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celibate pedophiles


Sometimes we exercise control over our actions, but our thoughts are out of control. An alcoholic may be able to remain on the wagon, but they say that the desire for a drink never abates. We may be able to refrain from violence despite the involuntary desire to knock out someone’s lights. If we could be jailed for our thoughts, most of us would be wearing stripes.

Earlier this week, one of my readers contacted me about a small number of pedophiles who are sexually attracted to children, but choose not to act on their desires. Yet society, in its hatred of the pedophilic act, reacts to these unfortunates as if their actions have already crossed the line, as if their commitment to “doing no harm” never existed.

How many of them are there? A 1989 study of about 200 male college undergrads found 5% admitted to masturbating to pictures of children, and 7% said they’d have sex with a child if they could get away with it. A 1991 study found 3% of some 600 college men reported having had a sexual experience with a child when they were 16 years or older. Although mostly documented in men, there are also women who exhibit the disorder (about 10% of males), but researchers assume available estimates underrepresent the true number of female pedophiles.

No cure for pedophilia has been developed, but there are therapies that can reduce the incidence of persons committing child sexual abuse. But therapists typically discourage pedophiles from becoming their clients, and the surest means of keeping the incidence of pedophilia to a minimum is supporting the restraint of the pedophiles themselves.

Yet, as I have said before, such a reasonable and tolerant reaction is the rare exception, and not the rule. It is an attitude which needs to change, and I will return to this subject periodically with the goal of reducing the sexual abuse of children by many means. If this involves treating pedophiles with respect and as a part of the solution, so be it.

In the interest of using this blog as a soapbox for people with an authentic personal stake in this goal, I am reprinting here a portion of a post on another blog, so you can see for yourself the experience of one young man who has made a commitment to living a celibate life:

I am a young adult, 26, and I am exclusively attracted to boys approximately between the ages of 8 and 14. I don’t know particularly why I am this way. What matters is that at this point in time, regardless how I got here, this is who I am and who hundreds of thousands (if not more) are and will be. I do not believe any one thing biologically or environmentally is responsible for any one other thing. I am who I am because of bidirectional influences of nature and nurture. I had a completely sexless childhood (to my knowledge) and I agree with my current therapist who says that is quite uncommon. I go so far as to say that has contributed to my sexual orientation.

Many people believe being molested as a kid turns them into child molesters or pedophiles (not the same thing), and “research” likes to make the same conclusion of cyclical “offending” because it is so convenient. Researchers can frame their research to say anything they want. This is what made me realize the true problems with research on pedophilia and child sexuality. In fact, the laws we have on the books about age of consent and anything to do with sex and kids is founded on nothing. The laws prevent research from being done that would either prove or disprove the correctness of those very laws! It is a catch-22 that is designed as such. I am involuntarily celibate as nobody I have liked has liked me back. And, I obviously refrain from any sexual activity I desire due to the legal ramifications, both to me and to the hypothetical younger partner.

My beliefs fall in line with the works of Bruce Rind (et al.) and Theo Sandfort to name a very few. I believe the majority of traumatization from childhood sexual activity with adults spawns from social disapproval of the sexual activity, not necessarily the activity itself. I believe things like rape, violence, coercion, extortion, drug abuse, exploitation and non-consent are characteristic of true child molestation, not a consensual, loving, positive sexual experience. Of course, trauma can and does occur when the things listed above occur in a sexual interaction between an adult and a child, but I do not believe trauma results from a child’s desired sexual interaction with anyone, including adults. It is assumed that because adults are older and more powerful that they, without question, will take advantage of a younger person, but this simply isn’t always the case.

If you think about it, the child has more power because they have the ability to destroy the life of the adult by reporting to parents and authority figures, even if an adult has done absolutely nothing to them. Many people do not buy this perspective, but it is incredibly real when you understand just how smart and powerful some kids are. No, not all kids can consent to sexual activity just as I believe not all adults can. We have literally retarded human development with the creation and sensationalization of childhood. We oppress the learning process and keep kids “innocent” and ignorant as long as possible, raising the age of legal permissions higher and higher. Ignorance is not knowing something one should know while innocence is not knowing something one shouldn’t know. Who is to decide what one should or shouldn’t know? Parents want their little ignorant angels as long as possible, stunting their psychological, social and sexual growth.

