Bobbi Parker and the Stockholm Syndrome

Now that the dust is settling in the Casey Anthony case, trial watchers are going to feel all dressed up with no place to go. I say head to Mangum, Oklahoma, and grab a seat in the Bobbi Parker trial. You will see one of the nation’s best trial lawyers, Garvin Isaacs of Oklahoma City, defending a woman in a difficult case.

Oh, I know that the verdict is not yet in regarding Anthony. But those watching the trial with the grim sort of obsession of those staring at a highway traffic accident have made up their minds. The closing arguments will be anticlimactic. Yes, the defense did not fulfill the promises it made in opening statements. Yes, Ms. Anthony did not testify. Yes, yes, yes, a child died. But there is no evidence linking the death of the child to her mother. This is a sort of Rorschach prosecution: you can find in it whatsoever you like. Circumstantial evidence is like that.

Television has done the law a great disservice, breeding multiple misconceptions. Among these is the notion that police must read a person their Miranda rights at the moment of the arrest. There is no such requirement. All that is required is that those rights be read once a person is in custody, if the officers want to use the statements a person made in the state’s prosecution.

Another misconception is that circumstantial evidence is not as “good” as direct evidence. That is simply not true. Juries are told routinely that circumstantial evidence is as good, or, as the law puts it, as “probative,” as direct evidence. Thus what we see, direct evidence, carries the same weight as what we infer from the evidence of things seen. Circumstantial evidence calls upon responses similar to faith: we take things unseen to be real, we act on them as though they were present. The unseen need only be reasonable, the law says.

The drawing of inferences is pivotal in the proof of states of mind. We simply can’t observe other minds. The mind-brain barrier is one of the last frontiers in science; the researcher who decodes the connection between mind and matter will yield a paradigm shift in our understanding of the world as significant and far-reaching as the quantum mechanics or the theory of relativity. 

The criminal law turns on assessments of culpability. Intentional acts, acts that have a conscious objective, are the most culpable. We excuse the acts of the insane. There are other, intermediate mental states -- negligence, and recklessness -- that carry less weighty punishment than acts intentionally done.

So what of the Bobbi Parker case? On one level it is a slam dunk for the state. She was the warden’s wife living on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Reformatory in 1994. She is alleged to have fallen in love with an inmate, convicted killer Randolph Dial. When Dial escaped, Parker disappeared. When Dial and Parker were found living together in a trailer on a remote East Texas chicken ranch in 2005, Oklahoma charged Parker with aiding Dial in his escape. Parker and her husband reconciled immediately after Dial’s recapture.

Parker says she was kidnapped by Dial, and held hostage by him for a decade. She was afraid to leave him for fear of what he might do to her children. In time, she developed an affection of sorts for Dial. But she was not his lover. She suffered from the Stockholm Syndrome, identifying with her captor in a twisted form of gratitude and dependency.

You will recall this as the failed defense of Patty Hearst in the 1970s after she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and then later photographed assisting her captors in a bank robbery. A jury rejected the defense, but she was later granted a pardon by President Clinton. Juries are often skeptical of defenses turning on mental states too far removed from common sense.

It took six weeks to pick a jury in the Parker case. The state has 98 people on its witness list. Opening statements are on Tuesday.

Parker’s lawyer, Isaacs, is a hero of mine. I’ve known him for more than a decade and rate him as among the best trial lawyers alive. When he told me about this case, I told him how hard it was going to be to prove that Parker was a captive for ten years. This was too much for Isaacs. He countered by telling me about his client, her life, the expected testimony in this case. Soon I was rethinking what appeared obvious. I was open to the possibility that the state was wrong. I was prepared to grant that the operations of a human mind are unfathomable; appearances are often deceiving. Bobbi Parker may be a victim, here.

I will be watching this trial closely. You should, too. Isaacs is a master and only a fool would be against his best efforts. 

Comments: (1)

  • Bobbi parker
    You make a good point. Jurors are skeptical of anything too far from common sense. However, I wonder if the defense is difficult to understand, perhaps we need a way to find more intelligent jurors.
    Posted on September 25, 2011 at 5:16 am by Cj

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