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Monday, March 16, 2015

On Robert Durst and Us

I had to watch HBO’s The Jinx, on Robert Durst.
I couldn’t help myself. 
But I was more impressed with the fourth episode, with the clips of the filming of Durst's murder trial in Galveston, than the famous sixth episode with the cadaver letter. Somehow, I don’t think that letter, or Durst’s ramblings, are going to send him to prison, frankly.
After all, his confession that he killed his neighbor, cut up his body, put the torso in a suitcase and the rest in garbage bags, and threw them into Galveston bay didn’t move the jury to a lot more than a yawn. They declared him another aggrieved Texas householder, defending himself as best he could from the ever overlooked Morris Black. Not guilty.
It is rare that you see footage that so roundly confirms one’s impression that the American judicial system is a joke and an outrage. If Amnesty international didn’t depend so much on American good will, the US would rank with Iran and Saudi Arabia as a human rights offender. The overflowing prison, that White response to the Civil Rights movement – the wholesale buying of legislatures to change laws unfavorable to corporations – and most of all, a judicial system that continues the feudal custom of allotting one’s legal defense according to one’s ability to pay for it, as though nobody had ever heard of democracy, much less equality – are all part of why the U.S., in my lifetime, has become, at least politically, a piece of crap. 
What do you get when you can afford any defense? In the OJ Simpson case, you had a defense that was, at least, matched by a District Attorney’s office that was not run completely by morons. But the Galveston trial was a remarkable display of an excellent defense lawyer’s ability to adapt to the atomsphere of intelligence in a courtroom. They ran circles around a prosecution that apparently had laid out its plan for its case long before the trial started, and zombie-walked through that plan. An alert D.A. would have enjoyed the defense plan – which began by explaining Durst’s motives for hiding in Galveston, and thus threw a huge prize in the prosecution’s lap, since here was the motive for the death of Morris Black. Although the clips from the trial were by no means exhaustive, its is obvious that the prosecution was not even listening. Why should they? After all, in our utterly corrupt system, what you have is first, some realization of a violent impulse, which is investigated by a police force more focused on extracting fines from poor people so that the department can purchase ever shinier military ware than on petty crimes like murder, and tossed to district attornies who have grown fat on pleas, punishing those who do go to trial. Its not dystopia, its everyday American life. 
Even the show did not stop to find a single person who might have known Morris Black when he was alive. The show never told us what he did – although in his interview, Durst casually let drop that he carved Black’s body up with his own tools – nor did they seek out a single distant family member. Apparently the prosecution thought that carving someone up would suffice. The judge, meanwhile, allowed the defense to instruct the jury in the finer points of law as it saw fit, making a mockery of homicide law. Of course, the judge knew that these were sharks, these lawyers, and probably figured they knew more than she did.
It was, all in all, a porthole into the way justice is doled out in this country. What was it that Solzhenitsyn says in the Gulag? He entitles the chapter on the waves of prisoners that passed through the camps “the history of our sewage disposal system”. 
That is about right.

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