Magazine article Insight on the News

Are Women Getting Away with Murder?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Are Women Getting Away with Murder?

Article excerpt

Lynn Herndon Kent was asleep in bed four years ago when her husband, Lamar, put a pistol to the back of her head and blew her brains out. Shortly before, he had taken out an insurance policy on her life. Now, with her blood soaking into the pillow, he called a friend to have him hide the gun, then called the police and explained tearfully that Lynn had been killed in a robbery. They didn't buy it, Kent confessed, and a judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison and 15 years on probation. But now Kent is free, because Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles has granted him clemency.

Are you outraged that such a thing could happen? Would you be less so were you to find out the names were switched, and that it was Lynn who did the killing? Yes, it was that which made the difference. Lynn Kent was released along with two other women: One had an argument with her live-in boyfriend, left the scene, returned and shot him dead; the other was an 18-year-old who killed her stepfather by shooting him in the back after luring him out in the country.

A year before, Chiles -- and a clemency board that he set up in 1993 exclusively to evaluate the cases of women who claimed abuse led them to murder -- ordered two other releases. Assuming all these women had been physically abused -- and for some there was corroborative evidence, while for others there was not -- none of them were in immediate danger of life or limb; thus none could resort to the recognized legal protection of self-defense. Their crimes were premeditated -- what used to be called "in cold blood." They are free today because they suffered from something called "battered woman syndrome."

Which is? "From everything I've read," says Cathy Young, vice president of the Women's Freedom Network in Washington, "it sounds more like an ideological concoction to justify acts that would not fall under the category of self-defense."

Couldn't these women have just walked away? Well, physically, yes. The theory holds that due to repeated battering, "the victim becomes completely passive," says Young. "It's an interesting sort of reasoning because it assumes the woman is so passive she can't leave a relationship, but she's not too passive to kill."

So battered woman syndrome equals insanity, right? Wrong. Insanity long has been recognized as a defense by courts. These women were sane. "Basically, it seems like a grab bag of justifications that can be used to justify just about anything," says Young. …

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