea were the Titanic, it would have sunk immediately after leaving the pier. The National Center for Education Statistics reports there were about 99,000 public schools in America in 2009-10, the last year for which the center has statistics. LaPierre is suggesting armed guards can be stationed in all of those schools in less than two weeks.

In giving a persuasive speech, the speaker should want to sound credible instead of sounding like someone whose version of reality is as credible as a plan to raise the Titanic with dental floss. LaPierre thinks armed guards can be hired in less than two weeks during the holiday season. I suggest that by Monday night, America should deploy mutant reindeer that really can fly.

As for the cost of a guard-per-school program, how much skin does the NRA expect to have in the game? LaPierre’s speech said the NRA will provide training expertise, knowledge, dedication and “resources,” which do not appear to be resources of the financial variety.

So, just for curiosity’s sake, let’s do the math to see how much an armed-guard-in-every-school program would cost. For starters, there are about 99,000 schools in America. Are all of those schools so small that one guard will be enough? Probably not, so let’s assume about 1 percent of those schools will need two guards. That brings us to an even 100,000 guards.

Now, picture yourself as a trained, proficient, law-abiding citizen (a category into which I put all but a sliver of a fraction of gun owners). How much are you going to want to earn for being singlehandedly responsible for defending 500 students: $25,000 a year? $35,000 a year? $40,000?

Using those figures, the cost for implementing LaPierre’s plan ranges from $2.5 billion to $4 billion. This is in an era of widespread aid cuts to schools—cuts that have resulted in larger class sizes, fewer teachers, fewer school nurses and counselors, and fewer resources, extracurricular activities, and programs. And now LaPierre proposes that Congress—which can’t agree on the phase of the moon—come up with $4 billion in less than two weeks. Yes, that will happen, and I will go bowling on Christmas Eve with Pippa Middleton.

As long as we’re in crazy ideas territory, let’s pretend the money can be found. Will it pay for 100,000 safety officers whose aim is true? Consider this: In late August, a shooting occurred at the Empire State Building. Two people died; nine were wounded. All nine were hit by stray police bullets, fragments of bullets, or ricochets, the New York Times reported.

One might think New York City police officers are well-trained in handling firearms, given the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Yet in a fast-moving situation on a crowded street, police officers whose lives or deaths can depend on their shooting skills managed to wound nine bystanders. Enough said.

I had hoped the Sandy Hook tragedy would prompt the NRA to reconsider its unwavering stance on firearms restrictions. Instead, LaPierre came out with a proposal so ludicrous that it’s fair to ask whether he cares at all about public safety. We waited a week for this? Armed guards in public schools?

Well then, sir, what do we do about shopping malls, movie theaters and college campuses?

Illustrations: Paul Szep

Norwegian Wood: peace and love and senseless murder

By Patrick Vecchio

I have a jukebox in my brain that starts playing as soon as I get out of bed. It plays all day long unless my mind is occupied. Music at the start of the day is not necessarily a good thing, because sometimes I hate the song. This morning, for example, it was a song by Olivia Newton-John. It’s gone, and only now can I mention Ms. Newton-John, having purged the earworm.

Later, while I was driving, my shuffling brain cued up The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” I’m not a Beatles fan. Hadn’t heard the song in years. But there it was as I motored along:

I once had a girl
Or should I say, she once had me. Continue reading

Groups demand White House release al-Awlaki murder memo

In October of 2011, Scholars & Rogues noted that the Obama administration had ordered the killing of an unindicted American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al Qaeda media provocateur. The drone missile launched against al-Awlaki also killed another unindicted American citizen, Samir Khan, who was also engaged with Al Qaeda media efforts.

S&R noted that both men were likely deserving of their fate as plotters against the security of the United States. But death at the hands of government with no charge being laid and subsequently proven is morally wrong. So in March S&R demanded that the Obama administration release a memo that it said outlined its moral justification for killing al-Awlaki and Khan. Thus far, Attorney General Eric Holder has refused.

Now, more organizations are applying pressure on the White House to explain its policy that has resulted in the deaths of unindicted American citizens.
Continue reading

Condoning murder: Holder's explanation of al-Awlaki killing woefully insufficient

Five months and five days after it killed a notorious American jihadist without due process of law, the Obama administration has offered an explanation of its actions in the death of al-Qaeda provocateur Anwar al-Awlaki.

In September, a Hellfire missile fired from a drone aircraft operated by the Central Intelligence Agency struck ground in Yemen. It killed not one but two American citizens. One was New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki, 40; the other was Samir Khan, 25, who published media for Al Qaeda promoting terrorism. Al-Awlaki was the intended target; Khan, apparently, was just gravy.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday the government used a three-part test for determining the legality of killing an American citizen beyond immediate reach of U.S. courts. Reported the Associated Press:

[Holder] said the government must determine after careful review that the citizen poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the U.S., capture is not feasible and the killing would be consistent with laws of war.

After careful review? What constitutes review? Who determines how careful it is? Based on what legal standards? What policy underwrote the killing?
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Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #117: Wake Up!

“Hollywood is so crooked that Mafia gangsters are entirely outclassed and don’t stand a chance. People in Hollywood are smarter. They have more sophisticated knowledge of money and deals and how to steal legally rather than illegally.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #115: RIP No. 32

“If you’re really pro-life, do me a favor—don’t lock arms and block medical clinics. If you’re so pro-life, lock arms and block cemeteries.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #111: Mmmmm… Beeeeeer

Sorry for the long absence. Let’s carry on, shall we? “If you listen to the guys up in the stands, pretty soon you’ll be up there sitting with them.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #107: Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #101: Your Pal, Mike S.

“The guys who are shooting films now are technically brilliant, but there’s no content in their films. I marvel at what I see and wish I could have done a shot like that. But shots are secondary for my films, and with some of these films, it’s all about the shots. What’s the point? I’m not sure people know what points to make.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #99: Heed the Peace Gnome

“You just pick up a chord, go twang, and you’ve got music.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #98: A More Glorious Dawn Awaits

“The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.” Who said it? Continue reading

The Summer of Hate provides a watershed moment for "reasonable Republicans"

I’m not a Republican, but I know many people who are. I have GOP friends, co-workers and family members, and for that matter I used to be a Republican myself. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, to be sure. But it’s true.

It’s no secret that I don’t agree with the GOP on much of anything these days, but there’s kind of an odd element to my conversations with Republican acquaintances lately: a lot of them profess significant disagreement with the platform and policies of their party, too.

Taken in a vacuum, this is hardly surprising. Continue reading

Michael Vick and the problem with forgiveness

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has conditionally reinstated former Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick, who was convicted of running a dogfighting ring in 2007. Vick served 23 months in federal prison, followed by two months of house arrest.

Last Thursday the Philadelphia Eagles answered the question as to which team would sign a convicted dog-killer (there were 32 possible answers to the question, and “none of the above” wasn’t one of them), and in doing so touched off a long-awaited PR war for the souls of their stunned fans. Continue reading

From Christmas to August: Postscript and Appendix

by Michael Tracey


In November 2007, just as I was finishing a draft of this essay I was talking to a television executive during a visit to London. He asked if there was anything “new” in the Ramsey case.

I told him there wasn’t, unless you include a flurry of stories over the summer about the fact that John Ramsey was dating the mother of Natalie Holloway, a pretty blond college student who had gone missing two years ago while on vacation on the Caribbean island of Aruba. Continue reading

Meanings, pt. 1: Post-OJ America

by Michael Tracey

“Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”

– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

So on to the really interesting part: what has it all meant, what do I take away from this curious episode in my life, and from a decade-long involvement not just in the narrative around the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, but the cultural ecology out of which that narrative climbed?

Henry James once wrote that to be an American is a complex fate, a sentiment I’d like to amend by suggesting that to be alive is a complex fate, pulled asunder as we are by the competing forces of deep, unspoken Neolithic urges, the demands of the caring heart and struggles in usingdavid the Rational mind, all elements present in the World of JonBenet.

Three general issues suggest themselves: Continue reading

Impeachment? Truth and reconciliation commission? Never mind that — haul George Bush into a court of law, part 5

Vincent Bugliosi talks about prosecuting George Bush and his appearance before the House Judiciary Committee.

S&R: If Bush were prosecuted and found guilty, would you recommend the death penalty?

VB: Absolutely. It would dishonor those in their graves who paid the ultimate price if Bush did not pay the ultimate penalty. If I were the prosecutor I would seek the death penalty. I mean, my God, prosecutors seek the death penalty when there’s only one person in their grave. Here we have at a minimum 100,000 people in their graves. Continue reading