Monday, July 11, 2011


by Barbara Early

In one of my earlier attempts at mystery, I thought I had stumbled on a really cool idea. Right after my amateur detective solved the case, she was immediately killed and the story ended abruptly--leaving the killer to get away. I had never seen anyone do that before. It was all innovative and edgy and whatnot. In fact, it was so fresh and innovative that none of my writing friends who looked at it, got it. I sent this short story into a contest and waited. And waited.

One aspect of writing mystery fiction, or so I learned, is bringing the guilty party to justice. It's an expectation of the genre. The bad guy is not allowed to get away. There's something hollow and painful when our sense of justice is not satisfied.

But there is a limit to what justice can do.

When a person is murdered, their life is ended, often in a brutal and painful way. They are ripped from their family and friends. It leaves a hollow empty place.

My first personal experience with murder occurred when I was in high school. A dating couple, classmates of mine, were parked along the river. Another jealous classmate shot up the car with them inside, killing both. It left a void in the school. Empty desks. Empty lockers. An empty place at the lunchroom table. And no matter how harsh the penalty justice imposed on the guilty party, that void was still there.

There can never truly be justice for a murder victim, because they're still dead.

Consider Caylee Anthony. An uproar has been made over this trial, and in my opinion, rightly so. Here is a helpless wide-eyed child, whose decomposed remains were found duct taped and deserted in a field. The suspect the police zeroed in on? Her mother. The trial is complex, and I'm sure many of you have been following it, so I won't rehash it. But when people decried the verdict that allowed the mother to go free, they called for justice.

Had the mother been sent to prison for life or been sentenced to death, Caylee would still be dead. But the mother would not be in a position to repeat the crime. A plus when you realize that she is now talking about having more kids or adopting.

Consider another recent case in the news, a cold case from 1957, in which an arrest has finally been made. The suspect would have been 17 or 18 when he lured a young girl away from a friend. She was never seen alive again.

The man went on to join the military, and even became a police officer. That career choice interests me. Was he trying to make amends? To redeem himself? Or was he looking for a career path that would allow him easy access to further victims? Those what-if's could make for a great story. And if he led an exemplary life, would justice be served by incarcerating him now, over fifty years after his crime?

However, back to real life.

Whatever his initial intentions, the baser desires won over, and he was eventually charged with alleged inappropriate relations with a runaway and dismissed from the department. Other allegations of assault were made throughout his lifetime.

Had justice been obtained in this first murder, the victim would still be dead, but others would have been spared his abuse. But is the only reason for justice the protection of further victims?

I believe there is much to learn from this innate need for justice. When we call for justice (and for the sake of society, I believe we should) I can't help but point an accusing finger back at myself and consider what my life would be like if I always got exactly what I deserved.

I know my own failings. I've fallen far below what God expects of me. To put it more bluntly, I've broken His laws. I've sinned. Repeatedly. Intentionally. God would be perfectly justified to throw the book at me and exact the harshest penalty His law allows: the condemnation of my soul.

But thank God, He is also a God of mercy, who sent His Son to take my penalty! And yours, if you will have Him.
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
(From Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare)

Question of the Day: Can you think of a recent court cases that drew your attention? Do you believe justice was done? How did that make you feel?

Barbara Early grew up buried in the snowy suburbs of Buffalo, NY, where she developed a love for all things sedentary: reading, writing, classic movies, and Scrabble. She holds a degree in Electrical Engineering, but her penchant for the creative caused her to run away screaming from the pocket-protector set. She taught secondary English and science for several years in a Christian school before home schooling her daughter successfully through high school. Barbara cooks up cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of comedy and sometimes a splash of romance, and was a double finalist in the 2010 ACFW Genesis competition. When not reading or writing, she enjoys cooking, crafts, home-improvement projects, and spending time with her husband and daughter.


  1. It's sad to know we have a legal system, not a justice system.

    It's comforting, though, to know God always sees the truth, and He will always have justice.

    His justice with His mercy.

  2. So true, DeAnna. And not only a legal system, but one that works better for those best able to afford it. Or those with high profile cases which a lawyer can use to bolster his reputation.

  3. I somehow have missed most of the Caylee Anthony story. I get the impression that the whole family could well share some of the guilt in her death and disappearance.

