Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Between Texas and Nebraska: Two Cases of Sex Abuse and Justice Denied

by Nomad

Lone Star State Justice

I saw this news from deep in the heart of Texas about Stanley Marsh III of Amarillo, Texas. It's a pathetic story of the public disgrace of a millionaire and the warping of the justice system. 

Stanley Marsh III, an eccentric millionaire artist best known for his Cadillac Ranch art display along an interstate highway in the Texas Panhandle, has settled lawsuits from 10 teenagers who said he paid them for sex acts, lawyers for both sides announced Saturday.
Stanley Marsh 3
(Photo: AP Photo/
Michael Schumache, 
Amarillo Globe-News)
In 2011, Marsh suffered a massive stroke, which left him legally incapacitated. His wife, Gwendolyn, his family and legal team have rallied to his defense. 
If one didn't look too closely at the charges, the images of the besieged family might arouse some sympathy. 

There's no question that the once- flamboyant Marsh presently makes a pathetic figure, and certainly, it's not the kind of happy ending any family would wish for. 

His online supporters- and there will be some- would argue that what Marsh did was a comparatively minor crime. It wasn't, they'd say, rape, or sadistic murder or abuse. 
The so-called victims weren't actually children, they could say. And, worst of all, you might hear somebody say, it wasn't such a big deal. At least, the victims were rewarded. (I actually read similar things about female teachers who sexually abused their under-aged male students.)    

According to the lawsuits, Mr. Marsh is accused "of giving the teenagers cash, alcohol, drugs  [Viagra] and, in one case, two BMWs [he crashed the first one], to perform sex acts with him at his office. One of the teenagers said he had more than 100 sexual encounters with Mr. Marsh in his office and at his home in Amarillo."
Not quite as horrendous as the Sandusky case, but pretty dreadful nevertheless.

According to another source (which spares few details):
Marsh III, 75, is charged with six counts of child sexual abuse and five counts of sexual performance by a child, second-degree felonies punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 on each count.
Marsh voluntarily turned himself in in November of last year and lawyers have consistently denied the charges. Initially, in fact, Marsh claimed that the allegations were baseless attempts to "put the squeeze" and "a shake-down." His lawyers and his Marsh's wife, now his guardian, made repeated attempts to have the charges dismissed on technical grounds. 
Marsh is the victim, his legal team argued. The evidence of a plot against him? His lawyers cited:
“The criminal charges against Stanley Marsh III are mere allegations by the group of accusers who have filed a barrage of civil lawsuits against Marsh seeking millions of dollars. Instead of immediately reporting any alleged wrongdoing to the police, the group strategized, conferred and waited..”
But then, given the circumstances, given the power of the individual and the questions about possible official cover-ups by the authorities, who on earth could blame them for proceeding with extreme caution? 

In any case, when Amarillo investigators had searched Chase Tower offices, where the sexual abuse of underaged teens allegedly took place, they found evidence that "further corroborates the accounts of sexual exploitation of minors.” 

According to the Times article, that evidence included:
70 envelopes of blue pills, confidentiality agreements, two computers, couch cushion covers and a photo of a nude male, according to a search warrant inventory. Also found were 11 copies of blank or unsigned “release and waiver” documents in Mr. Marsh’s private office, according to a police inventory.
By settling all of the ten civil suits against Marsh out of court, lawyers on both sides have "resolved their differences" and have agreed that neither side would make any further public comment on the matter. The financial aspects of the settlement were, of course, not made public.

Think of it as a form of justice in which winning means everybody wins and nobody is punished except perhaps by public humiliation.

Settlements and Pay-offs

There's only one problem with interfering with the natural course of justice through settlements. By not admitting guilt, by not exercising the court's duty to punish those who abuse the law, (even when it involves a rich but incapacitated stroke victim), it sets a precedent that laws protecting children are flexible and, with the right defense, a person of means might escape judgment.

Even worse, by settling the cases in this way, lawyers have effectively paid off the claimants to keep silent, making them into collaborators in the crime (or something still worse.) By accepting this settlement, lawyers for the claimants have confirmed the worse suspicions, or accusations, of the defense team. Namely, that it was all about the money.

The lawyers for the teenagers could have, at least, demanded a public apology from- if not Marsh himself- then, the family to both the community and the young men he abused. That's not asking so much.

