Murder

The Jury is Out

I have disappeared for a few days… OK, maybe more like a week, because I had become consumed by a court case I was selected to serve as a juror on. I have never served on a jury before, so this was a completely new experience for me — one that I thought I wanted, but now, in hindsight, realize that no one should ever want. Ever.

r620-caf28fc922350a27f51ce3f6661c0b51I promise I am not trying to be dramatic. Hear me out. The case I was on involved a man who shot his wife of 8 years in the head because he was jealous that she was texting another man on her phone (doesn’t matter he himself was actually sleeping with another woman and seeing another on top of that at the time). They were planning a divorce but were waiting on tax money to come in so that they could afford it. The worst part? They regularly locked their 5-year-old child and 3-year-old child in their bedroom and after he shot his wife, he left the house with his roommate and his dog and left the young children locked in their room all night long with no one but the corpse of their mother to look after them. Yes, you read that correctly — he took his dog with him, but not his children.

Initially, he tries to play it off as a suicide which the police quickly find to be a lie, but for his defense strategy he claimed that it was an accident — She had the gun, pointed it at him first, he wrestled it away from her and it went off and shot her in the head. The evidence that the DAs presented did not match the story of there ever being a struggle and after 5 days and 37 witnesses, we found him guilty of attempting to persuade a public servant (he lied to the police), 2 counts of child abuse and ultimately of 2nd degree murder.

We were shown endless amounts of pictures of her body, the crime scene, her autopsy, the disgusting state of their apartment and the little boys’ bedroom that detectives said smelled so badly of urine it was unbearable to be in there for long. I don’t know if you know this about me (how would you, I suppose) but I work for an organization called Head Start. It is a federally funded, nation-wide organization in America that provides free preschool to families living under the federal poverty guidelines. It is not just a preschool program, though, the program focuses on the entire family and provides support, resources, advice, classes, services, etc. to families in our communities with the most need. The idea is that if you can get a child learning and educate their parents to continue that desire to learn in their children while also supporting the parents by teaching them about parenting and budgeting, the child will have a stronger/better foundation to grow on and ultimately will become more successful in their lives. So, needless to say, I care A LOT about kids. I would say most decent human beings also care a lot about kids but, the overall health and wellbeing of children has become a sort of passion of mine so this case was incredibly hard for me to listen to objectively. I did it, but it was emotionally draining and awful.

One of the things that surprised me the least about this case came when we were watching the first interview that was recorded with the defendant and the detective. About halfway through the hour-long interview, the detective leaves to go take care of some business (i.e. he wants to see his reaction while he is out of the room) and as soon as he leaves, the defendant gets upset and starts to cry. He puts his head in his hands and says, “God, please help me. Please forgive me of my sins.” Despite it being a really emotional, human moment I couldn’t help thinking, “REALLY?!” Of course. Of course now, when you have murdered your wife and you are about to get caught in your own lie, you turn to god.

We see it time and time again — awful people doing awful things and then praying/begging for forgiveness so that they can bask in the glory of heaven in the afterlife even though they were a piece of shit on Earth. Why does this phenomenon occur? It occurs because only a sick person could believe in a god sick enough to allow a murderer into eternal paradise because he/she asked for forgiveness at the last second. It’s desperate and selfish and allows a person to squirm their way out of personal accountability because ‘it is in god’s hands’ or ‘it was god’s plan’.

While religion (and I’m speaking mainly about Christianity although I am sure it can be applicable to other religions as well) does “teach” a lot about the ways humans should live a good life, it also leaves a lot of wiggle room for those that choose to do bad things. I can’t tell you how many episodes of MSNBC’s Lock-Up I have watched in which they showed a “reformed” prisoner who found god. Is he really reformed? Or does he just appear to be reformed since he has a newfound faith in god? People with faith in god are automatically viewed as being good people at first glance and first judgement by most. People take comfort in being around fellow god-fearing citizens, they feel safer for some reason. This is part of the reason atheists are demonized and viewed as not much more than a menace to society (speaking in generalities).

This phenomenon also further concretes my opinion that religion is nothing more than a crutch used by the weak in order to get through this hard life we have here on Earth. This defendant probably never even spoke once of god in his entire adult life, but now that he is presumably at the lowest point in his life, he wants/needs god. He wants/needs someone on his side, to look after him and help him through this. And, according to the Bible, if he truly believes in god in his heart, he will be forgiven and will walk through those pearly gates alongside those that went to church every Sunday and waited until marriage for sex.

So fine.

Lots of people need a god to feel safe and looked after and loved even if they didn’t just murder someone, but how can this not be viewed as a weakness? Is it always a bad thing? Absolutely not — to each his own. Most believers need this ‘big-brother’ god to look after them all the time, while others only need him/her/it in their time of need. Atheists just never need it. We take responsibility for our own actions and we hold ourselves accountable when we do things we know we shouldn’t do.

This is why I am proud to be an atheist. I may be weak in a lot of different ways compared to a lot of different people (for example, my involvement in this murder trial was incredibly hard on me but was the everyday job of the judge, the lawyers, the detectives, the coroners, etc.), but I know that I am not weak in my heart. I am on this Earth for some reason and dammit, I am going to enjoy it and treat others like I want them to treat me back. And if I ever find myself in a desperate situation, I sure as hell won’t be turning to any god to get me through it.