On Friday I learned that one of my childhood heroes died. June Foray passed on at the age of 99.
Ms. Foray was a voice actress working in animated features all her long career, as well as in comedy shorts and appearances on Johnny Carson and with Stan Freberg, Daws Butler, and Frank Nelson. She was the voice of Grandmother in Mulan, of Betty Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and, most important to me, she was the voice of Natasha Fatale and Rocky the Flying Squirrel on the various Rocky and Bullwinkle shows created by the legendary Jay Ward.
Rocky and Bullwinkle had a huge impact on me as a kid. All of Jay Ward’s stuff had a combination of sophisticated and low-brow humor. There were elements of satire combined with a lot of really bad puns.
Originally, the dimwitted Bullwinkle was the sidekick to the plucky hero Rocket J. Squirrel but the moose became the main character and Rocky became the plucky sidekick. As a kid, that irritated me. Don’t get me wrong; I love me some Bullwinkle but Rocky was my hero. He may have been small but he was clever, he was courageous and he could fly. If anyone was going to get him and Bullwinkle out of the traps devised by Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, it would be Rocky.
I identified with him, so it bothered me when his BF took over the lead billing. I saw it as sort of an act of betrayal. Stupid, I know, but that’s how my kid’s brain saw it and some of that brain still rests inside me. (They talk about “primal lizard brain;” I’ve got “primal kid brain.”) It didn’t seem to bother Rocky, though. Of course, it wouldn’t. He was not that kind of guy to hold a grudge.
I got the Rocky and Bullwinkle comics when I was a boy; they were oversized and cost a whopping 25 cents when everything else was a dime. But they delivered. They had the same skewed sensibility as the TV shows did. And they sort of had the voices; when I read Rocky in the comics, I “heard” June Foray’s voice. The animation was always rudimentary on the shows; it was the writing and the voices that truly made the shows live. When I heard June Foray had died, for me that sort of meant Rocky died as well.
Ms. Foray got a lot accomplished in her life. She helped get the Motion Picture Academy to create an award category for Best Animated Feature in 2001. She has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
One last thought struck me the other day and it’ll make some of you crazy but here goes. June Foray voiced Rocky; June Foray was female. Could Rocky have been female all these years? Rocky wears the sort of flying helmet and goggles I’ve seen on pictures of Amelia Earhart. Bullwinkle is frankly too dim to notice. So – maybe.
Either way – Rocky is still one of my heroes. And so is June Foray.
AMANDA WALLER LOSES TO A CONFESSIONAL PROFESSIONAL
There’s an old saying, “Confession is good for the soul.” But what if the confesser has no soul? Then that confession’s not good for much of anything; especially portrayals of the law.
New Suicide Squad #15 had a scene you’ve seen dozens of times. Well I’ve seen it dozens of times, but I’ve been reading comics and watching TV lots longer than most of you. In this particular case, the scene in question involved Amanda Waller, head of Task Force X, also called the Suicide Squad – the secret, and probably illegal, government black ops group made up of DC Universe super villains culled from Belle Reve Prison – and Miss Pesta, CEO of Calvary Corporation, a multinational corporate conglomerate that for the past several issues of New Suicide Squad had been trying to bring the Suicide Squad down, because the Task Force had disrupted several deals Calvary had in place in other countries. (Sorry about that last sentence, it had more clauses than a family reunion at the North Pole.) (And while we’re doing asides, Calvary Corporation? Seriously? Your evil corporation has the same name as the place where Jesus was crucified? Does no one appreciate subtly? What was Calvary’s business address? 666 Satan Place?)
Anyway, Amanda Waller – who is nowhere near as competent or as intimidating as she had been in her pre-New 52 carnation – decided to confront Miss Pesta head on. Toward that end, Waller broke into Pesta’s office and confronted Pesta head on. And armed, not with a gun but with Deadshot, a costumed super villain assassin in the DC Universe. He had the gun, which he pointed directly at Miss Pesta. Waller and Pesta talked of many things. Not shoes – and ships – and sealing wax; just what Pesta and Calvary was up to and why.
Pesta freely admitted that Calvary wanted to bring Task Force X down and had convinced Task Force X’s new supervisor, Vic Sage, to help them. It wasn’t hard, Sage hated Waller and wanted to destroy her. Sage leaked top secret information about Task Force X through one of the Belle Reve inmates under his supervision. The inmate would be blamed for the leak, so it would never be traced back to Sage or Calvary, and Task Force X and Amanda Waller would be shut down.
When Waller pointed out to Pesta that she had just confessed to conspiring to bring down a government program, Pesta almost literally laughed in Waller’s face. Did I mention that this New 52 version of Amanda Waller isn’t anywhere near as competent or as intimidating as the previous version of the character had been? If I didn’t, she isn’t. And if I did, that hasn’t changed.