My “sexual neglect” is, I believe, partially responsible for my sexual orientation. I believe in the zone of proximal sexual development where the zone of proximal development refers to a person’s ability to solve a problem or puzzle as far as they can until they need intervention from a more knowledgeable person, whether or not they are older. I believe this can fit into comprehensive sexual education, tailored to each individual. Some kids may just need conversation, others might desire contact. This is a very scary thought for many because people simply cannot be trusted and our fish nets catch dolphins (metaphorically, hopefully you understand).

The first time I masturbated was my first sexual experience at 14 years old after asking a boy I had a crush on how to masturbate. The week leading up to this fantastic discovery I was at a church beach camp with a new church I had found because I was attracted to the boy who invited me to attend. There was a running bet among the boys in the youth group who could go the longest without masturbating. So I thought “I gonna win this thing. I have to! I’ve never masturbated before so I don’t even know what I’m missing out on. I’ll win for sure.” The thought of me missing out on this incredibly tempting and widely practiced thing was eating away at me and made me feel quite isolated, out of the loop and lame. So after asking my crush how to do it the day after the bet started, I was the first one to lose! Lol! If I had had a man I loved and trusted help me with my sexuality, emotionally and physiologically, through discussion and sex play, I would have been such a happy kiddo and probably might have a more socially acceptable sexual orientation today.

Unfortunately, about a week after having masturbated for the first time (and all week long) I realized I was thinking about my crush and that meant I was gay. The thought of me being gay and, therefore, unacceptable to my church and my family made me severely depressed. I went to therapy which helped me to love myself no matter what, but a few years down the road I was still severely depressed and anxious. By the time I turned 17 I realized my attraction wasn’t growing with me and if I didn’t have sex with a boy I liked before I turned 18 I was screwed for life having missed the boat to legally act on my innate desires. Up to that point I thought I was (merely) gay, but then I realized I was a pedophile.

Everything I had known about pedophilia was that is was evil, sick, wrong, disgusting. I top-down processed it, attributing all the negative characteristics to me, the sweet, kind, old-soul, loving pudgy little boy. I was now a monster who had to live a double life in hiding and without the greatest pleasure of life, forever. I immediately became suicidal.

Going into college I decided to shoot the moon and dedicate all of my research papers and everything I did in college to shedding truth and critical thinking on pedophilia and child sexuality. Upon graduating university with a B.S. in psychology, I had outed myself to nearly 140 people through interpersonal interactions (friends and acquaintances), research papers and presentations, and a monologue/Q&A with about 60 people at a sexual minorities event at the university’s LGBTQIAA club.

Also, I was assaulted with intent to be murdered by a group of 5 skinheads 5 to 6 years younger than me because they heard that I was gay. I wouldn’t tell the police why they attacked me because I was afraid and ashamed. They documented it as a hate crime (even though I don’t believe in hate crimes. I believe in punishment or correction of an action, but not particularly because of the motivation behind it. I suppose correction couldn’t avoid dealing with motivation). I was slapped with a minor in consumption of alcohol even though I was months away from my 21st birthday and they let the assailants go free.

I found out 2 days later at the hospital my left eye socket was shattered. That event left the biggest scar on my life to date and reinforced my will as an activist for queer youth. I moved to a suburb just south of San Francisco after college to immerse myself in the queer community. I found it quite the bubble of gays who display just as much if not more ‘groupthink’ than conservative communities. Almost every gay man I met out there was either a boylover (homoephebo/pedophile), a loved boy as a kid or both. But, not one of them was out about it. They had only come out of the closet about it when I walked into their lives and opened up about myself, but they absolutely would not be open about it in public. That is a hugely disappointing secret I found out about the gay community. Because all of these gay men are fortunate enough to have a more acceptable attraction to men, they are able to throw their attraction to boys and those who are exclusively attracted to boys under the bus to gain their own rights to love men. They’ve created a common ground of hatred to share with conservative communities to gain their own acceptance. “We think they’re sick and wrong too. We’re not like them so now we’re on the same team.”

