The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Friday, August 28, 2009


Suspicion of Guilt Is Not Proof of Guilt

Initially, joy flowed freely when, against all hope, Jaycee Lee Dugard – kidnapped from her family at age eleven, eighteen years earlier – was found alive less than two hundred miles from her childhood home. Unfortunately, joy quickly turned to horror as details emerged of Dugard’s existence during those eighteen years.

After abducting her in 1991, convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido placed Dugard inside a fenced-off area, located in deep woods behind his suburban home. There, Garrido constructed a compound consisting of tents and crude outbuildings, an environment that authorities likened to camping out.

Worse still, Dugard became Garrido’s sex slave. The man raped her repeatedly, ultimately fathering two children with her, the first when Dugard was a mere fourteen years old. Like their mother, Garrido forced the girls to live in the compound, bereft of all contact with the outside world.

Garrido has admitted to kidnapping Dugard. It is highly likely he will now spend most or all of his remaining life imprisoned and/or institutionalized. Anyone’s heart would go out to Dugard for what she has endured. She lost the entire teen years of her childhood as well as her innocence at far too young an age. The same is true for her daughters. It seems almost inconceivable that slavery could still be possible in contemporary America.

Regrettably, the horror does not even end here. Other members of Dugard’s family also ended up enslaved because of her disappearance. Dugard’s mother Terry became enslaved to her grief. For ten years after her daughter’s disappearance, Terry took vacation from work at Christmas and the anniversary of the abduction as a time for remembrance. She could do little more to pass this time than weep inconsolably.

The grief and recrimination destroyed their marriage, according to her husband. The pair separated some years ago and now live apart.

Terry’s husband, Carl Probyn, Jaycee’s stepfather, also wound up enslaved – in his case by suspicion. He was the one who saw the girl abducted as she waited at her school bus stop. He saw her pulled into a car, screaming, and watched it race away.

Probyn recalls Jaycee was at the top of a hill and he at the bottom when the kidnapping occurred. He said he pedaled furiously in a vain attempt to reach/follow her but his mountain bike was no match for a speeding car.

As the only witness, both local police and the FBI targeted Probyn on suspicion of involvement in Jaycee’s abduction. Both groups interrogated him repeatedly. Authorities never brought formal charges against Probyn but they never completed dropped the investigation either.

The Probyns were robbed of Jaycee’s childhood too. “He had her longer than we did,” Carl said wistfully at one point, referring to Garrido. Both parents appear to have legitimately grieved as Jaycee’s loss. Yet while Terry found respect and sympathy from the community in her mourning, Carl knew only too well that some on the police force as well as some of his neighbors privately felt placing him behind bars was the best way to ensure such justice as was possible for the little girl missing and presumed dead.

Legally, suspicion of guilt is not proof of guilt. Yet it is only human nature to desire punishment and restitution and this often exacerbates the former into the latter for many people. The more heinous and shocking the crime, the more readily people are willing to accept suspicion as proof. (i.e. “The police wouldn’t be checking it if there was wasn’t something fishy going on there.”)

“I've gone through hell, I mean I'm a suspect up until yesterday,” Carl Probyn told reporters. If Garrido had not undergone some type of religious revelation several years ago that caused him to act more recklessly and betray himself, Probyn might well have remained enslaved by suspicion for the rest of his life. It is an interesting side lesson to take from this part happy/part repulsive story of a family ripped apart only to find reunion years later.

Because they stand suspected of terrorism, many of us fear any of the detainees currently residing at Guantanamo Bay as inherently too violent and dangerous for housing in U.S. prisons or affording the rights associated with civil trials. In some high-profile cases, these may well be legitimate concerns but it is just as valid to wonder how many Carl Probyn types are among the lesser-known figures. We know they exist because U.S. authorities have already found and released some previously.

Like Probyn, these individuals wound up robbed of their families, their countries, and their lives for years without earning a dreg of our sympathy because our fear and suspicions engulfed and overwhelmed our sense of justice. The Dugard case demonstrates the greatest wrong which can come from this is to allow the truly guilty to continue walking about without penalty and the genuinely innocent to continue suffering at their hands.

It is time to unshackle the enslaved by unshackling ourselves from our worst suspicions and fears.

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