b Papa Dog's Blog: "Fredo, you're my older brother and I love you, but don't ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever."

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"Fredo, you're my older brother and I love you, but don't ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever."

I don’t exactly follow these things, but I remember seeing a bit in the paper a week or two back about a small outburst at Scott Peterson’s sentencing hearing. The family of the victim was addressing the convicted murderer – this is a custom I don’t recall ever hearing about until the 1990s or so, and now it seems de rigueur when a high-profile murder case ends in conviction. The grieving relatives harangue the killer and tell him for the record what a vile person he is and how much more worthwhile than his was the life he ended. I’ve got nothing against the practice, it just seems a strange epilogue to the otherwise very formal trial process. It’s an odd mixture of kind of new-agey primal screaming and something archaically tribal, like shunning. Have they been doing this all along in murder trials and I just never heard about it? I wonder. Anyway, in this particular instance, one of Lacey’s relatives was saying something or other and Scott’s father shouted out “What a liar!” He was admonished by the judge and there was a bit of an uproar, and in the end Peterson Sr. stormed out of the courtroom. High drama.

Now that’s something I’ve seen before. The family rallies around their wayward member, and no matter how strong the evidence or how sure the verdict, they can never bring themselves to believe – at least not to publicly admit that they believe – that their loved one could possibly have committed the heinous deed. There are plenty of exceptions, of course – Kaczynski’s own brother turned him in, for example. But it’s a recurrent pattern. I’ve never quite understood how the family bond can so unfailingly trump the preponderance of evidence that convinces a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Like that kid with the weird hair in Minnesota who shot up his school. His aunt said something along the lines of “That’s not the boy I knew.” Well, sorry, actually, it was.

My family has a murder story, the sesquicentennial of which is not far in the future. My great-great grandfather – the father of the father of Grandma Feunoir – was murdered by his neighbours in rural Ontario, his head whacked with a scythe wielded by the crazy lady next door. His son, my great grandfather, was shot in the back during the incident but survived. It was a case of bad neighbouring gone awry, with the added element of sectarian friction brought over from the old countries; my ancestors were Protestants and the neighbours were Catholics, and back then that was still a big deal.

Last month, my mom came across an article in a Canadian history magazine about a murder in rural Ontario in the 1860s, and was surprised to find midway through that she was reading about our family. She sent me a copy, and I was surprised to find myself becoming annoyed as I read it. The author was making the case that the crime’s punishment was excessive and unfounded, an execution spurred on by the interests of politics rather than justice. The neighbours – a husband and wife – were both hanged for murder. I didn’t disagree with that – it was a staple of our family story that the pair were hopelessly insane and really shouldn’t have been held to account – but the author went a little further. He suggested, more or less, that my great-great- and great-grandfathers had in effect provoked the attack through wicked and abusive behaviour before and on the day in question. As you may surmise, this is not part of our family story. It’s part of the other family’s story, derived from the writings of the executed murderess. Reading this skewed account, I was reduced to a mental stammer. “But – but – why are you taking her word? She was loony, and obvious paranoid schizophrenic!” The fact is, my great-great-grandmother, the widow of the murdered man, herself pled that the pair should not be hanged because they were clearly deranged. Is that in the article anywhere? No. The more I read, the more steamed I got, and the more glad that Grandma Feunoir hadn’t lived to see this slander on her father’s character.

And so – there you go. I guess I can understand why a man might stand up in court and take umbrage when the good name of his uxoricidal filicidal son is blackened in the penalty phase. My great-great-grandfather died a century before I was born, so my personal acquaintance with him has been somewhat limited…but damn it, when there’s a fight, I’m on his side.


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