"Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town" (2015) is a meticulously researched, carefully written, engaging listen. It's also relentlessly horrifying and enraging.
Jon Krakauer is an outstanding investigative journalist and sometimes literally puts himself into the story, as he did in his 1997 book, "Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster." Although Krakauer must have been present for part of the judicial proceedings he described in the book, he isn't part of "Missoula." That seems to have allowed him an objectivity that's often missing in college acquaintance rape reporting.
Krakauer tells the story of several young women who reported rapes by university football players to the University of Montana and to the Missoula Police Department. The Missoula County Attorneys' Office was tasked with prosecuting those cases. At the same time these young women filed complaints, the United States Department of Justice was secretly investigating handling of sexual violence cases in Missoula.
Even though Krakauer's writing has been pretty even handed in the past, I expected a smear of UM, its football team, and its athletic department. I was surprised to find a lot to admire in how the school administration handled the situation, especially former Dean of Students Charles Couture. University students and the town in general were sometimes rabidly on the side of the accused, but Couture followed national standard guidelines and procedures in handling the complaints. The Missoula PD missed the mark from time to time, but seemed to try.
The Missoula County Attorney's Office - well, that's another story entirely. Kirsten Pabst, an attorney who likes to boast of her 99% success rate, was in charge of the unit that prosecuted sex crimes. Well, if you only prosecute the 12% of the cases that are sure winners, you'll get a good ratio. That's not the worst of it. Pabst left the MCAO in 2012 and worked as a criminal defense attorney for a year and a half. Her only major trial was defending one of the accused rapists. After that, she was elected to head the MCAO, where she's back in charge of prosecuting sex crimes.
No, I am not kidding.
When I was fact checking to write this review (writing Audible reviews is just a hobby, but it's a serious hobby), I found an article in The Missoulian, called "Pabst made last-ditch effort to delay publication of 'Missoula'" (April 15, 2015). The Missoulian said that Pabst tried to convince the publisher, Doubleday, that the book was libelous. She wasn't successful, and a week letter, she published a rebuttal letter on the Montana Public Radio website, mtpr dot org, "Missoula County Prosecutor Kirsten Pabst's Statement on Jon Krakauer's Book" (April 22, 2015). One quote? "The author wrote on the assumption that a prosecutor’s job is to blindly seek convictions." Krakauer's discussion of the duties and responsibilities of criminal prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys was thorough, nuanced and worthy of a law school class in Ethics.
Past's rebuttal mentions, "100% of the time defendants who can be convicted at trial will either plead guilty or be taken to trial" demonstrates that Pabst makes herself judge and jury, both of victims and of the press. Krakauer and his publishers ignored the MCAO's threats and published anyway, and that's good.
The book is extremely graphic at times. One of my teenagers inadvertently overheard a few lines and was very disturbed. Mozhan Marno narrates, and I do think a woman reader was a good choice.
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My friends and I, playing cops and robbers during first grade recess, always solemnized each capture by administering the Miranda Warning perfectly. No, we weren't living in a challenging neighborhood - Jack Webb's Dragnet and Adam 12 were early evening rerun staples out local ABC affiliate.
20 years later, in law school, Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, its constitutional basis, and its numerous exceptions, took weeks of my criminal law class. I did wonder who Ernesto Miranda was; whether he had actually committed the crime he was convicted of; how his case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court; and what ended up happening to him. This book answers those questions, and more, about Miranda and other key criminal cases.
Michael S. Lief and H. Mitchell Caldwell provide a careful historical and cultural framework for these cases, and detailed personal histories of both the accused and the victims. Chapter 1, which deals with lynching in the south, is especially chilling.
These are the trials that are in the book, in the order that they are in (thanks Google Books for the table of contents), and I'm including the Audible concordance for anyone who wants to go to a specific case:
Ch 1 (Audible 1-2). When Mob Rule Trumps the Rule of Law. The unfortunate case of a man lynched in 1906, after the US Supreme Court agreed to review his capital conviction for rape establishes that the state has an obligation to protect prisoners in its custody.
Ch 2 (Audible 1-4). When the Constable Blunders. In 1956, evidence becomes inadmissible because it is obtained illegally and it is the "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" - even if the evidence is porn.
Ch 3 (Audible 1-6). Rules of Engagement. An (overly) sympathetic look at Randy Weaver and Ruby Ridge in 1992. Regardless, Gerry Spence's tactics were legendary (he presented no defense) and his hours long closing argument was compelling.
Ch 4 (Audible 2-3). Defending the Despised. Future president John Adams defends the British soldiers accused of killing American colonists in the Boston Massacre.
Ch 5 (Audible 2-5). You Have the Right to Remain Silent. The Miranda decision.
Ch 6 (Audible 2-7). The Black Doctor and the White Mob. Clarence Darrow successfully defends a Black family of professionals on trial for a 1925 killing in Detroit when a blue collar White mob attacked after the family moved into the neighborhood.
Ch 7 (Audible 3-3). The Trial of the (Nineteenth) Century. Congressman Daniel Sickles uses the temporary insanity defense after killing Phillip Barton Key, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, in 1859. Scandal knows no century.
Ch 8 (Audible 3-5). Genius, Scoundrel, Traitor. Former Vice President Aaron Burr's trial for the one crime listed in the U.S. Constitution, treason. Good history of Burr, trial a bit boring.
There were three narrators on this Audible, and that mostly worked - a few rough spots, but they weren't jarring enough so that I was distracted from the book.
This is under the Audible category "Mysteries and Thrillers - True Crime" but it's misplaced. It belongs in History.
When I finished this, I went looking for the first two books in the Closing Argument Chronicles - "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury" (2000) (famous trials) and "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down" (civil rights) (2006). They aren't on Audible, darn it.
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First of all, kudos to Deborah Blum and her publishers for picking Coleen Marlo to narrate this book. Marlo is fantastic narrating Amy Stewart’s “Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects” and “The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks,” pronouncing complex scientific names and using foreign pronunciations easily (well, at least in the five languages I know well enough to know if she’s saying the words correctly.)
Blum’s “The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York”. Rather than focusing solely on a particular crime or group of particular poisoners, Blum’s chapters are (in order): Chloroform; Wood Alcohol; Cyanides; Arsenic; Mercury; Carbon Monoxide Part I; Methyl Alcohol; Radium; Ethyl Alcohol; Carbon Monoxide Part II; and Thallium.
“The Poisoner’s Handbook” describes how the poisons were developed and used, and how the forensic science developed techniques to uncover the poisons. Blum weaves the tales of the scientists who worked so hard to make sure that cruel, careful murders by poisoners were detected. She also discusses a plethora of unintentional poisonings, and the public health risks that caused them.
The biggest cause of accidental poisonings was, in Jazz Age New York, prohibition. Blum describes New York City in the early 20th century so completely, I can see it in my mind, with horses and buggies, Model-T Fords, and a scrum of long-vanished air pollution.
"The Poisoner's Handbook" is lively and intriguing, and well worth the listen.
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