Letters

Letters 07-28-14

Worry About Legals

I can’t figure out what perplexes me more, the misinformation everywhere in the media or those who believe it to be true. Take the Hobby Lobby case; as a company that is primarily owned by a religious family, they felt their First Amendment rights were infringed upon by the “Affordable” Care Act...

Stop Labeling and Enjoy

I have been struggling to find a simple way of understanding for myself the concepts of conservative, liberal, and moderation as it relates to our social interactions with each other...

Proposal One & The Public Good

Are you kidding me? Another corporate giveaway with loopholes for large corporations who rule us? Hasn’t our corrupt and worthless governor done enough to raise taxes, provide corporate welfare, unjustly tax pensions, and shut down elected officials with his emergency manager racket...

The Truth About Road Workers

Apparently Mr. Kachadurian did not catch on to the fact that the MDOT Employee Memorial in Clare is a tribute to highway workers who lost their lives building our transportation systems. It was paid for by current and former MDOT employees who likely knew some of these people personally...

Idiotic and Misguided

As a seasonal resident, I always look forward to reading your paper, if only because of the idiotic letters to the editor and off the wall columns...


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Ripped From the Headlines

Former Kalkaska prosecutor looks back at a domestic violence murder case

Patrick Sullivan - January 27th, 2014  


What unfolded on the front pages of newspapers across northern Michigan had all of the drama of a made-for-TV movie or a pulp novel.

The wife stabbed her husband in a Kalkaska County home in what at first appeared to be a jealous rage.

But a larger issue loomed – had years of domestic violence left the 46-year-old unable to escape, in fear for her life, and with no choice but to kill her estranged husband?

Former Kalkaska County Prosecutor Philip Crowley tackled the real-life trial in 1979. Now, with co-writer Kenneth Wylie, he’s released a novel that grapples with the question again.

PEOPLE V. SMITH

The Jeanette Smith case in Kalkaska County came at a time when the country was just waking up to domestic violence as a serious problem.

Smith was charged with homicide for the May 12, 1978 stabbing death of her estranged husband, Herman Smith, 66.

It came on the heels of another famous Michigan case that involved a woman who killed her abusive husband by setting him on fire. That one spawned a nonfiction book that went on to become the 1984 hit made-for- TV movie “Burning Bed,” starring Farrah Fawcett.

As the Smith trial approached, she gave a jailhouse interview that described years of abuse. Former wives came forward with tales of violence. One family made the unproven claim that Mr. Smith was responsible for the death of a former wife.

Smith maintained she acted in selfdefense. The trial lasted five weeks. It took a jury five hours to acquit her.

In their book “Possessed,” Crowley and Wylie fill Kalkaska with a cast of fictional characters who replay the saga of Jeanette Smith.

NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED

There is a paradox at the center of “Possessed”.

Its protagonist is the abused woman who murders her husband and the book strives to let the reader see the story from her side; how even though she was repeatedly abused, she was compelled to return to her abuser.

That protagonist, however, is based on someone who in real life Crowley tried to send to prison.

Is there a conflict there? Crowley and Wylie say no, because, despite what happened in the real world, they stayed true to the story they wanted to tell.

“I guess the question could be, if I wanted to change it to where I won, or where the prosecutor won the case, that might have been a conflict,” Crowley said. “But the story was the story. And that’s kind of the story I wanted to tell.”

‘SEE THAT JUSTICE WAS DONE’

Indeed, despite the fact that Crowley lost the case in 1979 and he is now promoting a book that shows the defendant in a sympathetic light, Crowley said he doesn’t have regrets about the case.

Crowley, who nowadays practices professional liability defense law in Tampa, said it was his job to prosecute Smith.

His answer today could be the same as what he told the Traverse City Record-Eagle in the minutes following the verdict:

“In any case where there has been a history of abuse and that person eventually kills the abuser, it’s hard to get a conviction,” Crowley told a reporter in 1979. “But that doesn’t mean the case shouldn’t be tried. My job was to bring forth all of the evidence and see that justice was done.”

Wylie sees it that way, too. “He had to prosecute, given the law,” Wylie said. “That was a homicide.”

LONG, TWISTED ROAD

Wylie was first asked by the defense attorneys to write the story from Jeanette Smith’s perspective. He interviewed Smith for hours in the weeks following her acquittal.

Wylie felt at the time that Smith must have been in denial and the project was soon scrapped.

“Her stories, as she told them, didn’t jive with the trial itself,” Wylie said.

Wylie worked as a freelancer in northern Michigan at the time, and as the trial unfolded, he had no idea that he would ever be asked to help write a book about the case. He followed the case just like anyone else in northern Michigan.

“I was like, what the hell is wrong with this woman?” Wylie said, about when he learned about how Jeanette Smith kept reuniting with her abuser. “I remember reading that and reading it to my wife and saying, ‘God, this is hard to believe.’” Wylie said today he has no doubt that Jeanette Smith deserved acquittal.

When Crowley called him, around 1984, looking for help with his novel, Wylie agreed. Neither man expected it would take almost 30 years to get the book published.

DIFFICULT QUESTIONS

It was the moral ambiguity of the real-life case that caused Crowley to decide to turn it into fiction.

He wanted to change some facts in the book so the reader wouldn’t have to answer the question that the jury had to decide in the Smith case: was the killing in self-defense?

Rather, he wanted the reader to decide: Is it OK for a victim of long-standing domestic violence to kill their partner if they believe that’s the only way out?

Crowley said the case taught him how difficult it is for domestic violence victims to escape. He said the case caused him to be a more open-minded prosecutor on the issue of domestic violence.

“I think a jury, without the domestic violence issues [explained to them]...would look at Mrs. Smith and say, ‘You know, why should we believe her? Why would this woman go back so many times? Why did she do this?’” he said. “But once it’s explained by the expert testimony, I think that a jury says, ‘OK, well now, her behavior’s explained.”’

“Possessed” is available at Horizon Books in Traverse City, Dog Ear Books in Northport, the Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor and Leelanau Books in Leland.

 
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