While much of the country’s attention is riveted on Florida where Casey Anthony is on trial charged with murdering her daughter Caylee, a continent away, this case is has begun (San Jose Mercury News, 6/1/11). Here’s a second article about the case (San Jose Mercury News, 6/2/11).
It seems that Eric Hill and Rosa Hill were married and had a child, but in 2009 Rosa decided to divorce Eric. Her custody case went awry when total legal custody and 85% physical custody were awarded by the family court not to Rosa but to Eric.
She’d made a claim of child abuse, but when it investigated, Child Protective Services found no evidence of abuse .
So, according to prosecutors, Rosa Hill and her own mother, Mei Li went to Plan B – kill Eric and his mother, 91-year-old Selma Hill. Rosa it seems, had decided that CPS and medical authorities were wrong about the abuse, so what’s a mother to do?
Prosecutors say Rosa and her mother spent months meticulously planning the murder and above all stockpiling a variety of weapons including a crossbow, pepper spray ,stun guns, guns, an axe, and a sword. They also researched things like the properties of nerve gas. The problem came when they were only able to kill Selma. Eric, hit by a stun gun, fought back and prevented them from taking his life.
He’s alive today and testified that he’d done nothing to abuse their child.
The defense maintains that Eric had mental problems and that plus the custody fight made things stressful on Rosa so, when Eric attacked her, somehow she killed his mother. How that makes sense the defense hasn’t yet explained, but, as Monty Python once said, “I expect they’ll get to that in the next bit.”
It’s apparently true that, at least at one time, Eric Hill had problems with depression to the extent of having auditory hallucinations. He admits to that. Just when those problems occurred and whether his symptoms are under control, the articles don’t say.
Still, there’s surely a reason why the family court gave him custody. It obviously didn’t consider him a danger to himself or his child and of course there’s nothing to indicate that the child has ever been harmed in any way. So at least for now we’d have to say the court got it right on custody.
That raises the question “if Eric has serious mental problems and gets custody, what’s up with Rosa?” The articles don’t say except that she and her mother apparently took the life of a 91-year-old woman.
But Rosa Hill’s lawyer, Bonnie Narby, told jurors that she does not think the alleged attack was a murder because Hill never intended to kill Eric Hill or his grandmother.
Instead, Narby said she thinks Rosa Hill acted in the heat of passion because she was overwhelmed by the custody battle over the couple’s daughter and their divorce proceedings.
So there’s a “heat of passion” defense by a woman who prosecutors say spent months planning her crime. We’ll see how that works out for her.
In the meantime, it’s worth noting that, once again, this is a custody matter in which apparently, a mother has gone to the furthest extreme to assert her parental rights over those of a father, or at least tried to. Prosecutors place Rosa Hill’s motive squarely within the issue of child custody.
Based solely on the information in these two articles, I find it hard to believe that any jury of adults would take Rosa Hill’s defense seriously. Prosecutors have written and computer evidence of her planning the crime with her mother. There is no “passion of the moment” here. It looks like a classic case of premeditation.
We’ll have to wait and see what the jury decides. But in the past, juries have at times showed an uncomfortable willingness to forgive the violent actions of women because they’re women and mothers because they’re mothers. The prior is shown in the “sentencing discount” given to women that’s discussed by more than one exhaustive study. The latter appears in numberless family court decisions as well as criminal cases in which violence by mothers is defended by unsupported allegations of abuse by fathers.
The willingness of jurors to tolerate violence by mothers may be waning. I hope it is, but each new case is a test. Each is a question to a community “do you hold women and mothers who commit criminal acts to the same standards to which you hold men and fathers?”
The answer is always interesting because it tells us much about how far we’ve come on the long road toward gender equality.