Women Above the Law?
By: Carey Roberts
Rev. Al Sharpton and I seldom see eye-to-eye on the issues, but this time he was right on the money. Following heiress Paris Hiltonâ€™s release from jail, Sharpton denounced the action as having â€œall the appearances of economic and racial favoritism.â€
For those too caught up in the NBA and NHL finals this past week to pay attention, hereâ€™s the skinny: heiress Paris Hilton repeatedly violated the terms of her probation, which earned her a 45-day all-expenses-paid visit to the pokey.
But the jail conditions didnâ€™t meet Hiltonâ€™s high standards. â€œShe wasnâ€™t allowed to wax or use a moisturizer,â€ fumed one of her gal-pals. So Paris turned herself into a regular nuisance, lapsing into a tearful fit in her 12-by-8 cell and repeatedly pushing the medical alert button.
Soon sheriff Lee Baca began to worry Hilton might be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. So Thursday he sent her home in the dead of night â€“ that way she could be spared the embarrassment of having to pose for the paparazzi without lip gloss.
But Friday she was hauled back to the slammer, even as her lawyers argued she was suffering from a life-threatening condition that medical specialists call â€œhaving-a-bad-hair-day syndrome.â€
That same day, 1,000 miles east of Los Angeles, another courtroom drama was about to unfold.
This one involved Carrie McCandless, a Denver-area social studies teacher and cheerleading coach. In October 2006 she engaged in simulated sex with a 17-year-old male student during a school-sponsored hiking trip. So on Friday, judge James Hiatt handed down her sentence: a 45-day slap-on-the-wrist.
As McCandless was led away to jail, she blew a playful kiss to her husband and friends, saying, â€œGoodbye, guys.â€
Another 1,000 miles or so east of Denver, a third woman stood in the docket Friday. She had admitted to a far more serious crime: murder.
Mary Winkler of Selmer, Tennessee had gotten caught up in a check-kiting scheme. One day she and her preacher husband Matthew were arguing about the family finances, then suddenly she snapped. Pulling out a 12-gauge shotgun, she shot him in the back as he lay in bed. Winkler then fled to an Alabama beach resort with her three daughters.
Following her arrest, she made no accusations of abuse against her husband, nor was there any public record of domestic violence in the family.
But by the time the trial rolled around, she had a change of heart and claimed that he had mistreated her. As proof, she showed the jury a pair of platform shoes and black wig that Matthew had asked her to wear during sex. (Yes, a black wig â€“ thatâ€™s what counts for domestic violence these days.)
Her long-dead husband was in no position to refute the claim. So her cold-blooded murder warranted only a seven-month sentence â€“ two of them in a mental health facility that features campfire sing-alongs and foot massages.
Matthew Winklerâ€™s family said that Maryâ€™s abuse allegations amounted to a second attack on her husband. â€œThe monster that you have painted for the world to see? I donâ€™t think that monster existed,â€ charged Matthewâ€™s mother, Diane.
One of the contradictions of the womenâ€™s movement is its failure to object when the criminal justice system condescendingly judges female wrongdoers by a lower standard than men.
When a female high school teacher deflowers a student, she gets a judicial wrist-slap. When a wife kills her husband, itâ€™s the dependable Battered Woman Syndrome defense to the rescue. When a woman falsely accuses a man of abuse and destroys his reputation and career, the chivalrous prosecutor turns the other cheek. If a mother tries to alienate a child from his dad, thatâ€™s â€œprotecting the child from a domineering father.â€ And when a woman kills her unborn child, sheâ€™s exercising her constitutional right to privacy.
You might say thereâ€™s a historical reason for members of the fairer sex getting a judicial free pass. In old England, women didnâ€™t have the right to vote or own property. So if a woman sank the family into debt, it was her husband who was sent to debtorâ€™s prison. Or if a woman committed a homicide, all she needed to do to get off the hook was to get pregnant.
But times have changed and ladies now have full rights. In a civilized society that prides itself on rule of law, rights go hand in hand with responsibilities. Does anyone believe that women should be exempt from that time-honored principle?
When Paris Hilton appeared before judge Michael Sauer this last Friday, assistant city attorney Dan Jeffries pointedly remarked that preferential treatment of miscreants â€œdestroys any semblance of faith in our judicial system.â€
Indeed it does.
Carey Roberts is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. (www.thenma.org). The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.