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Monday, January 10, 2011
About Jared, the Arizona Defendant
My practice is not to name a killer before he is charged.
As everyone with access to the news can tell you, the person referred to in my Black Saturday post as “the killer” has now been charged by federal authorities. [Link to that post - http://jaygaskill.com/Tucson11.htm ]
Jared L. Loughner is being arraigned today for the Arizona shooting rampage on Saturday.
A note to my friends in the news business: The proper nomenclature is rarely used. When the miscreant is at large we are told the person being sought is either a suspect or a person of interest depending on whether police intend an arrest (suspect) or just a conversation (poi).
Once the suspect has been taken into custody, he is either an arrestee or a detainee, depending on whether police have decided that he will be held to be charged (arrestee) or are still considering possible release (detainee).
Once charges are filed, we always have a defendant. Lawyers enter the picture and the processes of court administered justice have been initiated. Only an unsophisticated reporter persists in calling the defendant a suspect at this stage. After a conviction by plea or trial, it is perfectly appropriate to start using the term convict. Technically, any conviction can be set aside by a trial judge before sentencing or by a higher court on appeal after sentencing. But the term convict is apt unless and until the conviction is set aside.
The most important aspect of the US vs. Loughner case will be suppressed for legal reasons. No prosecutor wants to stray too far into the “Why did this man open fire on two public officials and a crowd of bystanders?” question, because: (a) the legal system is primarily concerned with the simpler question, whether the defendant transgressed the law with the required intent, not how he was raised or formed as a person; and (b) a criminal defendant’s character evidence is almost always excluded from evidence as too prejudicial, unless the defense has opened the door.
In Saturday’s post, I said that the nature and quality of these killings and attempted killings, under the obvious circumstances, meet my minimum definition for evil.
In a brief update, I added more information about the shooter (that a jury may not hear), to wit – that this 22 year old male has been reading Hilter and Marx, evidently with admiration.
As I put it, “Evil favors no political party. Word is leaking out on the shooter’s “reading list”. It included, reportedly with admiration, “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf“”.
Evil can be misidentified as mental illness, but that is a category mistake. Various insults and conditions can compromise the moral immune system, allowing evil influences to take hold. In a compromised mind, the last defense against the urges and influences of malevolent ideation, images and fantasy constructs, is moral character, the ultimate firewall. Evil most often takes root in a susceptible mind via power lures. These are especially attractive to socially isolated young males whose thirst for approval and recognition is easily perverted in as lust for power. 
The facile chatter of the day that passes for political discourse is unable to accommodate the juxtaposition of Hitler and Marx, as if they represent polar opposites. More discerning thinkers, notably the brilliant autodidact longshoreman, immigrant, Eric Hoffer and the Austrian economist Friedrich August Hayek, see them as malevolent twins. To a power starved adolescent mind, the Manifesto and the Kampf represent paths to great power, written by great men who were unafraid to break a lot of eggs to make a human omelet. The consistency of Great Purpose Ruthlessly Pursued swamps all the differences.
The trial will use the defendant’s “assassination papers”, and the defense will suggest mental illness. But the real probe, the one that is important from the larger moral perspective, will be buried in the interests of ensuring a fair trial.
Here’s what to look for:
What was going on in young Loughner’s mind from age seven till twenty one? What and who were the major influences? What, if any, was his moral education?
Reportedly Jared was living at home throughout. Clearly, as an adult, he is fully accountable for his misdeeds. But his parents and the other adults charged with his care and education are accountable for his character formation.
These are hard questions to ask and, quite possibly harder answers for parents and others to face. But I’ve spent long difficult years investigating the backgrounds of defendants facing the death penalty, and months on months in a courtroom facing a jury that would decide whether a client would be executed.
Kids do not ripen into killers overnight.
Evil is a narrow, but very real category. I’ve written and lectured extensively on the topic. Among the articles, see – http://www.jaygaskill.com/explainingevil.htm .
Early in the computer age, we were reminded not to entirely trust these “smart” machines: “Garbage in, garbage out” was the watchword. In the cyber age we should not trust the ambient culture, let alone the seething internet, to raise our young. My own contact with the underworld suggests a corollary: Garbage in, evil out.
 Progressive Christian theologians rarely discuss the temptations posed Jesus by Satan during the 40 days in the desert described in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. But those narratives contain an important lesson that transcends the Christian setting: Each offer was a power lure, one often repeated in modern form, “I know it’s distasteful but think of how much good you can do with all that power.”