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8.29.2003

To Plea Or Not To Plea

That was the question. Whether it was nobler in her mind to suffer the slings and arrows of being labelled an admitted criminal, or to risk the destruction of her rightful freedom by taking up arms against an accusatory sea of troubles.

Kirstin Lobato had a chance to make a plea bargain before facing a trial and jury. The District Attorney's office offered 3 years, in a sort of bow to the idea that she killed Duran Bailey as a matter of self-defense against a rapist. Except that Kirstin did not kill Duran Bailey, even though she had defended herself from an unknown rapist.

It must have been a heavy decision, to weigh three years against the possible 40 or more that would be handed to her in the case of being found guilty in a First Degree Murder trial. In the world of common sense, this would now be the time for any guilty man or woman to swallow their pride and count themselves very, very lucky indeed. Few would argue that there isn't a massive difference between three years in prison and forty.

It wasn't even the sort of thing that would destroy her reputation so much, given the circumstances. "I killed a rapist in self-defense and spent 3 years in prison for it" are the words of a martyr, and far removed from something more commonly stupid and inane, like: "I killed that fool because he looked at me wrong."

The only problem with the plea bargain was that it wasn't true. She killed no one. And so she turned the deal down.

I have reason to believe that Kirstin Lobato is an idealistic individual, though perhaps less so now that those ideals have been suffocated by a cloud of injustice. At the time, she put her faith in the justice system that we all want to believe in, and held tight to the idea that the guilty are punished but the innocent are set free. There is little more simple, little more direct than that idea. It is the core purpose of having a system of justice, a basic foundation of our liberty. Kirstin Lobato knew that, but what she didn't know was that the shining ideal that we imagine the justice system to be is far removed from what is really there: a blind and cumbersome machine that is constantly subjected to both the court of a wildly fluctuating public opinion and cut by the razor wire constraints of technical linguistics and unyeilding demands.

It is tempting to think that, had she the opportunity to do it again knowing what she knows now, Kirstin would have taken the plea deal and saved herself from a life that is really no life at all. But the same type of character that would put such faith in the ideals of justice must also have an appreciation for honesty, integrity, and sincerity. Otherwise those ideals would be in conflict. There is no realistic way to hold onto a pure concept of justice without also believing in the very virtues upon which that that concept has been built. That sort of contradiction would make your values easy to compromise (and that plea bargain was an excellent compromise).

No...if Kirstin knew then what she knows now, I don't think she would have taken the plea bargain. I admit that I am not in a position to know for sure, but I am positive that she would use her knowledge to fight for her innocence harder and better and with the wisdom of experience...to show the world that her ideals of truth have the power she knows they have.

She did the right thing, and burned for it. It is time to correct that.


8.28.2003

Compound Fracture

I'm going to take a break from looking at Kirstin's trial today, to talk about another kind of injustice she - and other innocent people in prison - are being forced to bear. That is the careless treatment of prisoners in general.

For the most part, there isn't a lot of pity or sympathy for the plight of those caught up in the prison system. After all, the good majority of them have committed some crime or another, and a civilized society will believe such a person should be punished. By extension, we don't blink when their punishment goes beyond what was required by law. If a prisoner has an ear infection and is treated poorly, we're not likely to get all up in arms about it. It is not that the health care is unavaliable, or that the health care officials are cruel (usually). It is simply a matter of indifference. They don't care, and by and large, the public doesn't care about the state of the prison system either (there are exceptions).

I recently learned that Kirstin Lobato had to have an impacted wisdom tooth removed, a fairly common piece of dental work. I have never undergone the procedure, but a very good friend has, and I recall him being in pain for days despite military-strength drugs (and yes, those are a bit stronger than most), and he was unable to eat solid foods. Now, this is part of a message I received recently:

[Kirstin] had 4 impacted wisdom teeth. They only removed one. The oral surgeon tried to get authorization for all of them, but the prison would only authorize one. Can you imagine having to go through that 4 times? Without pain medication other than Motrin? It is positively inhumane.

Motrin. Maybe people with migraines can get by now on chewable aspirins. We could handle compound fractures with a stick and some duct tape. Or perform CPR with a rubber hammer and an air pump.

I know that history has some glowing reports on how useful leeches can be in dealing with almost any medical problem.

Anyhow, the point is this: when faced with the concept of a person needing four impacted wisdom teeth removed, and the oral surgeon says he or she can remove them all at the same time, it would be both sensible and kind to do it that way. It would also be right to prescribe an effective pain medication. That is the sort of treatment you can expect - as a matter of course - outside of the prison walls. But not inside.

To be honest, it is not easy for me to care when it comes to the health of those in prison. Like many people, I don't really feel much for those who are serving time for the crimes they have committed. But that indifference ends when I remember that the injustices that plague criminals in prison also harm the innocents in prison. It is, to me, an unacceptable state of affairs. And in Kirstin's case, this is but one small example of how the initial failure of justice to protect her has now fractured into more personal harm.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a Russian novelist famous for his insights into the complexities of humanity, once wrote:

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by the way it treats its prisoners.


8.26.2003

Truth and Consequence

"You've just seen the largest coincidence you will ever see in your life."

