It was a good week or two for crime news, if good is the word I want. It is rare indeed that so many tales of crime and punishment wag the dogged newsbeat in so short a span. The focus on the courtroom and jail cell, the incitement and the indictment, the conviction and the acquittal, has been intense.
One might even suggest that God is reminding us He is about to judge each and every one of us on Rosh Hashanah, observed on Thursday and Friday, September 29 and 30. The Talmud teaches that “all those who are present in this world” are judged on that day, the anniversary of the day Man was created.
The most startling story of all was the apprehension of fugitive murderer, prison escapee, and airplane hijacker George Wright in Portugal after 41 years on the lam. This sends home the stark message that there is nowhere to hide when justice comes to call, and though it may be delayed, it is never denied.
Another amazing story last week involved the passing, in his Delaware prison cell, of Thomas Capano. Capano had originally been sentenced to be executed for the murder of Marie Ann Fahey, but that was later commuted to life in prison. Death in prison is what overtook him at age 61, and it could not have happened to a slicker guy. But in the long run slick is no substitute for nice, as he discovered when he took the stand on his own behalf.
To remind folks, Ann Marie Fahey was one of six siblings in an Irish family that had come up from hard times to do quite well. Their mother had died young and the father battled alcoholism while trying to fill her shoes. Still, they grew up to have nice jobs and raise nice families. Ann Marie herself, still single in her late twenties, became the scheduling secretary for the Governor of Delaware.
She turned up missing one day in April 1996 and the hunt for her body quickly became a nationwide story, with President Bill Clinton contributing federal resources to the search. There were cryptic notes in a diary pointing to an affair with TC, sometime Tomas. As it happens, the governor she served was Thomas Carper, who became a suspect because he had those initials. Eventually friends revealed that her affair was with Thomas Capano, a high-powered attorney who had once been a prosecutor. Capano was married with four daughters, but he and his wife were separated.
When police visited the apartment he had rented for himself, they found evidence of sections of carpet and dry wall having been recently replaced. By a fluke, they found the missing carpet in an industrial waste receptacle at a construction site belonging to his brother. Later, another brother broke down and confessed to police that he had gone out with Tom in his boat and they had thrown overboard a big Styrofoam fish cooler with a few holes poked in the side and red seepage around the holes.
The police were able to prove that Capano had purchased the cooler and he was arrested in late 1997. It figured to be a difficult trial with no body and no witness to the murder. Miraculously, on the eve of the trial, the cooler was discovered. Apparently it had washed up months earlier and a man had been using it for his fish. When he read about the case, he realized what he had. That provided the turning point, that and Capano losing his cool on the stand when the prosecutor punctured his ego. He yelled and sputtered his way beyond a reasonable doubt.
Another great closing episode to a criminological marathon came when Bobbi Parker was convicted last week of helping a man escape from prison in Oklahoma. Bobbi was the warden’s wife (at the Parker Pen?) but she became inappropriately chummy with a prisoner named Dial. One day in August 1994 both disappeared for eleven years until police found them happily married in Texas.
She claims that she was kidnapped and drugged and threatened and whatnot. Dial backed her up, although police believed it was a whitewash. This week a jury found her guilty and recommended a sentence of one year in jail. That is about the same as getting the bad judgment on Rosh Hashanah, I would think.
Yet another big story was the execution in Georgia of Troy Davis for shooting policeman Mark MacPhail in 1989. There were serious questions of possible innocence in a case replete with witness recantations and conflicting stories from various sources. In the end, his appeals ran out and his sentence was carried out, leaving us to wonder forever if he was indeed guilty. Such is the fallible nature of humanity dispensing its justice within the construct of the law. In Heaven, though, they do get it right.
Three more executions followed, one each in Alabama, Texas and Florida. God is sending us a wake-up call to clear the bad marks off our books; unlike human judges, He accepts penitence composed of the three tenets: true regret, honest confession, and a commitment not to make the same mistakes again.