A Baltimore mother who deliberately starved her one-year-old son to death will soon be released after pleading guilty, reports the Associated Press in the story “Mom of starved Md. child to be released after plea.”
Ria Ramkissoon deprived little Javon Thompson of all water and food, forcing him to suffer a lingering and agonizing death, after he failed to say grace as demanded by the teachings of her cult – never mind that a one-year old might not be able to utter such complicated language. Lawyers have rationalized her crime as the acts of a confused and misguided woman.
Mothers who kill their children often serve little jail time. Gender stereotypes lead people to believe that any woman who kills her kid must have done so as a result of duress or insanity. Andrea Yates ultimately escaped punishment after methodically drowning her five children one by one in a bathtub. A Prince William County woman guilty of stabbing her five daughters received less than three years in jail (after her lawyer ridiculously claimed the children should not be deprived of their mother!).
A woman who used poison to paralyze her daughter, enabling her husband to then kick her conscious-but-immobilized daughter to death, escaped penalty by pleading “battered woman syndrome.” (While battered women suffer terribly, the so-called “battered woman syndrome” theory has been criticized by leading scholars as being contrary to empirical evidence, and resting on baseless gender stereotypes. See Faigman & Wright, The Battered Woman Syndrome in the Age of Science (1997) 39 Ariz. L.Rev. 67, 68-69)).
Battered woman syndrome has become an excuse to kill not only children, but also innocent non-relatives. A California woman got her lover to kill an innocent man by falsely telling him that the man was her paramour. She then had her murder conviction overturned by the California Court of Appeal. How? She claimed that “battered women’s syndrome” made her do it. (The California Supreme Court depublished the Court of Appeal’s decision in In re Nourn, 52 Cal.Rptr.3d 31 (2006), depriving it of binding effect in future cases, but it refused to disturb its ruling overturning the conviction).
Gender bias is common in domestic violence cases, to the detriment of male victims. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ study of large urban counties, wives who kill their husbands without provocation get only seven years in prison, on average, compared to a more reasonable 17 years in prison for husbands who kill their wives without provocation.
Domestic violence is only taken seriously by many people when it fits the crude stereotype of a man beating a woman. But it comes in many other forms (it occurs at similar rates in same-sex relationships, for example), although many self-styled “domestic violence” advocates would deny it, falsely claiming that all domestic violence is rooted in “patriarchy” or “violence against women.” According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 800,000 men and 1.5 million women are victims of domestic violence every year.
The lawyers in the Javon Thompson seem to lack any moral compass or sense of outrage about what Ria Ramkissoon did, boasting that thanks to prosecutors, she will now receive a cushy slot at a taxpayer-funded counseling facility in bucolic surroundings. “It’s not a correctional facility. It’s a place for her to get re-acclimated. She’ll be part of a community and have a job and responsibilities,” said Steven D. Silverman, Ramkissoon’s attorney. “She’s very excited about the opportunity to do something positive.” One can only hope that she won’t murder another child.
For a glaring example of gender bias in the courts (and the media), you need look no further than The Washington Post story by Tamara Jones, in which she commiserates with convicted felon Teressa Turner-Schaefer, who spent a mere 11 months in jail for killing her husband after an argument.
Now Turner-Schaefer gets to collect $400,000 in life insurance for killing her husband. In a plea bargain, she pleaded guilty to the crime of involuntary manslaughter, which, amazingly enough, doesn’t bar you from collecting life insurance taken out on the person you killed.
It’s not surprising that the prosecutors let her plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, even if they thought she deliberately murdered her husband. Prosecutions of wives for killing their husbands are among the most difficult for prosecutors to bring, since judges and juries invariably assume that the victim must have done something to deserve it, even if the victim was blameless.
Even when a prosecutor succeeds in obtaining a conviction, penalties are often slight. (I wrote earlier in the Post about Mary Winkler, the Tennessee woman who served only two months in jail after her conviction for killing her preacher husband).
And getting a conviction is quite difficult, since even the killing of a small, physically harmless man is often defended on the ground that his wife was suffering from “battered woman syndrome.”
“Battered woman syndrome” is a concept popularized by Lenore Walker, who was later exposed by the Post‘s Ken Ringle for falsely claiming that watching the Super Bowl results in men beating their wives more. Walker defines “battered woman syndrome” so broadly that mere verbal abuse or quarreling qualifies. Despite being exposed for the Super Bowl hoax, Walker has been cited hundreds of times in judicial opinions.
It is easy for a female defendant to find a “rent-a-shrink” willing to testify that the husband she killed was a batterer — even if she in fact dominated and abused him, not vice versa. Such testimony for hire is admissible, while the testimony of the slain man’s family that he was the victim is not.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals, in an opinion by Judge Diana Motz (who was later appointed to the federal appeals court), held in Banks v. State, 608 A.2d 1249 (1992), that a man’s family were not allowed to testify that he was in fear for his life of the wife who later killed him, and expressed such fear to them repeatedly. The court said his out-of-court statements were inadmissible hearsay. Yet an “expert” who never met the man was permitted to testify about battered woman syndrome in that very same case, depicting him a negative light.
By contrast, similarly relevant out-of-court statements about female victims are not so rigidly excluded. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, permitted diary entries about abuse of a female victim to be admitted at her husband’s murder trial in Parle v. Runnels, 387 F.3d 1030 (2004).
The courts can be quite indulgent even when it is clear that a woman has deliberately attempted to kill her husband. In another case, U.S. v. Working, 224 F.3d 1093 (2001), the Ninth Circuit held that federal trial judge Jack Tanner (whom the Ninth Circuit later admitted was gender-biased against male victims) had the power to reduce a woman’s sentence for deliberately maiming, and attempting to kill, her ex-husband (Tanner sentenced her to just one day in jail) because he had supposedly disturbed her emotionally by seeking custody of their kids. It is hard to imagine a court reducing a man’s sentence for maiming his ex-wife on the grounds that she had the temerity to seek custody of their children. Such a man would rightly receive a long prison sentence, and no sympathy from the press.