I was a private percussion instructor and a program leader at an after-school “club” that everyone knows about, but shall remain nameless, and a roady and drum technician for a rock band of tween boys. The band of kids was getting rather big so the manager wanted to start a reality show about us on Cartoon Network. He gave the parents, roadies and everyone involved a sort of autobiography to fill out in which he wanted is to each give a bit of dirt on us to create some necessary drama. This is where I went way overboard, yet somewhat on purpose. I came out in this autobiography as a celibate, virgin homoephebopedophile or boylover. This scared the shit out of the manager (who is actually a tyrannical child abuser himself) and the parents. I knew what could potentially happen and it did. I was kicked out of the group and given absolutely no understanding or sympathy. My place of employment was notified and I was illegally let go from being a program leader as well.

About a year later after I got a gig teaching drumset and marching percussion at a local mom-and-pop music store, I had a deep conversation with a parent I’d known for a while who I thought I could trust with coming out to. Nope. She freaked out, printed out the online conversation and spread it around the community. There were no incriminating things in it, but just labeling myself as a boylover was enough to get me illegally fired from my teaching position.

Boy, when will I learn!? My prefrontal cortex still isn’t fully developed so my ego still trumps the superego on occasion. The printed out conversation made it into the hands of local law enforcement who asked me to meet them at the police station for discussion. They basically lectured me on how acting upon my desires is illegal (as if I didn’t already know that) and refused to release the 40-page conversation to me as it still sits in that evidence room today (in case they ever want to fabricate a serial molestation story and pin it on me, brainwashing kids to think I had inappropriately touched them).

I looked for several lawyers to help me out with all of this, having lost three jobs over simply stating my sexual orientation and no illegal activity. I could not find one lawyer who would help me (what lawyer wants to say they helped the pedophile go back to work with kids?). All of this actually spilled over into my professional drumming career and cost me two bands.

I tried to commit suicide a third time by hanging myself. I hung for a few seconds before I chickened out and got myself down. I had posted to Facebook that I had gotten the supplies to kill myself and a friend had notified the police who, shortly after the attempt, 5150ed me, taking me to the loony bin for three days. I managed to get out of there by showing them I could overcome my depression by playing music. I decided to move back to my home state and city after all this.

Pedophilia will not simply go away. No pedophile holocaust will rid the world of kids being born pedophiles or becoming them through the bidirectional interaction of their biology and their environment. I am not an activist about the critical understanding of pedophilia and sympathy for pedophiles for myself anymore. I do this for the countless KIDS who are or will realize they are attracted exclusively to kids. How many kids actually kill themselves because they aren’t merely gay or lesbian, but because they know they are only attracted to kids? I do what I do because no kiddo should EVER have to feel the way I did a go through what I did.

If only there were a more direct way of reaching those kids to tell them they are perfect the way they are and that while we most likely won’t gain acceptance in our lifetime, it is up to us to fight for future generations, and that they are loved for who they are (and by pedophiles). Pedophiles do serve a purpose in society and that is to help kids (particularly queer ones). Heteronormativity and sexual neglect during childhood absolutely crushes queer kids and traumatizes them (I would know, I was).

The main messages I try to get across to anyone and everyone are these:

1. Pedophiles are not child molesters. Just as homosexuals are no more likely to molest kids as heterosexuals, the same goes for pedophiles. Most perpetrators of child molestation are power-hungry people who do not necessarily have an attraction to minors.

2. Celibate pedophiles deserve sympathy and understanding. How many people can say they know what it’s like to not be able to partake in one of life’s greatest pleasures/gifts and be aware of that every single day of their life!?

3. Not all kids are incapable of sexual behavior or knowledge of sex. In fact, as I have stated above, sexual exploration and play can be critical to the healthy development of some children. Just because you developed into a heterosexual teleiophile without sexual interaction as a kid doesn’t mean everyone else will. Or, just because you didn’t know about or have sex as a kid doesn’t mean you can apply your experiences to everyone else and say all kids are immature.

