Why is murder not murder?

Is there a lawyer in the audience? I need help, for I simply can’t work this out by myself.

A Polish builder, Damian Rzezovski, stabbed six people to death and yet was cleared of their murders. The court in St Helier, Jersey, found him guilty of manslaughter only. Why?

Why, apart from the fact that they were all in one place, did Rzezovski kill his wife, their two little children, his father-in-law, his wife’s friend and her little daughter? Simple. His wife had admitted to an affair with another man.

One might suggest that slaughtering her, along with five other people, three of them children, was a bit of an overreaction even to such a self-confessed offence against the Seventh Commandment. A civilised man either ignores his wife’s infidelity or divorces her. A somewhat less civilised one swears at her and tells her to keep her knickers up from now on. A brute slaps her. A savage kills her. So how would you describe someone who massacres not only her but also five other people?

One possible adjective would be ‘crazy’. Psychiatric problems may be so severe that the madman is no longer responsible for his actions. He loses the ability to distinguish right from wrong. So was Rzezovski insane? He wasn’t.

In fact his defence did try this on, by entering a plea of guilty of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility. But the Crown rejected the plea, and one would think that would settle the issue. Apparently it didn’t.

The court heard all sorts of testimony from every expert and his brother, to the effect that Rzezovski was depressed and heard voices, telling him to kill. If the latter was true, than he is a schizophrenic, who should be treated as a patient, not a criminal.

Yet obviously the diagnosis of schizophrenia wasn’t accepted by the court, for otherwise Rzezovski would have been found not responsible. The only possible verdict would have been to confine him to an institution for the criminally insane and keep him there until he recovered – or, if he never did, for ever. Since he was found guilty of manslaughter, we can forget about schizophrenia as either an explanation or an excuse.

As to depression, the term has suffered so much inflation by overuse that it has for all intents and purposes become desemanticised. ‘Depression’ is routinely used to describe something that used to be known as a lousy mood. Shrinks, first in America then everywhere else, have begun to dispense antidepressants like Smarties, rather than telling their patients to pull themselves together, have a stiff whisky and think nice thoughts.

Rzezovski is indeed being treated with diazepam, né Valium, but these days that means next to nothing. Doctors often prescribe such mild drugs just to make the patient stop whingeing, go home and get out of their hair. When a psychiatrist diagnoses real, clinical depression, he prescribes real, clinical antidepressants, not diazepam. Not being a doctor, and not having had the pleasure of meeting Mr Rzezovski, I can’t venture a guess as to his mental health. But it clearly wasn’t sufficiently bad to explain, much less justify, what he did.

In fact, the court obviously accepted the prosecutors’ argument that Rzeszowski wasn’t suffering an ‘abnormality of the mind’. Why is it just manslaughter then?

A few months before the tragic event, Rzeszowski had found his wife flirting with strangers on the Internet. When he demanded an explanation, he realised he should have been careful what he wished for: his wife told him she didn’t love him anymore. Pure and simple.

Rzeszowski’s first reaction to hearing the news was certainly within the normal range. He went out and had sex first with a trained professional, then with a willing amateur. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, Rzezovski must have said, or Polish words to that effect.

But then the spouses decided to patch up their differences and give the marriage another chance. In fact, they went back to Poland on holiday, hoping that their native land would act in the capacity of marriage counsellor.

Poland failed, for shortly after their return to Jersey, Mrs Rzeszowski admitted not only that she didn’t love Mr Rzeszowski but also that she quite liked someone else. It would have been natural for a simple and rather morose man to fly into a rage – but he didn’t. In fact, Rzeszowski waited almost two hours before two kitchen knives saw the light of day. And then he brutally murdered everyone in the house, accepting no pleas of innocence, diminished responsibility or temporary insanity.

When arrested, he told the court he wasn’t ‘that type of man’, which rather flew in the face of empirical evidence. He then vindicated the empirical evidence by admitting he could be that type of man when ‘drunk or upset’.

Now most people I know, including myself, are frequently upset and occasionally drunk. Yet no one I know has to the best of my knowledge ever allowed either of those conditions to progress to the point where they’d murder their spouses, in-laws, friends and children.

A man like Rzeszowski isn’t just unstable when ‘drunk or upset’. He is an evil murderer. As such he ought to be put down or, in the lamentable absence of the death penalty, found guilty of murder and put away for life, meaning life.

The verdict of merely manslaughter, accompanied by salvos of psychobabble resonating through the press, is a copout – even if it produces a long sentence. It’s on a par with the Norwegian court sentencing Breivik to three months for each of the 77 murders he committed.

A society that fails to punish evil decisively may soon succumb to it. A simple thought, this, but it’s amazing how many people it escapes.

 

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