Pesta’s actual answer was to say, in what I assume was a mocking tone – Pesta’s word balloon didn’t contain a convenient stage direction like mockingly – “So I deny it later or say you coerced me. You did break into my office and held me at gunpoint, after all.”
Seriously, how many times have we seen this scene played out? Bad guy confesses to cop then says, “but I’ll deny ever making this confession and it will be your word against mine,” Or says, “I’ll say you beat it out of me;” actually believing that a judge or a jury will actually believe the bad guy and not the cop. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen the scene more times than I could count on all the fingers at a polydactyl convention.
Please, if for some reason you’re ever braced by the police and you freely confess to some crime, don’t think you’ll be able to convince a judge or jury that either a) you never made the confession or b) the police beat/coerced the confession out of you. In the immortal words of Rocket J. Squirrel to Bullwinkle J. Moose, “But that trick never works!”
Judges and juries don’t want to believe that policemen lie. They don’t want to believe that the police do anything wrong or that any arrest was carried out in any manner other than “by the book.” They especially don’t want to believe that the police beat, torture, or in any other way coerce confessions. Judges and juries want to believe confessions are on the up and up, so that they can convict the defendant with a clear conscience. Having a confession makes keeping that old conscience clear all the easier. In other words, unless you’re a southern belle, you should never begin any sentence to a police officer with the phrase, “I must confess.”
Okay, maybe things aren’t quite as bad as that cynical preceding paragraph made it seem. Except for the part where I said judges and juries don’t want to believe that a confession was anything other than valid. That part is true. I spent twenty-eight years trying to convince judges and juries to the contrary with very, very limited success.
No, let me rephrase that. With no success. From time to time, I did manage to get a judge to suppress physical evidence seized during an illegal search, but I can’t think of even one time where I convinced either a judge or a jury that a confession was coerced and should be disregarded. And don’t think I didn’t try.
Now I’m not saying that it wouldn’t have happened in Miss Pesta’s case. Pesta’s an attractive and rich corporate CEO who could honestly testify that a government operative broke into her office and had an underling point a gun at her head before she confessed. She and her story might have some jury appeal. Which is more than we can say about Amanda Waller. Waller is curt and abrasive and heads up a secret, illegal government operation that most Americans would not want to know existed and who brought a costumed hired gun for intimidation purposes. Under those circumstances, it is possible – possible mind you – that a judge or jury would believe Miss Pesta that she never made the confession or that it was coerced. But it happens so infrequently that, were I Miss Pesta, I certainly wouldn’t want to confess and then bank my freedom on the possibility that I could get someone to buy the into the coercion ploy. Unless, of course, I was planning on going to my bank and buying someone into buying the coercion ploy.
So maybe Miss Pesta could be successful in convincing others that her confession was coerced. Remember she is an evil corporate CEO in a comic book story. (Hey, aren’t they all?) In other words, Miss Pesta is a trained professional bad guy, so don’t try this at home.
Because there’s another old saying you should remember, “Your results may vary.”
When I was younger, so much, much, much younger than today, there was a television show. Then, when I was a little older, they added a second channel and we got a second show. Eventually that led to four channels and lots more shows. One of those shows was Peter Gunn.
Peter Gunn was a private eye show that aired on NBC then ABC from September 22, 1958 until September 18, 1961. It starred Craig Stevens as the eponymous P.I. and is probably best remembered for its jazz sound track and the theme song written by Henry Mancini. Even if you’ve never seen an episode of the show, I’ll bet you’ve heard the theme song.
I’ll also bet you don’t think I’m here to write about a TV theme song. There, you’d be correct. I’m here to write about the show. Specifically, Season 1, Episode 28, the April 6, 1959 episode, “Pay Now, Kill Later.”
The episode started with a SPOILER WARNING. Okay, it didn’t start with a spoiler warning. Like many episodes of Peter Gunn did, it started with a murder. It didn’t continue with a Spoiler Warning, either, but I have to. Because in order to discuss the legal ramifications of the episode, I have to give away details of the plot including its ending. So here goes.
John Abbot played a scientist who discovered a new miracle fabric in Manchester, England in 1945. But Abbot didn’t want to share the expected profits of this miracle fabric with his business partner played by Torin Thatcher. So Abbot hired a man who looked a little like him to be a caretaker of the textile mill he and Thatcher owned. Abbot tricked the man into wearing Abbot’s clothes then knocked him unconscious, left the man on the floor of the textile mill, and blew it up. All to frame Thatcher. Thatcher was convicted of insurance fraud for blowing up the mill and manslaughter in his partner’s “death.” (That’s what the show said, manslaughter. Personally, I don’t know why it wouldn’t have been felony murder or even premeditated murder, but I didn’t get a chance to ask the show, what with it being a TV show and rather nonresponsive and all.)