4. Everything the queer community endured is what the pedophile and other -philia communities are putting up with now.

5. Objectivity is moral, but morality is subjective.

6. Kids aren’t our future. They’re the present.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Madonna performing “Forbidden Love”



holocaust remembrance in hungary

I am struck by a recent boycott which is being carried out against the government of Hungary. On Wednesday, Hungary began 70th anniversary commemorations of the Holocaust amid boycotts and protests by Jewish groups.

Marking the day when Hungarian Jews were first placed in ghettos in 1944, ceremonies were held around the country as part of “Holocaust 2014″, a program of events organized by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government. In Budapest, President Janos Ader and Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics lit candles at a monument by the Danube commemorating the thousands of Jews shot in 1944-1945 by the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross party and militia.

The Jewish groups are concerned by what they see as the government’s concerted efforts to whitewash Hungarian responsibility for the Holocaust. The current hub-bub is about a monument to be unveiled on Saturday which depicts Hungary, a Nazi ally in World War II, as the Archangel Gabriel being swooped down upon by an imperial eagle representing Germany.

Protesters say this is an attempt by the current government to revise history and deflect responsibility for the Holocaust to the Nazi invaders.  Lawmakers have included in the preamble of a new constitution stating that Hungary lost its sovereignty with the Nazi invasion on March 19, 1944—before mass deportations started to concentration camps—and didn’t regain it until the end of communism in 1990.

421px-azertisProtesters say that in 1920, 24 years earlier, Hungarian lawmakers approved what is considered as the first anti-Semitic law passed in Europe after World War I, restricting university access to Jews. Admiral Miklos Horthy governed Hungary from that year until October 1944, when the Arrow Cross Party formed a “Government of National Unity” and led the country into World War II on Adolf Hitler’s side. During its short rule, 10,000-15,000 people (many of whom were Jews) were murdered outright, and 80,000 people were deported from Hungary to their deaths at Auschwitz.

The current Hungarian government was elected in October to take over in 2015 the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an inter-governmental organization dedicated to placing “political and social leaders’ support behind the need for Holocaust education, remembrance and research,” according to the organization’s website.

The government also has commenced planning for a new Holocaust memorial center in Budapest. Protesters say the project’s organizers have rejected engaging with Jewish groups in its development and haven’t made their plans public, and that therefore the memorial center should be rejected, too.

I don’t know what the exact truth of the matter is. The story of the Holocaust is part propaganda and part empirical fact. The famous six million death toll is a number that has been promulgated since as early as 1933 in the Anti-Nazi Boycott of that year (almost a decade before the Jewish Holocaust even happened). The Holocaust story has been transformed into something that looks like a reparations racket for financial gain. In my own lifetime, I have seen downwards revisions in the official number of the dead at Auschwitz, and the gas chamber on that site has been shown to be a postwar structure put up by the Soviets to accommodate millions of visitors.

It seems to me that when a country like Hungary attempts to officially come to terms with its past, this should be viewed as progress. “Holocaust 2014″ is best seen within a context of European anti-Semitism which goes back many centuries. Protesters are focused on perceived shortcomings of the official program, while more progress might be made by celebrating what admissions of responsibility they can.

The truth of history is something which emerges over many generations.  Sometimes the myths of history must be tempered and revised before truth resolves. The truth of history is something which requires many iterations and the participation of an increasing number of people and viewpoints.

800px-Diffusion_of_ideas copyAs Everett Rogers showed in his 1962 theory regarding the diffusion of a message, idea, or technology through cultures, the spread of any new thing through time involves a social process in which some people (the “innovators”, “early adopters”, and “early majority”) take the lead, while others  (the “late majority” and “laggards”) bring up the rear. Within the rate of adoption, there is a point at which an idea reaches critical mass. Any idea must reach this critical mass in order to self-sustain.

