The burning bed murders
In 1984, Farrah Fawcett starred in an NBC-TV movie called The Burning Bed, based on a true incident in which an abused wife murdered her husband by burning him to death while he slept. The courts freed her because she had been abused.26 The TV movie’s Nielsen rating exceeded that of the World Series, making it "one of the highest-rated TV movies of all time"27 In Why Men Are the Way They Are, 1 expressed fear that the movie s popularity reflected a willingness to hear the message that if a woman feels she is abused, she can choose to kill her husband rather than leave him. Ultimately, this had to lead either to a sex-biased system of self-defense or to also allowing men who are abused by women to kill women rather than leave women.
Since the mid – 1980s Burning Bed murders have abounded. Judy Norman of North Carolina murdered her husband by shooting him in the head while he slept. She claimed self-defense because she had been abused. The state supreme court held that self-defense was applicable only to cases in which one is in imminent danger of being killed, and that, although she had been abused, she could have walked out while he was sleeping. When the supreme court failed to rescue her, the governor stepped in. He commuted her sentence. Judy served only two months, during which she worked on her high school diploma.2
By 1990, Ohio became the fifteenth state29 to allow women to murder their sleeping husbands and possibly get away with the murder by claiming past abuse (their husbands were not in a position to argue the claim). They were not required to prove they were in imminent danger of being killed without any possible p/jysicaJ escape On this basis, the governor of Ohio released from prison the Ohio Twenty-five.30
What are the rationales behind freeing these women?
RATIONALE # 1: When a woman is repeatedly physically abused, the emotional consequences are with her for years, making the attack on her abuser a form of emotional self-defense.
Fact. The emotional consequences of physical abuse are with many women for years. And the emotional consequences are also with men who have been battered for many years. The only two-sex studies that have ever been done find women and men to be equally likely to initiate domestic violence at every level of severity3,0 The emotional consequences of being stabbed or having one’s face cut with a frying pan are severe enough to men that they are ashamed to even report it.
Similarly, veterans of every war suffer battered man syndrome in the form of posttraumatic stress disorder. The emotional consequences are also with them for years. But if a sufferer killed Admiral Zumwalt for ordering the spraying of Agent Orange, he would be convicted for murder. Men who suffer battered man syndrome are not allowed to attack their abuser and call it self-defense. They cannot do that even though the law required them to subject themselves to battering and gave them no way to escape.
RATIONALE 42: It’s physical self defense.
Fact. Of women imprisoned for murdering their husbands, almost one third murdered men who were incapacitated (e. g., asleep, in wheelchairs, drunk to the point of incapacitation). Approximately 60 percent premeditated the murder.52 Yet, more than half of the women who bane red even the incapacitated men later claimed self – defense (as in immediate danger).53
RATIONALE 45. Women don’t kill men unless they’ve been abused and pushed to the point of desperation.
Fact. Thirty percent of women in prison for killing men had histories of violent offenses.54
Fact. Some women in prison for killing their husbands have been abused by them. However, when Dr. Coramae Richey Mann did a study of hundreds of women imprisoned in six major cities for murdering their husbands or lovers, not one woman was found to have been battered by a man 55 Some women, then, do kill without first being abused. *
Fact. When a woman kills a man, it is most frequently a man whose insurance policy exceeds his immediate ability to provide for her* (She seldom kills her source of income.)
RATIONALE #4: Women are more afraid than men to report their abusers to the authorities.
Fact. Despite fourteen separate two-sex studies finding that women and men are equally as likely to batter,57 more than 90 percent of police reports are made by women about men, and more than 90 percent of temporary restraining orders in the United States are initiated by women against men.58 Women, then, are about nine times as likely as men to report their abusers to authorities. Male socialization to "take it like a man" makes men the sex more fearful of reporting their abusers
RATIONALE #S: The woman says she has nowhere to turn for help.
Fact. Ironically, during the 1980s, women s paths for escaping their husbands became perfected via hotlines, shelters, and women’s centers. TV ads give women the numbers to call. Almost every community has shelters for battered women but no shelters for battered men, most communities have women’s centers, their only "men s centers" are prisons. A woman has much more dosely developed networks of women friends who are likely to be sympath etic to her being abused than a man does of men friends who are likely to be sympathetic to his being abused. Only abused women have government-subsidized paths of escape from their abusers, yet only abused women are freed when they kill their abusers.
RATIONALE #6: No matter how hard a woman tries to escape, the man can still track her down and "get her" (as in the film Sleeping with the Enemy).
Fact. Both sexes have this problem. Kevin Svoboda’s wife had been put in jail for hiring a hit man. Nevertheless, this did not prevent her from trying again. While awaiting sentencing, she again hired hit men to murder Kevin.59 She was caught only because one of her hit men turned out to be an undercover police officer. Kevin has concluded, "I will never feel safe." He feels she might have wanted him dead to collect his $130,000 life insurance policy. Should we allow Kevin to kill his wife in self-defense?
Similarly, Daniel Broderick tried to escape the abuse of his ex-wife, Elizabeth Broderick. Even after Elizabeth had driven a truck through the front door of their home, burglarized his home in defiance of a restraining order, destroyed valuable artwork, and left repeated messages threatening to kill him, Dan Broderick knew that, despite being
one of San Diego’s best attorneys, there was no way he could kill her first without being convicted of first-degree murder. No battered man syndrome would lighten his sentence. Was he, though, really in danger? Well, Elizabeth bought a gun, walked into the bedroom where Dan and his new wife, Linda, were sleeping, and emptied her gun into both of them. Both are dead.
RATIONALE #7: The police will not take a woman seriously for complaining about abuse, so reporting it to the police is useless.
