(this is part 2)
On March 23, 2003, DNA specialist Edward Blake announced that the semen taken from the victim’s public hair was, indeed, Benjamin LaGuer’s. The victim had not been lying, and she was not a racist monster. The things that had been written about her and spoken about her in the halls of Harvard Law and judge’s chambers throughout the city were false. Benjamin LaGuer was the racist, and a sadistic rapist and attempted murderer, as well. After the shock subsided, Boston’s elite went into mourning. Several journalists wrote weepy paeans to their own good intentions. “I put the covers over my head, and for the next six hours, I just couldn’t get out of bed,” said reporter John Strahinich, whose thoughts under the covers apparently did not stray to retracting the bile he had directed at the frail victim of his jailhouse pal.
The Boston media had finally found a victim they could believe in: themselves.
Yet even the very public unraveling of their unprofessional alliance with LaGuer failed to move them to go back and correct the record. Most simply abandoned the story, retreating into a cowardly silence, refusing to comment further on a case they had obsessively scribbled on for years. Only Dianne Williamson of the Worchester Telegram & Gazette actually apologized to the victim in print.
This behavior, however, was hardly the worst exhibited in the wake of the DNA results. Boston University president John Silber came out and reiterated his belief that “Benjy” should be released, even though he was guilty, even though he still refused to take responsibility for the crime, and even though he had recently managed to harass the victim on her deathbed by posing as a priest on the phone from prison (with his lawyer’s help? with a journalist’s help?) and then “absolving” her when he was tapped through to her hospital room, making his voice one of the last voices she heard and re-traumatizing her family.
“I think he’s a fine person,” Silber told the press.
What could possibly underlie this degree of cognitive disconnection, short of poisonous hatred for the victim of the crime? Only by despising her could you look at the violation of her body, the twenty-year public excoriation of her, and the violation of her deathbed, and see in her tormentor “a fine person.”
This was Boston: a city ironically weaned on literary tales of the danger of scapegoating “witches” had created, and destroyed, another one.
As journalists mourned in uncharacteristic silence, politically savvy supporters of LaGuer scrambled for cover. Intent on winning the governor’s mansion, Deval Patrick attempted to play down his long association with LaGuer, getting caught in serious lies in the process.
But John Silber, Noam Chomsky, and William Styron continued to support LaGuer’s release. Silber told the press that he believed LaGuer had come to believe his own lies about not having committed the crime, so — technically — LaGuer was not lying when he continued to claim his innocence. “I think he can be quite sincere in saying he didn’t do it,” Silber said, “I still think that’s a psychological misconception on his part . . . I think he’s a perfectly good example of a screwed-up kid who was on drugs and making every mistake you can imagine.”
Silber went on to explain that, for Benjy, having to admit guilt in order to be freed when he did not actually believe he was guilty because he had convinced himself he was not was a “Catch-22.” Consequently, LaGuer should be freed even though he was both guilty and refused to admit guilt, Silber explained at a parole hearing a year after the DNA results confirmed LaGuer’s guilt.
Here is a picture of John Silber’s book:
As I watched John Silber and all the judges and professors and lawyers and writers rally around Benjamin LaGuer, I wondered what it must have felt like to be a rape victim attending Boston University or Harvard or Harvard Law School at that time, knowing that the president of B.U. and other authority figures on those campuses were doing their utmost to smear the reputation of another victim of rape and free her assailant. What would it be like to get up in the morning and go to class and actually work for your degree (not to mention pay for it), while Benjamin LaGuer got showered with literary awards and honorary degrees — because, let’s be blunt here, he was a rapist who cried racism?
What would it be like to walk into a classroom knowing that your professor was spending his free time preening for the cameras on behalf of a man who bound a frail, elderly woman, beat her senseless, sexually violated her, broke her cheekbones, tried to kill her, and then cajoled others to treat her like a monster?
I don’t think I could have taken it. I think I would have left that place.
I wonder if there were victims who did leave, knowing full well that to speak out on behalf of the victim would be to be labeled by extremely powerful people — labeled a racist, a hate-monger, and a woman who lies about rape.