The promoters of the story of the Jewish Holocaust have been so effective in spreading their message that over 80% of people today are unable to name a genocide since the Jewish Holocaust of the 1940s. A recent survey, conducted by Opinion Matters on 2,304 UK adults, has revealed that more than half of the British population can not recall the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, or Darfur. It is as if no other mass killing of anyone but the European Jews of 70 years ago happened or even matters.

Furthermore, only a third of young people were even able to identify the correct definition of genocide, which always involves the belief of one population that they are superior to another which deserves extermination.

This is not as it should be. If we are to learn anything from the genocides which periodically take place in various parts of the world, it is that all human life is sacred, and that no particular race, nationality, gender, color, or creed is superior in value to any other.

I think it is a good thing that the Hungarians are beginning to come to terms with their history and prejudices of superiority. I think they should be welcomed to the table.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Ed Ames performing “Try To Remember”


sexual abuse in perspective


There are many estimates of the number of young people who are sexually abused.

Despite the outsized publicity about this subject, the annual incidence of sexual abuse is fortunately lower than we are led to believe. One US government source counts 78,188 child victims of sexual abuse in 2003. That’s a rate of 1.2 per 1,000 American kids—a small rate, but unacceptable. The 2001 National Crime Victimization Survey (which only covers youth 12-17) estimates that 1.9 per 1,000 young people are raped or sexually assaulted, and reflects a higher risk and vulnerability for teenagers.

Yet these relatively low annual numbers have a way of adding up over time. National surveys of adults find that 9%-28% of women say they experienced some type of sexual abuse or assault in childhood. I don’t have any figures for adult males, but I have no doubt that at least 10%-20% of boys have, over their lifetimes, experienced sexual adventures and experimentation which could qualify as “abuse.”

You may not like my saying this, but for a subset of people, it is a part of what we, as sexual beings, experience as “growing up.” I would even go so far as to speculate that sexual “abuse” is more normative than we might like to think.

Until recently, I have been using a history of sexual abuse as a kind of heuristic in deciding which juvenile parricides the Redemption Project would back. Sexual abuse of young people by their caregivers is so beyond the pale, that its presence presented a kind of shortcut for understanding and, to a degree, even justifying the desperate states of mind that preceded the murder of some parents.

But notice that I said “until recently.”

My thinking has taken quite a turn since I have focused on the Clemens Initiative, because two of the four inmates reported no sexual abuse at all. All four inmates, however, reported horrendous emotional abuse, and it is only after recalling that most parricides say that this emotional abuse is more damaging than sexual abuse that I have concluded that it was an error for me to rely on sexual abuse as the acid test of a parricide’s lessened culpability for their act of murder. In other words, I have concluded that sexual abuse, as terrible as it is, is only an indicator of what has led to the act of parricide. Far worse and more damaging—and probably the more direct contributor to murder—is the emotional abuse parricides suffered. After some intense soul-searching, I concluded that rejecting parricides who had not been sexually abused was as arbitrary and unfair as selecting only people who were blue-eyed or left-handed.

Childhood sexual abuse cases are probably made as traumatic as they are, not because of the sexual act itself, but by society’s reaction to the sexual activity when it comes to light. Society has invented a certain idealized conception of childhood, attempts to keep kids “innocent” (that is, ignorant of sex) as long as possible, and oppresses the natural learning process. I have had the recurring thought that kids do not “break” as a result of their sexual experimentation unless they receive a lot of reinforcement from society to see the sexual activity as anything but disastrous to their development—a self-fulfilling prophesy that sells short the resilience of positive-minded young people.

We make it worse for kids than it needs to be. And unless you may believe in a moral or religious tradition that insists there must be pain for learning to occur, I suggest that we can do better for kids who find it necessary to deal with this reality.

To give you an idea to what lengths society will go to turn sexual abuse into a personal catastrophe, I will write the day-after-tomorrow, Saturday, about society’s treatment of pedophiles who attempt to live celibate lives. This category of people is a is not just some priests who have avoided recent troubles, but a sizable chunk of the population.

