"The defendant was an immense man, well over 300 pounds, but in the gravity of his sorrow and shame he seemed larger still. He hunched forward in the sturdy wooden armchair that barely contained him, sobbing softly into tissue after tissue, a leg bouncing nervously under the table. In the first pew of spectators sat his wife, looking stricken, absently twisting her wedding band. The room was a sepulcher. Witnesses spoke softly of events so painful that many lost their composure. When a hospital emergency room nurse described how the defendant had behaved after the police first brought him in, she wept. He was virtually catatonic, she remembered, his eyes shut tight, rocking back and forth, locked away in some unfathomable private torment. He would not speak at all for the longest time, not until the nurse sank down beside him and held his hand. It was only then that the patient began to open up, and what he said was that he didn't want any sedation, that he didn't deserve a respite from pain, that he wanted to feel it all, and then to die. (...)
At one point, during a recess, Harrison rose unsteadily to his feet, turned to leave the courtroom and saw, as if for the first time, that there were people witnessing his disgrace. The big man's eyes lowered. He swayed a little until someone steadied him, and then he gasped out in a keening falsetto: "My poor baby!""
""This is a case of pure evil negligence of the worse kind . . . He deserves the death sentence."
"I wonder if this was his way of telling his wife that he didn't really want a kid."
"He was too busy chasing after real estate commissions. This shows how morally corrupt people in real estate-related professions are."
These were readers' online comments to The Washington Post news article of July 10, 2008, reporting the circumstances of the death of Miles Harrison's son. These comments were typical of many others, and they are typical of what happens again and again, year after year in community after community, when these cases arise. A substantial proportion of the public reacts not merely with anger, but with frothing vitriol. (...)
After Lyn Balfour's acquittal, this comment appeared on the Charlottesville News Web site:
"If she had too many things on her mind then she should have kept her legs closed and not had any kids. They should lock her in a car during a hot day and see what happens.""
The article goes on to quote a psychologist who says, basically, that these people are defending themselves against the thought that they might be similarly vulnerable, which sounds right. But I still ask myself: who are these people who, having read about a complete stranger whose character is unknown to them, feel compelled to write comments like these?