Two disturbing stories involving the victimization of young girls have recently surfaced. The facts alleged in both cases defy belief…for most people. I, however, have been a criminal defense attorney in Boston for over nearly 20 years. Before that, I was a prosecutor in Brooklyn. I am sorry to say that these fact scenarios, horrific as they are, are not totally new to me.
In fact, I have handled similar cases.
You have probably already heard about the first of these stories – it was all over the news on Thursday. It involves a mother who has been accused of stabbing her 2-year-daughter with a scissors and trying to strangle her with an electrical cord in Gardner Wednesday night.
Susan J., 38,(hereinafter, the “Mother”) allegedly stabbed her daughter in the torso, head, and neck in a laundry room of an apartment building. The child was rushed to Heywood Hospital in Gardner and taken into custody of the Department of Children and Families.
When police arrived at the apartment building, a security guard had pinned the Mother to the floor of the laundry room, keeping her away from her bleeding daughter. Police arrested the Mother on charges that include attempted murder, armed assault with intent to murder, and assault and battery on a child with injury.
Meanwhile, felony charges have led to the indictment of a popular Melrose YMCA girls basketball coach who is alleged to have sexually assaulted two girls numerous times. The Commonwealth also claims he used hidden cameras to record himself in the act, leaving behind evidence of his crimes.
James C., 51, of North Reading (hereinafter, the “Coach”) has been indicted on 20 charges, including five counts of rape of a child by force and four counts of indecent assault and battery on a child, prosecutors said.
“These are extremely serious charges in which we allege that this defendant raped and inappropriately touched two children under his supervision,” Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said in a statement. “We also have recovered videotapes in which the defendant clearly utilized hidden cameras to secretly record himself sexually assaulting the victims, as well as film the victims in various states of nudity.”
Prosecutors said that they had recovered the recordings as a result of a search warrant executed at the Coach’s home.
The Coach was originally arrested on February 12th at his home and charged with raping one of his young players. After his arrest and arraignment in Woburn District Court, Melrose and North Reading police and district attorney’s investigators continued to probe the case. Now another complainant has been added as well as a number of new charges.
Young children are the most vulnerable of all people. As a result, when a child is the victim, the prosecutors are most aggressive and the penalties are higher.
While not necessarily relevant to either of these two cases, there also seems to be a belief that children who claim to have been assaulted never lie and are never fed a false memory. Such a situation is a tragedy, both for the child to have to go through, as well as the accused who may not have committed a crime.
In the instant cases, the evidence seems overwhelming and the accusations are even more flagrant because the accused are people in whom the children, and their families, had trust. In the first instance, the defendant is the mother. Who would a young child trust more? In the second, the defendant is a coach charged with the responsibility for the kids in his care.
I have handled cases similar to each of these cases before. While some people might dismiss the actions taken, if true, to be simply “evil”, there is often more to it than that.
Take, for example, the Mother. Can one believe that a sane mother would do that to her child? In fact, this was not even done in the privacy of her own home which, thankfully, probably prevented her from actually killing the child. It took place in a common area.
In the case of the Coach, if this is a case of pedophilia, then he suffers from a mental illness. Of course, it is not the kind of mental illness that our system includes when considering questions of competency or sanity. On the other hand, what do you call taking and keeping these videos which assumedly prove the case against him? Over-confidence? Stupidity? Uncontrollable compulsion?
So…what is likely to happen to these two defendants? The cases against them seem quite strong, between an apparent eye witness against the Mother and the videotapes against the Coach.
Sometimes, the job of the defense attorney is to bring the other factors involved in the client’s life forward in court in an attempt to either get the client help or as much leniency as possible. The insanity defense may be one way to do this and I would expect that such will be the defense in the Mother’s matter.
An experienced defense attorney knows that each case is different, even if the allegations are the same. What is the right approach in one case is not the best approach in another. There are nuances and the understanding of those nuances become part of the defense attorney’s instinct only through experience.
So, if you, or someone you know, suddenly find themselves looking down the barrel of criminal charges…even if it looks absolutely hopeless…it is crucial to engage a lawyer who is experienced and has developed the instinct necessary to handle the case in a way which will best help the client.
No defense attorney is going to be a miracle worker every time. However, when these types of tragedies strike, it is important for the defendant to be seen, at the very least, as a three dimensional human being and not simply….the defendant.
Have a good, safe and law-abiding weekend!
The full articles of these stories can be found at http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/04/melrose_ymca_gi.html and http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/04/gardner_mother_1.html