    What I did hear made me think of how often we don't have justice in this world. Rarely in fact. Life is just not fair in a world bursting with sin and selfishness. I think I still have trouble being 100% for or against the death sentence!

    I think a lot of what we feel about justice and fairness depends on whether or not we look at our lives as the 'end-all' or as a portion of eternity.
    How many of us can in truth find ourselves praying for Casey Anthony's soul and redemption?

    Many will ask instead how a loving God would allow Caylee's death. I wish I had a clear answer that would change hearts.

  4. Your post made me think of this comment I saw on facebook by a local pastor.

    "I don't understand why people are making such a big deal about Carlee Anthony's mother getting away with murdering her child. Women do it everyday."

    I'm not even a fanatic pro-life person, but that really struck a chord.

  5. Very true Dina. But fetuses don't have portraits taken. Personally, I was thinking more about the number of children who die of family violence that don't get any kind of news attention also.

  6. Deb, Dina--interesting points. I especially like the thought that our perspective may change when viewed from eternity's perspective.

    I guess where we spend eternity will be either a testimony to God's perfect justice or boundless mercy.

  7. In my college ethics class we had a debate. Everyone who was pro-choice on one side, pro-life on the other. (There were two of us on the pro-life side. Very liberal school.)

    Then he told everyone who opposed the death penalty to stand on one side and everyone who supported it to go to the other side. The room flip-flopped.

    It was a disturbing visual of situation ethics I've never been able to forget. Human life is human life, regardless of age. Jesus said to hate is akin to murder, in God's eyes. That would make pretty much every one of us guilty of murder, wouldn't it?

    Whatever the case, however we feel about Casey Anthony, we ought to be praying for her with a heart of mercy.

    Great, very timely post, Barb!

  8. I purposely avoided watching the Casey Anthony trial. I don't think cameras should be allowed in the court room. It makes for the most grisley of reality TV shows. So I don't know a lot of the case details, but on my short almost-jury-duty day, that's all anyone could talk about at the courthouse. And they all thought she was guilty.

    A case I did watch and have strong feelings about was the OJ Simpson trial. There's a man who got away with a double murder and pretty much flaunted it. Until he came to Vegas and was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping. He got a 33 year sentence with the posibility of parol after nine years. At least he's serving time for something.

  9. Niki, true. Why did it get so easy to kill the innocent and spare the guilty.

    Death penalty aside, even if she was convicted, the long lead time between trial and execution gives plenty of time for someone to make their peace with God. She may need more prayer on the outside, because there are many people out there who have strong feelings about her guilt.

  10. Jen,

    The one thing I got out of the trial coverage was a jury member saying they could not convict her of the charges they chose, but might have under a lesser charge. Interesting case.

  11. Good question, but I'm going to sidestep it because your post is so interesting and reminded me of something else...

    Most of you know my current story is about a Mountie. Over the years, the Mounties were given the unofficial tagline, 'The Mountie Always Gets His Man'.

    Well in my story, I was concentrating on the romance between my Mountie hero and his heroine and I let the bad guys get away. Yup. That's right. I figured there were enough lawmen out there that my hero could let someone else chase them.

    Uh uh, my critique partners said.

    The Mountie always gets his man.

    How could I even think of letting them go free? Where was the justice? And from a writer's point of view... you can't leave a subplot that big hanging in the open like a flap on a union suit.

    Well, okay. They had a point.

    So, I had to pull my lovestruck Mountie away from the woman he doesn't know he loves and send him off into the wilderness after the bad guys. Yes, he catches them and brings them back to town.

    But I'm not gonna tell you if he gets the girl.


    Thanks for the post, Barb. I'm now itchin' to get back to my story. :D

    Anita Mae.

  12. Sounds like you got good crit partners. And absence does make the heart grow fonder! -Barb

  13. And random historical thought to go with this, at time in history it has been legal for parents to kill children, sometimes even adult children. In parts of the Middle East today it's overlooked if men kill wives or children in an "honor killing." Unless possibly if it's an adult married daughter, because she is now her husband's property, not her father's.

    Stinks, huh?

  14. Yikes, Dina! Scary thought!

    Anonymous Barb (trying to type on her hubby's blackberry)

  15. Barb (and Anita), in the past, I've been accused of the same problem of not wrapping things in a way readers find fulfilling. I guess people read for escape.

