Update: video below
Astute, long time readers will have noticed two things: 1) the death penalty trial of Steven Hayes, defendant in the brutal murders of 3 people in idyllic Cheshire, CT has wrapped up its first week; and 2) that I haven’t blogged about it yet.
I’ve resisted adding to the 5-ring circus, but what I’ve seen and read over the last week in the press have driven me to the point of breaking my silence.
A trial of a man implicated in the most horrendous of crimes in recent memory, the most inhuman acts, if one believes in such things, has also robbed all of us of our humanity and sense of dignity.
I’m assuming you all know the basics, so I won’t rehash them here. This is the stuff that millions are made out of; enough fodder to keep the presses printing and the airwaves buzzing for months and months to come. Judging by the coverage of this trial on Twitter and the press, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the entire State had come to a standstill. It’s a good thing nothing else newsworthy is happening anywhere in Connecticut presently.
As the tweets start every morning at 6am and continue with alarming regularity well past 5pm, I cannot escape the mental image of a horde of vultures circling a sad, deteriorating carcass, pecking away at it, tearing off pieces of flesh, bit by bit and then those vultures morphing into hyenas, cackling wildly.
Sure, the crime is offensive. Sure the crime is heinous. I’ll accept whatever adjective you choose to throw at me. But there is an unmistakable stench of race and class politics emanating from that courthouse in New Haven. Out of curiosity, I called a source who is familiar with the goings on in that courthouse. “Are there any other trials going on currently?”, I asked. Sure enough, there is one other, just a floor below the Cheshire spectacle: State v. Brandon Bellamy.
By the information provided at that link, Mr. Bellamy is accused of two murders. That’s two victims, two families devastated, multiple lives ruined. Mr. Bellamy is also black. Perhaps his alleged victims are too, I don’t know. “How many reporters there?”, I followed up.
Not a single one. While the Cheshire trial needs a horde of media vans lining the streets and every able-bodied reporter in the State to cover it, just 20 feet below is a possible capital felony trial that no one gives a shit about.
The Cheshire case is often called “the Petit case”, after the last name of the victims. Can anyone here tell me the first or last names of the victims in the Bellamy case? Had you even heard of Bellamy? I sure hadn’t.
A Google News search for Brandon Bellamy turns up abso-fucking-lutely nothing. Why? Because no one gives a damn. Black man accused of two murders? Pshh. Inner-city business as usual. Three white women murdered? Every news outlet must abide.
The Cheshire case is every white person’s nightmare. The Bellamy case is every city-dwelling black person’s reality.
The blame, of course, lies with the reporters and the news media. “Hayes leans over to lawyer and talks”. “Petit looks at screen”, “Hayes scratches his nose”. Okay, I made that last one up. But these are the tweets being sent out at a furious pace to thousands of followers (myself included).
As trials go, the Hayes trial is a boring one. It is a tedious one. He admitted guilt during the opening statement of his lawyer. There’s really no question that he had a hand in this brutal massacre. The question – the only question – in this trial is whether he’ll get life without the possibility of release or will he be murdered by the State.
I blame the reporters for something else: I blame them for turning our justice system into American Idol, for turning the murder of 3 women and the anticipated murder of another man into a spectator sport, for not having any sense of journalistic integrity to put things in context and for not taking their responsibility to inform the public seriously. Anyone can be a reporter – all you have to do is report the facts. It takes more skill to actually convey some meaning and emotion and context by using the facts.
I avoid the websites of the leading newspapers in Connecticut like the plague. The Hartford Courant, the New Haven Register and others of their ilk have become the cesspools of the angry and ignorant. And the authors of the articles in whose comment sections unmitigated rage is spewed and spread don’t seem to care. Take a look, if you can, at the comments to today’s story in the various papers. The big news of the day wasn’t the fact that firefighters testified about the evidence of arson in the home or the pictures of the home burning, but rather it was that the defendant had suffered a seizure last night (or “seizure-like symptoms”) and despite sitting through the morning’s proceedings, apparently deteriorated during the lunch hour to the point that his health became a concern and the rest of the day’s proceedings were suspended. Here’s a sampling of the reaction:
” So the freak had a “seizure” and wee-wee’d on himself? Tough s**t. Why does he get this kind of consideration? A pox on him and the s**mbag [New Haven's chief public defender] Ullman who stands up for the freak’s “rights.” “
I wonder what Randall Beach, the author of the piece to which those comments are posted, thinks about that. Is that the level of discussion he hopes to foster when he writes? Is that who he’s writing for? Here’s one from the Courant:
notsocurrent you are absolutely right!! This sorry excuse for a human being was man enough to rape and pillage, but not man enough to face the music? Did anyone actualey see this seizure? I’ll bet not.
Lets skip the trial and get right to the penalty phase!
I’m sure that’s exactly the reaction that Alaine Griffin, who penned the Courant piece, wanted to provoke. In my years of reading these articles and the comments that follow, I’ve seen maybe 5 sensible comments that show any humanity or even a basic understanding of the criminal process. I’ve long complained that reporters and journalists themselves don’t understand the process, the rights and the importance of the application of those rights in even the most extreme cases, so how can one expect them to convey that to their readers. But that’s just a damn cop out. They know exactly what brings eyeballs to the website and that’s sensationalism.
One of Hayes’ attorneys, Thomas J. Ullmann, said at the start of today’s session that Hayes had a seizure last night and urinated all over himself. However, he said at the time that he thought Hayes was well enough to be in court.
But after the lunch break, he said he did not think Hayes could continue because of his medical condition.
Judge Jon C. Blue agreed to halt proceedings until Monday. Friday had already been scheduled as a day off.
Would it have been so difficult to include that the State didn’t object to the continuance? The high irony of this is that the one entity that wants to – and can – kill Mr. Hayes is the only one that seems to want to proceed with dignity. The rest just want a show.
Is it that difficult to understand that we have become the very monster we are condemning when we forsake the basic human values of dignity and compassion? That we are undermining the foundations of our system of justice when we want to “skip the trial and hang ‘em already”? Have we devolved to the point that intelligent discourse is left to fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants networks like Twitter? Oh wait.
Mr. Hayes will be found guilty of several crimes and then 12 people will have the task of deciding whether to let him rot in jail for as long as he lives or to spill blood on all our hands. Some are licking their lips at that prospect. I don’t see the difference between them and Hayes.
Maybe it hasn’t occurred to all who are riveted to the trial, but what they’re witnessing is the slow murder of one man. All the reporting, the jeering, the condemning is nothing but spectatorship of the slow build up to the execution of a human being. Talk about macabre.
Murder is a terrible thing. It is not to be relished, enjoyed or anticipated. Let us not make a mockery of justice and of the value and dignity of all human lives.
Rant over. I thought I’d feel better, but really, I still feel sick to my stomach.
[And, of course, I must reiterate that these are my personal views only.]
How apropos is this video from the Daily Show: