Saturday, June 13, 2015

Miller, Milgaard, Fisher and 'pure evil'


Many of us remember it. It was 1992. The question of David Milgaard's responsibility for the rape and murder of Gail Miller in an alley off Avenue O in Saskatoon was reopened in the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). Milgaard had spent 23 years in jail for that murder, but emerging new evidence seemed to point to possible errors in his conviction.

The newly-developed ability to connect perpetrators to their crimes through DNA evidence was finally a clincher in proving that it was not David Milgaard but Larry Fisher who was guilty of the brutal attack on Miller. Fisher was eventually convicted of the crime, even though he had appeared before the SCC as a witness only, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Fisher died in prison this week.

An abbreviated story of the dramatic turn-around in which a witness became a suspect can be read HERE. Under questioning by Milgaard's lawyer, Hersh Wolch, Fisher was led to set the stage for his own conviction.

The same article on the CBC website quotes Wolch in a later interview as saying: "My impression was that [Fisher] was pure evil." My understanding of the comment is that Wolch saw in Fisher only evil thought and action, uncontaminated by any trace of goodness or kindness. Pure in other words.

The choice of that adjective is interesting, if odd.

It's no accident that if you add a “d” before evil, you get “devil,” the immortal, anti-god of religious tradition who is blamed for urging humanity to undo what is good and replace it with hate and violence. Anthropomorphised in mythology into a horned creature with a lashing tail, the contradiction of his immortal nature technically admitting to two gods in a monotheistic faith seems to have been lost.

We're generally past the time of diagnosing pathological mental illness as “demon possession,” although for some strains of Christian religion, that view of evil persists in part because scriptures reinforce it. (eg. Gaderene swine episode; for a dark painting by Briton Riviere of this event in Mark 5:1-13, click HERE.) The treatment of sociopathy and psychopathy could never have developed until that mythology had been abandoned. That Larry Fisher suffered from psychopathy is hardly in doubt; that it was not suspected and diagnosed before he went on his rampage of rape and violence is the weak link in our understanding of what goes wrong in the minds of men and women.

Evil obviously conjures images of a leering Satan when used as a noun. As an adjective, it has its place. Larry Fisher was not “pure evil”; had he been raised attentively and with an eye to his developing exploitative, cruel behaviour, Gail Miller's life might have been saved. A number of women would not have experienced his brutal attacks.

Some would urge treatment of people like Fisher with exorcism, some with drugs or other therapies. Our current government thinks the correct treatment is severe punishment, the problem with that being that punishment always follows the evil act, contributes nothing to prevention.

For Milgaard, Miller and now Fisher, all the potential options have gone under the bridge. Sad beyond belief.

No comments:

Post a Comment