    Dina's comment about honor killings reminded me about something I'd heard about one of the "hard" passages of the Law. Deut 21:18-21 says that if parents have "rebellious son" they are to bring him before the elders and the men of the town are to stone him to death. Sounds over-the-top to us, and is sometimes used by people who make those lists of all the evil in the Bible. But it was an incredible step forward in a time when children were chattel, and a father had the right to do with them as he wanted. God took away a man's "right" to kill his own offspring with impunity and required a hearing before the elders of his community.

    I didn't follow the Anthony trial. I did somewhat follow the Leal death penalty case (Texas) last week.

  16. CJ--
    Reminds me of my childhood. When growing up in my grandparents' housen my grandfather used to threaten that if I misbehaved, he would send me to Father Baker's. (Later I learned I was a home for wayward boys!)

    Only I suspect it was an empty threat--and it worked. I wonder if the extreme Biblical penalty for a rebellious child didn't work in much the same way. I don't know that for sure, but I can just imagine a father saying, "That's it! Clean your room or we're going to see the priest."

  17. Timely post, Barb. I avoided the trial on TV because it's too upsetting to me. Not to sound like as ostrich with my head in the sand, but sometimes I just can't take the horror of what people do to each other and I can't turn off my emotions. I do think a sense of grief at injustice is righteous and God-given--God is a God of justice. Boy, I can't wait until that glorious day when He sets a lot of things right. It's a comfort to know that He holds all things, including justice, in His hands.

  18. Susanne--
    I agree that our innate need for justice is God-given. Can you imagine society without it? Sometimes I think that can go too far though, and becomes a desire for vengeance. That belongs to Him.

    Interesting discussion!


  19. I didn't watch any of the trial. I couldn't bear it. That precious little child. It breaks my heart. I will honestly say I haven't prayed for the mother - Casey. I'm ashamed of that fact. But neither did I hope she'd get the death penalty. I did feel a little angry at the thought that she could profit off this tragedy.

    In my own town there was a horrific car accident, and two young girls (maybe 21?) were responsible for the deaths of three people. One was a young man who deliberately turned his car so he would be the one hit in place of his pregnant wife. The girls were sentenced to 5 and 8 years in prison. People were divided, with most saying it wasn't enough. I really had no strong opinion other than one morning I woke up with the overwhelming urge to pray for them. I really angered someone when I told them that, but I truly believe that urge to pray came from God, since I really hadn't been thinking of them.

    It's quite an interesting topic, with lots of strong opinions. I'm just so glad God is our ultimate judge and jury.

  20. Suzie,

    How interesting that someone would get angry that you prayed for someone!
    I guess a lot of people feel that way when somebody truly heinous, like a death row inmate, turns to God. People get outraged thinking that someone like that could enjoy heaven, when some really "good" people who try to squeak by on their own righteousness will not.

    And yes, I'm glad that decision is not left up to me!

    --Barb--now home and happy not to have to type with those tiny little keys.

  21. There certainly has been a strong reaction to the Casey Anthony thing. She's been tried in the court of public opinion and at least there she's definitely considered guilty.

    I was really torn when I heard the verdict. On the one hand it seemed to me like she really was guilty, on the other hand I was kind of proud of our system.

    If the jury found a reasonable doubt about her guilt then they did the right thing. As unfair as it may seem I'd rather come down on the side of mercy, even at the risk of not "punishing" someone as they deserve.

  22. Lisa, I agree with that. I really think that they could have gotten a conviction on a lesser charge. Members of the jury were not convinced Casey Anthony was innocent, just that there was not enough evidence to prove her guilt.

    I disagree with Nancy Grace who said this was a "screwy jury." I think they did the best with what was presented to them.

  23. She was convicted on the lesser charge of lying to the investigators. She was given four years, but when they figure in time served and good behavior (?) she'll be getting out sometime this month.

    I truly feel sorry for the jury members. Like you said, Barb, I think they did the best they could. I saw an interview with one of the alternate jurors, and he said the reason they refused to talk to the press right after is because they were sick about it. Said there was a lot of crying in the jury room because, even though they felt she was guilty, the evidence just wasn't there. They were instructed on the letter of the law and reasonable doubt, and they took it seriously.


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