Media Bias and a Manslaughter Conviction
Speaking of prescience, I must admit that when I wrote my recent post on media bias, I had no idea that the father accused of abusing and killing his infant son was sentenced on the 18th. So, understandably, Moshe, Rabbi Natan Slifkin and others want to know how a sentence of 6 years plus 2 years suspended fits with what I’ve said.
Indeed, where is the media bias if we see the father was found guilty, and is going to jail for six years? Doesn’t this mean that everything the media reported was correct all along, and now the father is getting the punishment befitting a parent who abused and murdered his child?
Well, no. Not at all. The more I look into it, the less I understand how the sentence could possibly be adequate for what the media told us was the crime.
Let’s not forget — according to the most charitable version of the father’s actions, he dropped his child and this resulted in the child’s death. The father never claimed he tripped — he says he fell asleep. Well, if a person falls asleep driving and kills someone, that’s manslaughter. When a father is holding his baby, it’s the same thing. Even if, despite the judge’s statement, he had absolutely no idea what he was doing… we cannot say he was entirely innocent. But the point is that this sentence is much more in accordance with the conclusion that the father did something irresponsible, rather than brutal.
To start off, Rabbi Slifkin quotes the JPost as having said something very different than what I said from the same source in my earlier post. This is because Natan is quoting their new article about the sentencing, while I was quoting the much older article about his conviction.
Thus Natan quotes from the following line in the JPost: “[the father] was previously found guilty of manslaughter for repeatedly biting, beating, pinching and punching his son Refael because he ‘did not accept him’ due to a congenital defect in the child’s neck muscles.”
The above are the same charges which the father says he was coerced to sign, but were never true — embellished with elements that the police spokeswoman admitted on the stand she could not provide a source for, and which at one point she even accused the media of making up. The earlier Jpost article about his conviction made no such connection between the judge’s decision and what the father supposedly admitted to police. If indeed the above was the reason for the judge’s decision, why did the Jerusalem Post say something very different at the time?
Furthermore, the Judge’s statement that the father’s behavior was “reckless,” rather than intentional, is completely inconsistent with the charge that the father repeatedly abused his son. Repeated abuse indicates intent, and when it results in death this usually leads to a charge of second-degree murder.
The case that made “shaken baby syndrome” a common term in the United States was the case of British au pair Louise Woodward, who was 19 when 8-month-old Matthew Eappen died in her care. She was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder. The judge reduced the conviction to manslaughter several days later, because “Woodward had acted out of ‘confusion, inexperience, frustration, immaturity and some anger, but not malice in the legal sense.'” He was probably influenced, as well, by polygraph tests which showed her innocence. In our case, are we to believe that “repeatedly biting, beating, pinching and punching” an infant is similarly merely “confusion, inexperience, and frustration?”
All of this leads to the most crucial point: if the father had repeatedly abused his son, he should have received a far longer sentence. Six years for a “reckless” manslaughter conviction is simply far too lenient for what the police and media have been telling us the father did.
Two nights ago, a charity collector came to my door. His son-in-law fell into debt, and in an effort to get some money he went to America to teach, using his brother’s passport. The Israeli authorities recognized the deception upon his return to Ben-Gurion, and he’s now sitting a 4-6 year sentence for using his brother’s passport. So contrary to what Moshe implies, 6 years in jail is entirely consistent with manslaughter, aka negligent homicide. It’s not at all a heavy sentence.
Louise Woodward was 19. For second-degree murder, she would have received a minimum of 15 years to life — indeed, a 19-year-old Glasgow man was sentenced to 14 years for a shaken-baby homicide. In case after case, US and International courts have convicted caretakers of second-degree murder in shaken baby cases, especially where there was a history of intentional abuse, even by 19-year-olds.
The judge said she was being lenient because “we have to consider that this is a young man, who has never before been given any responsibilities besides studying the Torah.” This has not excused other 19-year-olds from second-degree murder convictions, and, on the other hand, the judge also noted a complete lack of remorse from the father. [Either he’s innocent and focused upon proving it, or he’s a truly cold individual — and many, including Meir Porush, candidate for mayor of Jerusalem in recent elections, have come forward to tell the court that the latter is untrue.] The defense attorney called the sentence “harsh” and said he would appeal to the Supreme Court. From what the media has told us, this wasn’t a harsh sentence at all — more like a slap on the wrist.
All of the above leads to the conclusion that the Judge did not believe the father was guilty of repeated abuse of his young son. Had the judge sided with the police, we would not have to share her opinion — but, apparently, she didn’t. Instead she said it was “reasonable to believe that there was awareness of the possible fatal outcome,” but it was “reckless.” The conviction and sentence are not at all commensurate with what the media has so loudly informed us was the crime committed.
The science of Shaken Baby Syndrome is not at all clear. Dr Patrick Barnes, the prosecution’s star medical witness in the Woodward case, reversed his opinion and wrote in a published paper that “There is certainly, in retrospect, reasonable doubt.” In our case, there was a clash of medical witnesses — with several, including one initially asked to aid the family, testifying the child was abused, while Israel’s Chief Medical Examiner, Prof. Yehudah Hiss (possibly the least popular medical professional in the eyes of Israel’s Orthodox community), testified that “there was no evidence of mutilation or intentional murder.”
The judge’s decision is a reasonable sentence for a father who was negligent in the handling of his baby son, resulting in the child’s death. It is unduly harsh if we believe this was a terrible accident, and take into account the role played by the ER staff in the negative outcome. But it is a ridiculously light punishment for what the media tells us the father did.
So do you believe the media is giving us a full and honest account?