Remember Aset Magomadova? She’s the Chechen woman who’d moved to Canada in 2003. She strangled her 14-year-old daughter in 2007 and was tried and convicted of manslaughter last year. The reason that got international attention was her sentence – three years probation. Here’s the piece I did about her case last year. As mothers killing their children go, it’s a pretty ordinary story. The girl was a terror, into drugs and dabbling in prostitution and constantly confronting authority in whatever way she could. That of course included her mother who eventually got fed up and strangled her to death with a scarf. Magomadova claimed self-defense, saying the girl had come at her with a knife. The problem with that was that the knife the girl supposedly wielded didn’t have her fingerprints on it. So the judge didn’t buy the self-defense argument. But this is Canada, after all, and Magomadova,
being a woman and a mother to boot, needn’t have worried. Add to that the fact that her husband had been killed in the Russia-Chechnya war, plus she has a son who’s terminally ill and you have all the sympathy factors you need for a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card which the judge issued in due course. The judge informed astonished followers of the case that sentencing her to spend even minute in prison for taking the life of her daughter would seem like “vengence,” and we don’t want that, do we? Victims’ rights advocates were predictably outraged at the sentence questioning what message it might send to others. I would say the message was clear enough and common enough – women, particularly those with children get significant breaks in sentencing for crime. That’s the unmistakable message of this study of sentencing in over 77,000 federal court cases in the United States (Journal of Law and Economics, April, 2001). The most rigorous one done to date, it concludes that, among other things, the impact of being a woman compared to a man is the same as being white compared to being black. In other words, the female sentencing discount is real and powerful. You can see the same sentiment in many other areas of public affairs. When a woman, particularly a mother, commits a serious crime, you can bet the farm it’ll be followed by a chorus of excuses and justifications, however farfetched. One recent example is that of Lashandra Armstrong who drowned herself and three of her children in the Hudson River just a few weeks ago. Countless people, most with little or no information about Armstrong, her children or the children’s father, rushed to excuse the killing. The general consensus was that she must have been mentally unbalanced. That there was literally no evidence of mental incompetence in any form, slowed the rush to absolve her not at all. The rush to judge was similarly rapid and fact-free. When children are harmed, someone must be at fault and since that person couldn’t be the mother who actually killed them, it must be the father who didn’t. As Fathers and Families Board Chairman Ned Holstein commented,
The gender bias is so pervasive that the Associated Press felt it necessary to generously allow that “whatever [Pierre’s] faults, it”s wrong to blame the tragedy entirely on the father.’ Entirely? One wonders who it was who drove the car into the Hudson River.
The trial judge in Aset Magomadova’s case suffered from exactly the same bias. His attempted justifications for letting a killer go essentially unpunished redefine the word ‘lame.’ Now this article tells us that the provincial appellate court is having second thoughts about child killing with impunity (Calgary Herald, 5/11/1). It’s declared that the trial judge erred and has ordered Magomadova retried.
Alberta Court of Appeal Justices Peter Martin, Ellen Picard and Patricia Rowbotham were unanimous that the trial judge erred in law when he acquitted Aset Magomadova of second-degree murder in the death of Aminat on Feb. 26, 2007, and convicted her of manslaughter.
Interestingly enough, it’s not the sentence that got their dander up, but the charge. The appellate panel reversed judge Sal LoVecchio’s order at trial that Magomadova’s strangulation of her daughter didn’t amount to second-degree murder, but only manslaughter. So, as of now, she’ll be retried on a murder charge. That won’t prevent LoVecchio from freeing her again, but I’d be mighty surprised to see him do so. I’d put my money on a plea bargain before trial, but we’ll have to see. The bias in favor of mothers charged with crimes continues. Apparently LoVecchio’s sentencing of Magomadova was a bit too over the top, even for Canadian judges. Mothers kill and abuse more children than does any other segment of society. It’s time judges learned that simple fact and started acting accordingly.