If the question of sexual attraction is even discussed, society rejects these individuals because of their mere attraction to young people (a thought crime), and condemns them as severely as it does pedophiles who actually act on their desires and can be called predators.

This reaction by society is understandable, but it somehow doesn’t seem right or productive. I say we make a commitment to developing a perspective which contributes to more hopeful futures for young people who have experienced sexual abuse.

It is up to us to figure out a better way.


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Paris Sisters performing “I Love How You Love Me”


just can’t get enough

pie eating contest 1


Groove of the Day

Listen to Depeche Mode performing “Just Can’t Get Enough”


undifferentiated hatred

cross-miller being taken into custody

It is ironic that the only people killed in Sunday’s attacks on two Jewish institutions in Overland Park KS were a Catholic and two Methodists. The targets were at the wrong places at the wrong times.

dr-william-lewis-corporan-reat-griffin-underwoodTwo of the victims were a teenage boy and his grandfather: Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, and Dr. William Lewis Corporon, 69, were members of the United Methodist Church. Dr. Corporon and his grandson were at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City so that the high school freshman could try out for KC SuperStar, a singing competition for students.

terri lamannoThe third victim was Terri Lamanno, 53, of Kansas City. Ms. Lamanno was a member of a Catholic church in Kansas City and was visiting her mother Sunday at Village Shalom retirement community—as she usually did—when she was fatally shot by the gunman.

The suspect first opened fire in the parking lot behind the Jewish community center. The attacks were apparently timed to coincide with Passover eve. The shooter reportedly yelled “Heil Hitler!” as he commenced the attacks.

Dr. Corporon died at the scene and his grandson later died at the hospital. The suspect then drove to Village Shalom, where he shot Ms. LaManno. The gunman also shot at two other people during the attacks, but missed them.

A Johnson County KS jail official said that authorities had identified the suspect in the shooting as Frazier Glenn Cross, aka Frazier Glenn Miller, 73, a resident of Aurora MO, a small town southwest of Springfield.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Cross/Miller has been involved in the white supremacist movement for most of his life. He founded the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and was its grand dragon in the 1980s before the SPLC sued him for operating an illegal paramilitary organization and using intimidation tactics against blacks. He later founded another white supremacist group, the White Patriot Party.

Cross/Miller, an Army veteran and retired truck driver, was the subject of a nationwide manhunt in 1987 after he violated the terms of his bond while appealing a North Carolina conviction for operating a paramilitary camp. The search ended after federal agents found Cross/Miller and three other men in an Ozark mobile home, which was filled with hand grenades, automatic weapons, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Cross/Miller tried running for the US House in 2006 and the US Senate in 2010.

The Overland Park police chief said the shootings are being investigated as hate crimes. He said the suspect was not known to area law enforcement and there was no indication that he knew his victims. Cross/Miller was booked into the Johnson County jail on suspicion of premeditated first-degree murder Sunday evening, but had not been formally charged. Authorities say they expect to have more information available for possible charges Tuesday.

It seems to me that this is the time for everyone to ratchet down the hatred—on all sides—so that this heinous crime can be seen in its true light. There has been an unfortunate conflation of the terms “Jewish,” “Hebrew,” “Israeli” and “Zionist” which encourage broad-brush stupidity where a nuanced view is required. Historical facts have been falsified and used by all sides to justify black-and-white positions which should have died long ago under their own weight. Truths, half-truths, misinterpretations, and outright myths and lies are used to buttress postures which make ignorant partisans confident of the veracity and righteousness of their positions.

The utter senselessness of these murders, and the inability of Cross/Miller to justify the deaths even by his own warped logic, provides us with an object lesson in how hatred metastasizes in unintended and tragic directions.


Groove of the Day

 Listen to Erasure performing “I Love to Hate You”


a pagan place

glastonbury 1


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Waterboys performing “A Pagan Place”


world in my eyes

world eye


Groove of the Day

Listen to Depeche Mode performing “The World in My Eyes”




Blur is an English rock band, formed in London in 1989. The group consists of singer/keyboardist Damon Albarn, guitarist/singer Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree.

