Murder on the judicial installment plan
The other night I had a dream during which Wonder Wife and I decided our next novel would be a horror story instead of one of our usual espionage-thrillers. So, manuscript in hand, we went to see a prospective publisher. Here’s the synopsis of the horror story we pitched:
Our heroine is a battered wife who, desperate to please her abusive husband, diets until she becomes bulimic. Finally, she says she wants a divorce. But, before that happens, she suffers a heart attack that leaves her bedridden. She isn’t dying. She just can’t speak or write or feed herself.
Even though her co-workers say she used to come to work with mysterious bruises, her husband sues her doctors for medical malpractice alleging their acts were the proximate cause of his wife’s problems. Tearfully, he tells a county judge how he has been harmed by the loss of his wife’s consortium, and how he needs money for her care and rehabilitation. Lest the husband not get his money, the husband’s lawyer cautions one witness not to mention that the marriage was headed for the rocks.
The county judge awards the husband over $700,000. Meanwhile, the husband acquires a mistress by whom he will eventually sire two illegitimate children. He hires a lawyer and directs the lawyer to seek a court order for the removal of his wife’s nutrition and hydration. In essence, he wants the government to murder an innocent woman who, as over a decade of life will prove, is in no danger of dying.
He tells the county judge that, prior to her “heart attack,” his wife told him she did not want any artificial life support. Despite the lack of direct evidence supporting the husband’s claim, the judge does not consider his testimony as “hearsay.” He allows the husband’s unsupported statement to stand as fact, and enter the trial record. When her friends try to contradict the husband’s testimony, their testimony is ruled “hearsay,” and inadmissible. The county judge, who, by the way, accepts campaign contributions from the husband’s lawyer, orders the starvation of the wife.
The wife’s parents file a series of appeals. But, in this type of non-jury trial, the trial judge is the sole finder of the facts. And, once the trial judge says what the facts are, they cannot be questioned on appeal. Appellate courts only look to see if the trial judge followed proper legal procedures. They do not check to see if the trial judge got the facts right. New medical developments are not considered. As Charles Dickens famously said in Oliver Twist: “The law is an ass...”
Meanwhile, attempts by the wife’s registered nurses and other care-givers to rehabilitate or even comfort the wife are met by abusive tirades by the husband. One nurse succeeds three or four times in feeding the wife orally with Jello™, but quits out of fear of the husband who issues strict orders that his wife is to receive no rehabilitative treatment. Three nurses file affidavits with the county judge alleging the husband abuses his wife during his visits. One nurse says the husband injected his wife with insulin in an attempt to drive her into hypoglycemic shock. The county judge dismisses the nurses’ affidavits as: “incredible.”
Then, the people of the State, acting through their elected representatives and governor, enact a law to suspend the judge’s starvation order until her case can be independently evaluated and attempts made at rehabilitation. But the state’s Supreme Court rules the law is “special legislation,” and, therefore, unconstitutional.
At this point, we paused in our narration to ask the prospective publisher if the thought the story, as outlined so far, was something his company would publish.
“Naw, no one would believe a husband could be that mean, self-centered and cruel. No one would believe a county judge has the power to starve an innocent person to death.”
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist, a featured commentator for USA Today and self-described “recovering lawyer and philosopher,” is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2005. William Hamilton.