Fourteen years later, Thatcher was released from prison. He had always suspected that John Abbot wasn’t dead and had English detectives trace Abbot to America. Thatcher came to America and hired Peter Gunn to track down Abbot. Abbot had changed his name and was now the successful head of his own textile firm, but Gunn tracked him down anyway.
When Gunn reported to Thatcher, Thatcher revealed his real purpose; he wanted to kill Abbot for ruining his life. He said he wasn’t worried because, he’d already been convicted of killing Abbot and under the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution, he couldn’t be tried for the same crime – killing Abbot – a second time.
Gunn and his police liaison – back then all TV P.I.s had police liaisons just like all sit-com families had wacky next-door neighbors – Lt. Jacoby learned that Abbot was going to exhibit at a fabric show which was conveniently in the same unnamed river front city where Gunn operated. They went to the show to arrest Abbot for murdering the caretaker. But Thatcher also showed up with a gun so he kill could kill Abbot. Gunn and Jacoby tried to talk Thatcher out of this. While they did this, Abbot threw a bolt of cloth at them and bolted himself.
A gunfight ensued, as it did so often in Peter Gunn and virtually every other TV P.I show of the era. Abbot, who had his own gun, shot at Gunn and Jacoby. Jacoby and Gunn shot at Abbot. Then Abbot ran out of bullets and, rather than characteristically throwing his gun at Gunn, just tried to make a break for it. That’s when Thatcher shot and killed Abbot. Thatcher surrendered to Jacoby and Gunn said, “It should make an interesting trial.”
Not really. It would have been a pretty straight forward trial. Thatcher killed Abbot in front of a respected P.I., a police lieutenant, and several other eyewitness; including the, in the 50s, stereotypical screaming woman. And Thatcher had no defense.
He had no defense under Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth, because it didn’t apply to his case. As Gunn and Jacoby pointed out, the Double Jeopardy clause commands that a man cannot be tried for the same crime two times. But Thatcher’s killing of Abbot wasn’t the same crime. After being framed, Thatcher had been convicted of killing Abbot in Manchester, England back in 1945. That wouldn’t apply to his actually killing Abbot in America in 1959. To quote the show’s accurate statement, “It’s a new and separate crime. Another time, another place.”
Nice to know that this low-budget half-hour TV show from 1959 managed to get the law correct, considering Double Jeopardy, the big budget 1999 movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd, with basically the same premise got it all wrong. Repeatedly.
See Double Jeopardy doesn’t actually apply to the crime charged, that is what penal code violation was committed – in this case murder. Double Jeopardy applies to the criminal act that was committed. If you kill a man in 1945 that’s one criminal act. If you kill a man in1959, that’s a separate criminal act. You may get charged under the same statute, but you’ve committed two distinct and different criminal acts. You haven’t committed the same crime, you’ve violated the same statute two different times.
Even if the victim of both crimes happens to be the same man, because you didn’t really kill him the first time around, it doesn’t matter; it’s still two distinct acts and two distinct crimes for which you can be prosecuted two distinct times. Oh, you may be able to sue for wrongful imprisonment for the first murder prosecution, as you obviously didn’t commit that murder, what with the purported victim being alive and all. But you’d be enjoying your money in prison after being convicted of the second murder.
Suppose Baby Face Braunschweiger and the Light Fingered Five Minus Two rob the Frostbite Falls Bank in 1961, then are caught and convicted. Does that mean that, after they’re released, they get to rob the Frostbite Falls Bank any time they like with impunity, because they’ve already been convicted of that crime? No. They have been convicted of the crime once, but each time they rob the bank, they’re committing a new act. They may be breaking the same law, but they’re breaking it a second or third or fourth time. Even under Double Jeopardy, they can be prosecuted a second or third or fourth time. One prosecution for each new criminal act they commit.
And, in case you were wondering, because I said “Thatcher has no defense,” Thatcher can’t use self-defense in his trial, either. Yes, Abbot had been shooting at him and Gunn, and Jacoby. But there are two problems with him using self-defense. First, you can’t use self-defense if you are responsible for putting yourself in jeopardy in the first place. You can’t start a bar fight with someone then, when your opponent hits you back, get to claim self-defense when you hit him back for hitting you back. When Thatcher confronted Abbot with a gun and said he intended to kill Abbot, he initiated the confrontation. In this scenario, Abbot would be able to shoot at Thatcher in self-defense, but Thatcher wouldn’t be able to shoot back.
Second, when Thatcher shot Abbot, Abbot was out of bullets and running away. At that point, he no longer presented an immediate threat of bodily harm that necessitated any defense. So, again, self-defense wouldn’t apply.
I offer this week’s column as a public service. If you’re thinking of framing yourself for a murder that didn’t happen so that you can be convicted and go to prison, in the hopes that years later, you can then murder the still-living victim for real and not be prosecuted because of Double Jeopardy; don’t. That defense won’t work.