Since Blur’s debut album Leisure in 1991, it has gone through many changes  which have spanned the genres of alternative rock, Britprop, and indie rock and included a four-year hiatus in the mid-nineties while members of the group worked on other projects including the band Gorillaz. The cohesion of the band was so poor that Coxon and James were replaced by a cardboard cutout and roadie for a lip-synced Blur performance broadcast on Italian television. A Blur biographer later wrote that, at the time, “Blur were sewn together very awkwardly”.

Although I have featured a couple of Blur songs as the Groove of the Day, I have never particularly drawn your attention to this band. The selection, “Song 2″ below, brought Blur mainstream success in the United States after 1997.

In late 2008, Blur announced its return for a series of concerts in the following year, and have continued to release several singles and retrospective releases, as well as tour internationally. In 2012, Blur received a Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Blur performing “Song 2


guilty until proven innocent

The death of the presumption of innocence
A dirty secret of the American judicial system is that juries are hardly fair and impartial
By Andrew Cohen, The Week
April 10, 2014
Imagine you are a defendant awaiting trial on criminal charges that could send you to prison for the rest of your life. You are sitting at the counsel table during voir dire, the process by which a jury is selected before a trial.

The prosecutor asks a potential juror: “You haven’t heard any evidence. How would you vote?” The potential juror responds: “I would have to vote guilty.”

Your trial judge pipes up. He’s supposed to ensure that you receive a fair trial and that the jurors who will sit in judgment upon you are neutral, objective, and willing to see and hear the evidence with an open mind. The judge asks the prospective juror: “Could you return a verdict of not guilty if the government doesn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt?” The would-be juror responds: “I don’t think I would be able to.”

The prosecutor—who wants this juror on the panel because he wants to convict you—presses on. He asks the juror: “Let’s say the victim takes the stand [and] you flat-out don’t believe her. In fact, you think she’s lying. You look at her [and conclude], ‘I don’t believe a word coming out of her mouth.’ Are you going to convict this man anyway?”

The potential juror responds: “That depends. I still feel he was at fault.”

How would you feel if this juror were allowed to join the panel that determined your fate? Would you feel as though you had received a fair trial by an impartial panel, as the Sixth Amendment commands? Or would you feel that the trial judge had failed to protect your presumption of innocence?

My guess is you would feel cheated. I know I would. But yet this precise scenario unfolded in California in 2009. This juror was allowed to serve on this trial. And to date, no judge has declared it a violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.

Now, in this particular case, the defendant, Jose Felipe Velasco, was accused of an extremely heinous crime. He was an alleged serial child rapist who had gotten a 14-year-old girl pregnant after having some form of sex with her 21 times. But that should not change our minds about whether this man should be presumed innocent and be entitled to a fair trial. Indeed, this is precisely why we have constitutional rights in criminal cases—so that fairness and due process come even to the despised.

R. Scott Moxley, a veteran reporter and columnist for OC Weekly, brought this story to national prominence this week—and it’s a remarkably ugly picture in every way. Not only were the charges awful, not only is this defendant as unsympathetic a figure as the criminal justice system churns out, but the way the case was handled was ignoble, too. Thousands of years’ worth of the presumption of innocence shouldn’t go out the window just because a defendant is accused of heinous crimes.

The potential juror in the case, known today only as Juror 112, was permitted to sit in judgment upon Velasco only after she promised—after extensive questioning by the prosecutor, and over the objection of defense attorneys—that she thought she could “try” to be fair to the defendant. This “promise” was good enough for the trial judge, a former prosecutor, as well as two federal judges who later reviewed the transcript to determine whether Velasco’s Sixth Amendment rights had been violated.

What were these judges thinking? We’ll never really know. Unlike Juror 112, the jurists did not volunteer any candid assessments of the situation. They did not fully explain how any reasonable person, reviewing the transcript of the jury selection process before Velasco’s trial, could have come away from it believing that this juror was going to give the defendant the benefit of all reasonable doubts. It was enough, they said, that she pledged to “try.”

