Murderous Confession October 20, 2006 11:45 PM   Subscribe

Well, askme got served with a doozy tonight and I think it's safe to say it didn't go well. It's not just the completely awful legal advice being dispensed, or the attempt to frame this question as a solely moral one that disturbed me, but the seeming justification of murder (and referencing religion to reason away that murder) that made me shudder.
posted by incessant to Etiquette/Policy at 11:45 PM (186 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Holy. Crap.
posted by loquacious at 11:48 PM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of people saying "Don't tell anyone" are saying that not because they think murder's okay, but because they think confidentiality is more important -- like the way the guy's therapist knows and isn't telling, because they have a confidential relationship; it should be the same with the minister. This is the camp that I fall into. I don't mean, at all, "Don't tell because he doesn't deserve to get in trouble."

There are some people who are saying that, but it's not like everyone in the "Don't tell" camp is saying that.
posted by booksandlibretti at 11:58 PM on October 20, 2006


I think a lot of people saying "Don't tell anyone" are saying that not because they think murder's okay, but because they think confidentiality is more important -- like the way the guy's therapist knows and isn't telling, because they have a confidential relationship; it should be the same with the minister. This is the camp that I fall into. I don't mean, at all, "Don't tell because he doesn't deserve to get in trouble."

It doesn't matter why people say not to tell; the end result is the same. Someone gets away with murder.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:04 AM on October 21, 2006


There are lawyers and doctors and clergy out there IRL, ya know. Which is to say, askme is great unless you should be talking to a real lawyer or doctor or clergyman.
posted by bardic at 12:09 AM on October 21, 2006


Isn't it funny how when someone sprinkles the word "religion" over something (something like considering the thought of concealing murder), it becomes rational to be irrational, moral to be immoral.
posted by JPowers at 12:13 AM on October 21, 2006 [3 favorites]


What really irked me about that thread was the utter wild speculation that people were pulling out of their asses - "I'm sure he's learned his lesson", "he's paid his debt", "sounds like he'd never kill again", "it was premeditated", "he's too good for jail", and on and on and on. There is absolutely no way to know any of that from what was given, and I think anon knows the confessor much better than any of you so he doesn't need anyone pontificating on whether the guy seems like a good guy or not. To go there completely misses the point of the question.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:16 AM on October 21, 2006


Optimus Chyme, do you think the therapist should've told the authorities?
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:31 AM on October 21, 2006


Were I Matt, I would breach the asker's anonymity and advise the asker's local police that the asker has information about a murder. The asker may or may not have a legal responsibility, but I Matt is not beholden to any kind of confidentiality and, I think, has a moral obligation to call the cops.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:31 AM on October 21, 2006


I am deeply disappointed with some of the "advice" here. Some of you are justifying premeditated murder. That is shameful, inexcusable, inhuman. The fact that the victim may not have been a model citizen is irrelevant. The fact that the murderer is unlikely to kill again is irrelevant. The victim was someone's son. He was someone's friend. And no one got to hear his side of the story. No one knows if he really is a rapist. No one knows what happened. And here you are, sitting on your fat asses, saying it's okay to kill, that a murder can go unpunished, that the rules are different if you're young and angry and if no one sees you do it. Something is dark in your souls, and I pity you.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:23 AM GMT on October 21 [+fave] [!]


Unless, theyre elderly and in a nursing home, optimus, in which case you seem to find it quite ok.

As someone who also talks a load of hypocritical shite in mefi, i salute you.
posted by sgt.serenity at 12:35 AM on October 21, 2006


Booksandlibretti, if I may jump in, in my jurisdiction a therapist would be obligated to report it. A doctor may or may not, I don't know -- but a therapist would not have any kind of pivileged communication protection. The OP is somewhere in the States, I assume (he talked about going to the DA), so things are probably different there.

I think that a doctor or therapist, even at the risk of losing their license, must report knowledge of a murder, if there is credible reason to believe that one occurred.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:36 AM on October 21, 2006


I'm floored that the minister is asking MeFi and not God. Unless God told him to ask MeFi or something. Maybe God's testing AskMe. In the words of Fark, EVERYBODY PANIC!
posted by IndigoRain at 12:50 AM on October 21, 2006


Askme is not a repository of legal advice, you are always going to get people replying from the gut. This is what makes it a valuable resource, if somewhat variable.