Fact. When a woman complains in any of twelve states and many cities in America, the police now have a mandatory policy of arresting a man, even when there is no evidence of abuse, and even when the woman refuses to press charges.40 Which means that the woman is taken extremely seriously when she complains; she is ignored only when she refuses to press charges It is part of the innocent woman principle.
Although many mandatory arrest laws are written in gender – neutral language, in pran ice they are not used to protea a man against a woman or to protea a gay man against his possible abuser. When gay men who are battered call the police, a common praaice is to arrest both parties.41
In communities without mandatory – arrest policies, only the woman is encouraged to press charges immediately, while she is angry, even if the police see no evidence of abuse, she is generally not told that if she later drops those charges, the man can be put on trial anyway, that is, he can be put on trial against her mil – by the government. Again, she is treated overly seriously when she complains, but treated like a child when she says, ‘‘Let me take responsibility.” The belief in her innocence outweighs the belief in her.
How the battered woman syndrome works in real life
Marlene Wagshall waited until her husband, Joshua, was asleep. She then stood beside their bed, assumed a crouched, combat position that she had trained for, pointed a.357 Magnum at his chest, and squeezed the trigger.42 Their daughter watched, terror stricken, as her dad struggled to close the door so she would not see him die. That was the last time she saw her dad.
After eighteen hours on the operating table and the removal of his spleen, parts of his liver, his pancreas, and upper intestine, Joshua survived, in part. His children, though, were gone’- Marlene had kidnapped them.
The grand jury found Marlene indictable not only for attempted murder but for numerous other counts. However, feminist distria attorney Elizabeth Holtzman reduced the attempted murder charge to second-degree assault and accepted a plea for Marlene to spend one day in jail. After one day, Marlene could be free on five years’ probation.43
Why? Marlene claimed she was a victim of the battered wife syndrome. 1 iowever, there was no corroborative evidence – no children as witnesses, no hospital records, no accounts of neighbors. Newspaper accounts suggested she had found photographs of her husband with a nude woman and that she took her gun to him in a rage. Josh testified, however, that the confrontation was systematic and methodical.
Think about it. If every wife has permission to kill a husband who has an extramarital sexual relationship, and we use the Fourteenth Amendment to protect men equally, we would have to give husbands permission to kill each wife who has an extramarital relationship. The result of this equality? We d all be investing in funeral parlors.
Does freedom for women who shoot men have the potential for becoming even more commonplace? Elizabeth Holtzman, the district attorney who plea bargained murder and kidnapping down to one day in jail, is now, as comptroller of the city of New York, one of the country’s highest female officials – a potential future candidate for president of the United States or a Supreme Court appointment.
Is the battered woman syndrome defense really a political defense?
Delia Alaniz paid a destitute young man $200 to kill her husband. But when she was caught and found guilty, Hispanic and feminist groups inundated the governor’s office with telephone calls; they staged vigils and organized marches. They wanted her claim of having been abused to be enough to release her from prison.44 The pressure on the governor increased when 60 Minutes responded with a piece that neglected the perspective of the dead husband (or his family and friends) but was sympathetic only to her plight4S (Only at the end of "60 Minutes" did Harry Reasoner mention as an aside that the woman bad a loier at the time of her hiring the hit man.)
Governor Gardner of Washington felt the pressure.46 He freed Alaniz after a year and ten months. The young man she hired – from a disadvantaged background – is still serving a thirty-year prison term.47 (No one asks if he is also a victim of abuse, as was Alaniz. And if he was, could he also kill his abusive parents and then receive a governor’s pardon?)
When Governor Gardner freed Delia Alaniz, he explained, "Violence against women and children is all too common in our society.’’48 Now notice this: she kills him, and violence against women is the only problem She exploits a disadvantaged youth, and violence against women is still the only issue. . . When a woman kills a man, the only thing we know is that the woman is violent and the man is dead. The message the learned helplessness defense and the battered woman syndrome sends to women is: A dead husband is better than a live witness. The best defense is a dead offense.
Do feminists express the same concern when a wife has repeatedly abused her husband? Betty King of Florida had thrown acid on her husband,
Eddie, slashed his face with a carpet knife, left him in a parking lot with a knife in his back, and shot him with a gun – all on separate occasions. Eddie King reported none of these incidents. The only two for which Betty was reported and arrested were those seen by witnesses in public (one of the stabbings took place in a bar) 49
Finally, during a shouting match at a friend s house. Betty King once again reached into her purse to shoot Eddie Fearing for his life, he pulled out a gun and shot her first. An investigation confirmed his life was, in fact, imminently threatened Yet feminists and the media led an outcry of opposition to the verdict of self-defense for Eddie – an abused husband.
How the learned helplessness defense perpetuates the abuse of women
The learned helplessness defease wreaks the most havoc when it is applied to mothers. Studies find that mothers who murder bring up children who murder.50 Mothers who kill are characterized by their "simmering resentment of others for the wrongs they have suffered, the belief they are the only ones who are so afflicted and that the world is conspiring against them."51 Obviously the children pick up this attitude. Especially the girl children whose role models are their mothers. Do we uunt these mothers, then, to bring up another generation of children?
Ideological feminists also often see the world as a conspiracy. Even Gloria Steinem still speaks in terms of "us" versus "the enemy."52 They see others as being responsible for the wrongs they have suffered. These characteristics are almost identical to those found by Kirkpatrick and Humphrey53 in their studies of women who murder. The learned helplessness defense turns a dangerous personality problem into a legal defense. It reinforces some women’s beliefs that they can solve a problem by murdering the problem.
To free this woman to be a mother is to transfer the psychology of helplessness to the next generation of children. When mothers who kill are returned to their daughters, we are training daughters who will kill. Which is why fathers who are murderers are not set free to bring up their children. And it is why creating the new “any mother can kill and go free" legal defenses wreaks havoc on the children these mothers raise.