Those were the words of Bill Kephart, the prosecutor in Kirstin Lobato's case, during closing arguments. He went on to invoke the sensationalized Lorena Bobbit, as though to remind the jury that any case involving the violent removal of a man's penis would be so rare that the very idea of it happening twice was ludicrous.

Kirstin Lobato told officials that she cut a would-be rapist in the groin a few month's earlier in self-defense. But the prosecution implied that - because of the unusual nature of the injury - Kirstin must have been speaking about the Bailey murder, and then later concocted a story to save herself from her own confession.

For more on the largest coincidence you will ever see in your life (though I strongly advise against it if you are easily sickened by the stories of sexual violence), people should go here. Or here. Or here. Or here. Or here. Or here. Or just take my word for it, there's a lot of tales out there about men whose manhood ended up being quite susceptible to people with sharp objects.

I could easily go on, but I'd really rather not. I'm getting overloaded by too many stories about the "largest coincidence I'll ever see in my life," not to mention that researching the topic is not my idea of a good time.

Kirstin Lobato's so-called confession was about a non-lethal injury made in defense of herself, at a different time, in a different place, under different circumstances. Circumstances that are not all that surprising, if you know the darker side of the streets in big cities. I have had considerable personal experience with Seattle's and New York City's underbelly (once upon a time I was a very bad boy), and I have seen it graphically displayed in Chicago and Miami. I have no reason to think Sin City is much different. Given Kirstin's lifestyle at the time, there's not much that is unusual about her having to defend herself from an attack.

The prosecution's argument that Kirstin had confessed was centered on the genital location of the injury. That kind of injury, however, is not some unique occurrence. Though certainly rare compared to walking your dog, it is hardly unheard of, especially in cases of self-defense against rape. In the undercurrent of social thought, the idea is even given moderate support when it comes to sex crimes. Just this morning on the radio I heard the talk show hosts discussing the removal of a man's genitalia (in this case, a pedophile) and all but cheering the idea of sex offenders getting assaulted or murdered in prison.

The male of our species is particularly vulnerable when it comes to that area of the body. It is a weakness everyone knows can be exploited in a physical confrontation. And it often is. There is no coincidence here that is startling.

The shared aspect of the Bailey murder and Kirstin's confession was a groin injury. That does not mean her "confession" of self-defense had anything to do with the Bailey murder. But that is what the prosecutor would have the jury believe, even if the rest of the "confession" didn't exactly fit together right. At all.


8.25.2003

Clean And Dirty

When it comes to drug abuse, my usual sense of empathy and understanding falls flat on its face. I despise drug use. Drug users and addictions have cost me a lot...physical abuse, destroyed finances, a failed marriage, and those are just brief flashes of it all. Perhaps I have a lack of personal understanding...not because I haven't used drugs (there were moments, a long time ago), but because I never ended up so far in that it resulted in self-destruction. But I have witnessed enough of that self-destruction to be more than uncomfortably familiar with it.

Having said that, I hope that any readers will forgive me if my tone is somewhat abrasive today.

I am aware that drug use is a sensitive part of Kirstin's case, but I didn't write any of the above to condemn her. She's certainly had more than enough filth thrown at her reputation over that past part of her life without needing me to add any. I mention it only to illustrate how very unsympathetic to drug use I am.

Nevertheless, I don't argue with forensic science very often. The prosecution has said that Kirstin Lobato was at the end of a 3-day methamphetamine binge, which is part of her misused confession to fending off a rapist months before the Bailey murder.

The only time Kirstin Lobato could have only committed this murder was just after midnight on July 8th. Yet, on both July 5th and 6th Kirstin had urine tests done, and they came back as clean. That is, drug free, which is something she had been making the effort to accomplish. Successfully, no less. For those of you just tuning in, those days would be day one and two of the prosecution's "3-day methamphetamine binge."

Even if you ignore the fact that her mother saw her sleeping (and her mother passed a lie detector test regarding this) while on Day Three of this supposed methamphetamine binge (methamphetamines...that's official linguistics for speed and/or ecstasy, ladies and gents, more or less like caffeine on rockets with a bit of a trip..a downsized acid trip, for those of you with 'experience'), it is difficult to ignore the fact that methamphetamines take up to five days to clear out of one's system.

The prosecution ignored or downplayed this evidence of a great big black hole in their version of restructured events. Which isn't to say they ignored Kirstin's history of drug use. On the contrary, they used it to attack her character with the same level of venom I used earlier to describe my feelings about drug use. But sometimes a line should be drawn when it comes to pulling history into the present.

We all have the capacity to change, and yet it is always history that tries to hunt us down. Anyone can find evidence of sin simply by looking for it. If someone were to openly advertised the payment of five million dollars to anyone who could find proof of the worst thing you have ever done, well...imagine that for just a moment.

The point isn't whether or not what happened can even be proven (if you hid it well, that is to be expected). It's the fact that your mind can go there, to that worst moment, right away...the fact that it even exists at all.

But such a thing doesn't completely define us..most of us, anyways. We are different, we are more, and we can - and do - rise over and above our problems and negative traits. The prosecution for Kirstin Lobato's case did their very best to define her as a murderously crazed drug addict...and only that...using her past to defile her character despite her acheivements. Acheivements which defied their definition instead of supporting it. But, as it turned out, that definition seems to be what stuck in the jurors' minds.

That's injustice.


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