Murder and Due Process of Law

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
This piece discusses how due process of law can be misconstrued when individuals with mental disabilities are charged with murder. The essay compares and contrasts the ideas of Truman Capote with the documentary on West Memphis 3 (Paradise Lost).

Submitted: August 14, 2008

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Submitted: August 14, 2008

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Murder, the taking of one’s life, can become complicated when the actual crime does not present enough evidence to support the arrest of a suspect. When an untimely death occurs such as murder, fingers are pointed, accusations made, and the innocence of those being questioned is lost in the fight for justice. This was found to be true in the West Memphis 3 Documentary (Paradise Lost) and In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote.Opposed to placing direct blame on the suspects, Capote and the creators of the West Memphis 3 tried in vain to show the humanistic side of the accused individuals. The community becomes involved when the heinous event takes place, causing quite a stir thrusting authority figures with a lot of pressure, in an attempt to locate the killer(s) and in some instances without probable cause, concrete evidence or due process of law.

Author, Truman Capote chose to write about murder in a small town in Kansas, dating back to 1959 when doors were left unlocked and society felt safe. Paradise Lost (documentary-movie) also rattled the safety tucked, close knit neighborhood, when three second grade students mysteriously disappeared, only to be found, after being ravaged by blood thirsty, and satanically twisted suspects, or so society thought. There are several similarities, in the scenes and events that took place In Cold Blood and Paradise Lost that can be found in the murderous sprees.

In Cold Blood, the ruination of comfort and safety for people in the 1950s occurred, when a small town in Kansas became national news--an innocent family was brutally murdered. Several years later, in a small town in Arkansas, society was once again slapped in the face, when three, second graders were found brutally murdered. Both crime scenes were horrendous in nature yet, clues were difficult to find, as to why someone would commit such an act. It became evident early on that there was more than one suspect in each of the horrific cases. Society painted the suspects as being the cruelest of all mankind, however the offenders were also given humanistic traits by the writers.

When the crimes are initially introduced to the audience, society exerts outrage due to the nature of the bloody and irreversible scenes of death. Rarely is much thought given toward the suspects charged with the crime(s), other than they should be put to death for the murders they committed. The suspects are not seen as being human and of the same quality of being as other members of society. Instead they appear to be alien in nature, perceived as animals, blood thirsty animals, who had no consideration for the lives they took. Truman Capote requested sympathy from his audience by introducing the mentality of Perry, one of the suspects. “Because he hates me, said Perry, whose voice was both gentle and prim--a voice that, though soft, manufactured each word exactly, ejected it like a smoke ring issuing from a parson’s mouth” (Capote 23). He made an attempt to encourage the audience to let their guard down concerning the personality and characteristics of Perry primarily, and Dick.

Perry was noted as a follower, one with a lower IQ than his running buddy Dick. Perry was very childlike in nature and although he and Dick spent time together in the penitentiary, Dick was the stronger and more evil of the two forces. Perry’s family was distant from him, the members who were still alive. When Perry was sorting through paperwork and his belongings, he found letters from his sister, which he held sacred, along with a medal from the Korean War, sentimental pictures and vocabulary words to name a few memories he wanted to keep close to him. One notebook in particular, contained “’The Private Diary of Perry Edward Smith‘ --an inaccurate description, for it was not in the least a diary but, rather, a form of anthology consisting of obscure facts” (Capote 146). The exterior of the notebook was written in a more feminine handwriting, much like a child would do in school. Sad as though it may be, this was the life of an individual who was also once perceived as being innocent. Nonetheless, his background and his misfortune had led him astray and it seems only normal that he would find strict companionship with Dick.

Another similarity in the two pertains to the fact that one of the West Memphis Three, Jessie Misskelley, also with a very low IQ (72) which placed him in the bracket of being mentally retarded, was questioned by the police department for 12 hours. Misskelley’s disability led him to become an actor portraying a role, one that would signify the penalty all three teens received in court. Misskelley’s interrogation was unacceptable in today’s standards and should have been suppressed in the courts, because of his inability to understand the difference between fully understanding the questioning upon him (http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/famous/memphis/index_1.html 2008). Misskelly was childlike in trait and opposed to recognizing that he could have an attorney present while being questioned, concerning a crime he had no involvement with, he later was told to recant his statements because it was the words of the officers coming out of his mouth. He knew no more about the murders of the second graders, than Perry wrote in his Private Diary. Yet, on Wednesday 19 January 1994, Jessie Misskelley was sent to trial after an attempt to have his confession suppressed was denied. “Two weeks later, he was found guilty on one count of first degree capital murder and two counts of second degree capital murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole. He was seventeen years old” (http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/famous/memphis/index_1.html 2008).

In the documentary relating to the West Memphis 3, also known as Paradise Lost, Damien Echols, convicted master mind of the murder of the three second graders, can be viewed on television, Youtube and the Internet, holding his baby. Although older now, a tiger’s stripes never change, therefore, if Echols had actually been responsible for the deaths of the three second graders, as the courts determined, he would want nothing whatsoever to do with a baby; even if it was his. Society did not recognize these alleged satanic worshippers as being young men at the prime in their life. Society was unable to see that the suspects were as human as the boy next door. Their minds, instead, were clouded with the actions that had taken place, in the safe and warm confines of the neighborhood and their community.

Society in the Kansas murders of the family agreed that the suspects were heinous monsters, whereas the members of the community in Arkansas depicted the three teens responsible for the deaths of the second graders as being satanic worshippers. At least one difference that can be determined in the two separate cases, evolves around the fact that no clear, cut and dry evidence was used to convict Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin. In the Kansas case, information was gathered from a jail house snitch regarding the personality traits of Dick Hickock. The information lead law enforcement officers on a bounty hunt to find Dick and his accomplice.

None of the individuals in either of the cases were given their Right to Due Process of Law. Capote uses examples in his writing that signify that because the men had a mental disability, they were not given the same rights as other members of society. Although the case stands firm that it was these two men who murdered a family of innocent people, the two men were never given a sanity hearing because the courts did not want them to plead an insanity case. “We never call anybody in from Larned or psychiatric institutions of any kind. Our own local physicians attend to the matter. It’s no great job to find whether a man is insane or an idiot or an imbecile…It is entirely unnecessary, a waste of time to send the defendants to Larned” (Capote 267).

Actions in this sense were the murders, however there were additional actions that were not disclosed until Capote finished his book and Paradise Lost was submitted over the big screen in movie theatres across the lands. Actions by the police department, especially in Paradise Lost, were misconstrued as being of the norm, as long as a suspect was arrested and convicted. The actions though misrepresented evidence that could have been used to find the actual killer/killers of the three children was never unfolded. The police department in Paradise Lost were as incompetent as the attorneys that represented the suspects in both cases.

The two cases discussed in this paper equally show how wrong an individual can be treated when he/she is not mentally competent to stand trial, let alone answer questions. It is a shame that society must be woke up to realize the unfairness doled out to individuals who do not have fancy, attorneys to represent them. It is further shameful that innocent lives are lost by murder and again by the justice system. As noted previously, the two cases had more similarities than actual differences, even though the incidents occurred several years apart. This just goes to show that the justice system needs a facelift and the sooner the better.


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