AND THE FAMILIES OF VICTIMS:
A DELICATE BALANCE
However, regardless of any law enforcement officer’s empathy for the victim’s family, absent their role as potential witnesses, family members should never, ever be allowed to become actively involved in the investigation and prosecution of suspects. Why? For the same reason a doctor should never operate on his own child: Potential lack of both perspective and emotional detachment.
Why? Is there any doubt that the doctor would give his or her best effort? Do they fear that the doctor in such a situation would scrimp on care? Cut corners? Obviously not. Then why the prohibition? That answer is found in the dichotomous relationship between reason and emotion. In short, emotion can lead to mistakes; tragic and irreversible mistakes. Emotion may arise from the consideration of logic, but logic rarely, if ever, derives from emotion.
As a teenager, I worked at a store with a fine man named Joe Perez. Joe had three children he adored. One Saturday afternoon, Joe and his wife took the kids to the lake. All three kids went swimming, but one of them began to have trouble getting back to shore. Joe saw the child in difficulty and streaked into the water to save him. But Joe couldn’t swim. A lifeguard pulled the child to safety then went back for Joe, but he had already drowned. Joe is my hero for his emotion, his bravery and love of his child. But his lack of detachment kept him from waiting for a lifeguard, and doomed that very same son to grow up without the awesome father that Joe was. Joe’s best intentions hurt everyone he loved.
The only thing that can give a victim’s family any measure of comfort—even if tiny in comparison to their overwhelming loss—is a kind of closure; the finding and the punishing of the person who hurt their loved one. And this is where involvement in an investigation by a victim family is the most problematic. Their need for closure is sometimes as urgent as our need for the next lungful of air. It frequently causes them to fixate on the first suspect and be reluctant to accept evidence that might clear that suspect. Why is that?
People imprint, also. Many men and women imprint on their “first love.” If that first love was a thin, redheaded young woman, a man may find himself dating a lot of slight, redheaded women throughout his life. A recent study even postulates that many people even “imprint” on the type of computer they first used. Mac users stay Mac, and PC users are PC people—and discount or ignore evidence which might prove them wrong.
According to unimpeachable source Wikipedia:
"Imprinting is the term used in psychology and ethology to describe any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior."
Family members who learn that their loved one has been murdered have entered “phase-sensitive learning” much the same way as newly diagnosed cancer patients. Both are going to learn a lot about subjects they never hoped to. It is in this type of critical phase that “rapid” imprint occurs, frequently “independent of the consequences of behavior.”
In some cancer patients, you see this in steadfast refusal to undergo standard, “best-chances” treatment in favor of unsubstantiated “cure” claims of holistic medicine or quack cures.
The families of murder victims frequently “imprint” on the first suspect in their loved-one’s killing. They immediately foist all of their loathing, their vengeance and as much pain as they can on that suspect, and I can tell you from experience, they hold on to that “suspect as the killer” with all their might. They do so because changing their minds means giving up the closure they had obtained, and taking back some of their cruel pain, their loathing and their vengeance. And if the investigator was the one who leaked the name of the first (now discredited) suspect, he or she owns some of the family’s pain. It is simply cruel to allow the family to live through the ups and downs of a typical investigation.
Do all victim families imprint or lack detachment? Obviously not. Sometimes the duckling is right. But the duckling will never know for sure, and the consequences of being wrong are deadly serious.
It’s not impossible for the once-imprinted to change their beliefs. Carol Dodge, the mother of murder victim Angie Dodge, initially believed that the man that the police arrested for the crime, Christopher Tapp, was guilty of the murder. She spoke of how just looking at Tapp filled her with revulsion and loathing. But now, years later, after further evidence has surfaced, Carol no longer believes that Tapp is guilty. It’s not because she suddenly established a relationship with Tapp and felt sorry for him, it's because she knows that as long as Christopher Tapp is in prison for a murder he did not commit, her daughter’s murderer has gotten away with it.
Another problematic phenomenon of involving the victim’s family is their sudden “expertise” in forensics and criminal investigations. In an attempt to feel less helpless and even come to grips with the investigation, they study, they learn and they frequently attempt to insert themselves into the case. I can empathize. When I was diagnosed with cancer in 1996, I learned more about medicine in the first six months than I have learned in the rest of my life combined. As much as I felt like an expert—and could even give myself injections, etc.—I was fooling myself if I believed that I was a doctor. I realized my mistake when I began arguing with my oncologist about treatment after I had studied on the Internet. His response brought me back to reality: “A doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.”
But why does all this matter today? It matters in light of the possible identity of angry blogger “Harry Rag,” and the resultant (potential) involvement of at least one member of the family of murder victim Meredith Kercher in the repeated trials of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.
First, such involvement might explain why in a murder case where three individuals were brought forward by the Italians as suspects, two are hated and one ignored, and the one who is ignored is the only one who admits (literally) that he had Meredith’s blood on his hands. Why is the hate for the suspected killers aimed at the most unlikely suspect, Amanda Knox, while the most obvious suspect, Rudy Guede is ignored? Because Amanda was the first arrested, the first publicly humiliated, and the imprinting was fait accompli by the time Rudy was arrested weeks later. By the time the evidence of Amanda and Raffaele’s innocence surfaced, the damage had been done.
As Mark Twain famously said, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
Recent revelations do apparently give credence, if not proof, to the belief of many that Harry Rag is in reality a member of the immediate family of Meredith Kercher; namely, her brother John Kercher, Jr., an employee of the BBC. ‘Harry’ has done nothing to disprove the allegations except to offer denials entirely unsupported by evidence. His refusal to end such speculation by simply identifying himself is particularly perplexing, and if he is not John Kercher, Jr., equally damaging to the people he attempts to defend.
However, if Harry Rag is indeed a member of the Kercher family, it would very well illustrate the validity of ensuring detachment between victim families and the legal system. If Harry Rag is a Kercher, then he has been attempting to influence public opinion without the ethical obligation of disclosing his very personal emotional involvement and potential bias regarding the case. He has claimed investigative and scientific prowess above and beyond career investigators and forensic scientists.
If he is not a Kercher, then “Harry Rag” owes it to that family to end the speculation and spare the family the embarrassment of being linked to his boorish ramblings.
Harry Rag has not been a spectator, nor do his actions meet any definition of “dignified silence.” Indeed, he has tried to professionally harm those who believe Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito innocent by—among other actions—contacting their employers and making malicious claims. He has engaged in some of the most obscene, hateful and undignified communications I have had the displeasure of witnessing on the Internet—much of it addressed to my family.
If it is ultimately proven that Harry Rag is a member of Meredith’s family, then he should be afforded sympathy, understanding and forgiveness for his actions. He has sustained a loss none of us can fathom and would wish on no person.
But loss is not license to engage in any behavior a person wishes.