The law is something people like to think is perfect. If someone is guilty of a crime, then the premise of the judicial system dictates that that person will be given a fair trial, by a jury of their peers, and given a punishment in fitting with the crime.
Unfortunately, Lady Justice is painted blind and the system she represents is anything but fair. We should deal in facts, science, and evidence, and be unbiased in pursuit of the truth, but people are fallible, biased, and susceptible to the influence of others.
Evidence can be tampered with, humans make mistakes (intended or not), computer error occurs, and politics, personal agendas and prejudice are all possible factors in the outcome of a case, and the consequences resulting from it.
We all have our own take on morality, and as we have seen countless times, those morals have an incredible impact on the people around us, and how we are perceived. Science has proven that we make a judgement on an individual within 30 seconds of making their acquaintance. We all judge on looks, whether we do it subconsciously or not; so there is a reason why Piers Morgan causes me to feel bilious at the mere sight of his picture.
Making a Murderer is the hot potato burning everyone’s mouth at the moment and we all have an opinion on Steven Avery’s case. Most of us are missing the point of the documentary entirely though, for it is not about picking sides, or even about the man’s innocence or guilt; it is about the fact that Avery’s case was tainted from the initial arrest all of those years ago, and that he was never given the one thing that every citizen, no matter their crime, is entitled to, and that is a fair trial.
The Innocence Project, and other organisations handle hundreds of cases like this every year, and sadly they don’t get as much media attention when they aren’t featured on a must watch tv show. Many of these prisoners are on death row, victims of miscarriages of justice, lives and families irreparably torn apart, victims of racial, societal or sexual prejudices or just plain corruption in the system. Things are not always cut and dry, and one should remember this when we consider the morality of a death sentence in such a flawed system.
We can release a prisoner, but we can not bring that prisoner back to life.
The Wineville Chicken Coop murders was one of the most infamous crimes of the 1920’s. Young boys, abused and murdered by a young man named Gordon Stewart Northcott, whose mother helped to cover up his dark secrets, and a police force who cared more about public image than justice.
The Changeling is a the true story of Christine Collins, a single woman, with a good career, whose life was destroyed by the disappearance of her son Walter. The police brought a boy back to her and declared his prodigal return. His mother, was forced to take the child home, though she protested the glaring fact that this child was not hers. The police, not wanting to admit their mistake, accused Collins of not wanting the child back, of being a bad mother, and after she continued to ask the whereabouts of her own little boy, was put in an asylum. After all, she was a woman in a world where men had all the power, and she was up against the true might of the L.A police department.
Christine Collins went through hell, and was eventually vindicated when the hideous crimes of Northcott were uncovered and his mother Sarah, confessed to Walter’s murder, although sadly the boy’s remains were never found. Christine was awarded compensation against Police Captain J.J Jones, but never received the money.
Clint Eastwood’s retelling of this horrifying period in the Los Angeles justice department’s history, is surprisingly engaging and beautifully shot. Angelina Jolie does Collins a great service, by portraying the strength this woman showed in the face of tragic and insurmountable odds. This was a story that needed to be told, to remind us that ugly things happen, and the endings don’t always end up happy.
It is beautifully acted, and harrowing. Eastwood does an excellent job of reminding us that true evil is insidiously mundane, and can lie in even the safest of places. Pressures of politics and prejudices, are far more scary than an axe wielding maniac, because at least with the maniac, you can see him coming.
There is still some doubt surrounding the fate of Walter, and many of the other victims of Northcott, and he teased Christine Collins with promises of confession of the child’s murder until his execution, though she still held out hope that her son was alive until her own death in 1964. The murders were so infamous that Wineville changed it’s name to Mira Loma in 1930, to in some way escape it’s bloody notoriety.
What’s in a name though, when there are still skeletons to be unearthed …