The dirty secret here is that what happened in this case happens every day in courtrooms all over the country. Judges and lawyers are desperate to seat juries, while potential jurors are desperate to avoid jury duty or to put their stamp upon the proceedings. As a result, the business of selecting jurors occurs with a sort of wink and a nod. Jurors are asked to put aside whatever preconceived notions they have about a case—or about justice generally, or about the defendant in particular—and so long as they say they will do so they are allowed to join a panel that determines, in some cases, who lives and who dies, and who goes to prison for 123 years to life.

Sometimes, as we see here, the benefit inures to prosecutors. Velasco’s prosecutor wanted this juror on the panel because he knew that she would vote to convict the defendant. And so he attempted to “rehabilitate” her in the eyes of the judge. Think about the metaphysical ramifications of that: we ask citizens, like this juror, to lie about their open-mindedness so that we may place them on juries where they then are charged with determining which witnesses are lying during their trial testimony.

But sometimes this fuzziness during voir dire helps the defendant. I will never forget Michael Tigar, the greatest trial lawyer I ever saw, save Oklahoma City bombing defendant Terry Nichols’ life during jury selection when he convinced a juror who was opposed to the death penalty (and thus technically ineligible to sit on a capital jury) to keep an open mind about it. On and on the questioning went until she promised to do so. And then, guess what? She was likely one of the jurors who refused to recommend a death sentence for Timothy McVeigh’s co-conspirator.

Why does it matter if a child rapist is judged by people who consider him guilty before they have seen any of the evidence against him? Because the presumption of innocence goes back thousands of years, to the Old Testament, to Greek and to Roman law, and to English common law, from which American law was born. Because the United States Supreme Court, 120 years ago in a case styled Coffin v. United States, decreed that “the principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our current law.”

That is still the law of this land. It has not since been overturned. There are no exceptions to that rule in cases of alleged murderers or child rapists. Judges and jurors don’t get to decide when they will honor this rule and when they won’t. The “rehabilitation” of jurors like Juror 112 may have sped up the pace of Velasco’s trial but it created a result that violates the Constitution and is unworthy of any respect.

The lesson here isn’t that Juror 112 should have just kept to herself her visceral prejudgment of the case. The lesson is that our justice system needs to react more justly when citizens like this are so candid in declaring their unworthiness to serve.


Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News. He has covered the law and justice beat since 1997 and was the 2012 winner of the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for commentary.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Atoms For Peace at a live performance of ” Judge, Jury and Executioner”

Listen to Atoms For Peace in a studio performance of “Judge, Jury and Executioner”

Which do you like best?


can money buy happiness?

There are apparently a lot of basic questions being asked about money at Harvard these days. Scientists are being paid and put to the task. If we keep score by how many toys you can afford to buy, is making a lot of money really going to make you happy?

I’d guess that having money is kind of a “given,” a social norm, common to Harvard students. So I’m glad these basic questions are being asked at Harvard. They need it more than most.

One Harvard professor has focused on the question: “Does money make you mean?”


Piff 1600x1200Watch Paul Piff’s TED Talk: “Does Money Make You Mean?”

Another Harvard professor, putting a little more positive spin on it, has looked at the happy people and asked the question: “How does money buy you happiness?”



Watch Michael Norton’s TED Talk: “How to Buy Happiness

Their findings are, in short: Yes, money does have have a tendency (in as much as 40% of people) to turn you into a self-absorbed, selfish person who may be regarded as a jerk by other people. The most effective antidote is to spend a little bit of your money on other people. Keep being generous towards your girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, or kids, but don’t forget the distant friend or even a complete stranger. The academics call this prosocial behavior. The whole world needs sweetening.

You can listen to one or both of these TED talks; the researcher’s findings are fascinating. I really mean it. You can also count on this as being true and proved by science: you will be happy, no matter how well-off or average you may be, if you make generosity a habit, a characteristic with which you interact with the world.

donate hands

Make a contribution to the Redemption Project by clicking the link at the top of this page or clicking here.


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Beatles performing “Can’t Buy Me Love”


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