Still, it is, at least, a form (albeit, unsatisfactory) of justice. The outcome could have been very different. This is, after all, Texas where justice is a rather hit-or-miss affair, especially when it comes to small towns, sex , and rich millionaires. 

There's another annoying detail about this case. This was not Marsh's first run-in with the law. 
In 1998, Marsh, then 60, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of unlawful restraint and criminal trespassing in exchange for dismissal of five felony charges: kidnapping, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and three counts of indecency with a child by sexual contact.
A judge ordered him to serve 10 days in jail and pay $4,000 in fines.
Say what, ten days? Four thousand dollars? Dismissal of felony charges for sexual indecency with child and kidnapping? More specifically, Marsh was accused of confining a high-school aged victim "in a chicken coop while wielding a hammer, then humiliating him by taking and distributing photographs of him in the coop." 

There's more to the story (be my guest) but the most important point is that the judge in that case against Marsh thought even the 10 days in jail was too much. and allowed Marsh "to perform community service without serving his nights in jail." (He did give a public apology which clearly didn't arouse much in the way of discouragement or shame.)

Given this history, it's not surprising that Marsh returned to his old ways. How could any predator of children NOT see this a green light to continue (with a few improvements, like waivers and payments) the further commission of the crimes? 

In terms of justice, (which is after all, nothing more than a sense of order being re-established,) clearly the outcome in the recent case against Marsh was insufficient and disappointing. But the Marsh case also calls to mind a similar- but much larger- case that unfolded in Nebraska in the 1980s.

By the way, if that Nebraska case sounds familiar it's because I took a look at the matter at PoliticalGates a couple of years back. In fact, I was actually researching the topic of institutionalized child sex exploitation. (Talk about biting off more than you can chew.)

Nebraska, the 1990s: The Franklin Cover-Up

Franklin Cover-up Book Cover
Even though much time has passed, the Franklin case is still a fascinating one. It still has the power to horrify and disturb. And despite all the attempts, it will no go away completely. 
That's the thing with the truth. Unlike lies, the truth usually doesn't fade as long as people still care in its value. As in the Franklin case, it might be quite willing to wait to re-emerge.

Whereas the Marsh case involved a single individual in a local area, the allegations in the Franklin case revealed a dark network that went all the way up to the White House itself. The more that came out, the more disturbing it became. For some, the story was simply too difficult to believe. It was easier to dismiss the whole thing as a kind of made-up conspiracy. 
One by one, the teens who testified  about sex parties with children and bizarre sex rituals were punished into silence. One investigator died under very mysterious circumstances as he returned with what he considered conclusive corroboration of the allegations. 

And in the end, the cover-up was a complete success. The lid was firmly fastened and today the story is largely forgotten. 
Largely? perhaps, but not completely. Nobody could have suspected that the Franklin case was only waiting its chance to take a permanent place on the public forum. 

The Internet has breathed new life into the story. (One of the triumphs of the Net is its ability to escape suppression of information.) Take this example:

One of the best books you'll find on the Franklin case is now available free online, yours to read online or to download. (Don't worry, it's not stealing.) Click HERE for the book.

If you'd like a summary of the case before delving into the details. Try this site:

Thanks to Archive.Org, the Net also offers interviews with the alleged victims:  (For me, this was the clincher.) 

Another interview, not of a victim in this case, but of an unwilling participant can also be found in a recorded radio interview with  Rusty Nelson:

Finally, for those who would rather watch than read, there's the full documentary made by a British company. Interestingly, the program was never aired. It was supposed to have been broadcast on the discovery Channel on May 3, 1994, however, according to the producers of the show:
Influential members of Congress put pressure on the cable industry to stop the airing and to destroy all copies. One copy survived and this has been uploaded onto YouTube. 
*    *    *    *
The comparison between the two cases reveals something interesting I think. It demonstrates how in the Nebraska case, even a combination of dutiful investigators and an assortment of victims- some with impeccable memories- can be thwarted. How evil can win but its victory will not pass the "smell" test. And, as Shakespeare wrote, evil will out. It might take some time but it usually does. 

In the Marsh case, the results were equally unsatisfying but the failure of justice was much more subtle and institutionalized. And in the Texas case, unlike the Nebraska cover-up,  the outcome was something that almost everybody would accept as the true face of Justice in our day and age. 

Perhaps, that's the greatest shame of all. Despite the superficial appearance of progress, things haven't improved at all because now we all tolerate these travesties of justice as normal.  As the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said
“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”