The specifics of legal obligations are very different depending on what jurisdiction you are under.

That said: It having appeared online, there is no way that it should not be flagged for the appropriate authorities. This is murder we are talking about, not a kilo of weed in someone's basement.

Arguments from religion must always lose.
posted by Sparx at 1:14 AM on October 21, 2006


Some of you are justifying premeditated murder.

Wtf is up with people calling the murder "premeditated"? How is it "premeditated", from the description the guy flew into a rage and killed him, he didn't necessarily go out with a plan to kill him.

Personally, I don't see any reason why state sanctioned killing is any more moral then individually sanctioned killing. If state sanctioned killing is "ok" in some cases (whether through execution or war or whatever) then individual killing may be "ok" in some circumstances as well.

I'm just so sick and tired of people pretending like society is somehow moral. It's not, not at all. It slaughters people left and right.

Anyway, if you were worried about me personally, I would certainly turn someone in if they confessed something like that to me, just because I wouldn't want to have to deal with the emotional burden (Plus I would be scared of them, quite frankly). However, for someone not me, it's up to them. I don't care one way or another, whatever they believe is best.

I happen to think that given the guy will not kill anyone else the would have less suffering in it if he was not turned in. I don't believe revenge for revenge sake is a moral goal. Do we know he won't kill again? That's up to the asker to figure out.
posted by delmoi at 1:22 AM on October 21, 2006


I don't see it as people justifying murder. There were people (myself included) who don't see legal punishment as an automatic response to a crime. No one was saying he should get away with it, they were saying that they believe the best choice at this point in time would not be prison. Not because he deserves to be free and other murderers don't, but because him being imprisoned wouldn't serve any purpose, whereas him being free could lead to a life being salvaged.

I understand that not everyone thinks that way, and I can see why some people would think the 'forgiveness' response is ridiculous. There's no need to accuse people of justifying murder, or that there's something dark in their souls.
posted by twirlypen at 1:34 AM on October 21, 2006


Unless, theyre elderly and in a nursing home, optimus, in which case you seem to find it quite ok.

As someone who also talks a load of hypocritical shite in mefi, i salute you.
posted by sgt.serenity at 12:35 AM PST on October 21


When a doctor says that that there is no way to rescue his patients in an emergency situation, I tend to believe him. The two situations are quite a bit different. I also find it interesting that a) you had to go back over a year and also that b) most people reading that thread would conclude that you are mentally retarded.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:36 AM on October 21, 2006


Optimus Chyme, do you think the therapist should've told the authorities?
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:31 AM PST on October 21


Yes. The only people who should have privileged communications with a criminal are his lawyer and his spouse.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:38 AM on October 21, 2006


MetaTalk is not the place to continue arguments perfectly encapsulated within a given thread.

My thoughts are with Meta* as a given entity. If we get a rep as a place to admit knowledge of murder with no repercussions - well, do we really want to go there? The answer may be yes, but it needs to be discussed (and I hope the answer is no)
posted by Sparx at 1:39 AM on October 21, 2006


I too wanted to ask the OP if he had yet to consult God. That seems like the obvious answer to me, since I read the question as "What is my moral obligation?" not "What is my legal obligation."

I figued after 100+ comments mine would get lost in the din.
posted by Brittanie at 1:39 AM on October 21, 2006


I too wanted to ask the OP if he had yet to consult God. That seems like the obvious answer to me, since I read the question as "What is my moral obligation?" not "What is my legal obligation."

Read it however you like: the literal text of the question was "what is my legal obligation".

I do not see much purpose in conflating the issue of "asking God" with the issue of "discussing confessed murders on AskMe". A person may "ask God" to a dizzying array of responses, ranging from the mysteries of faith to plain out escapist delusion—and the degree to which any other given person will acknowledge one end or the other of that perceived spectrum will itself vary wildly. Anonymous wasn't asking for religious validation, he was asking what his legal situation was. Moralizing in abstract is wankery.
posted by cortex at 1:47 AM on October 21, 2006


Yes. The only people who should have privileged communications with a criminal are his lawyer and his spouse.

Optimus Chyme, an honest question: Why? Nothing changes about the (theoretical) victim having a family who missed and loved him (using your words). Why do the lawyer and SO get a pass, as far as their obligation to be truthful along the moral code you outlined above?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:49 AM on October 21, 2006


Yes. The only people who should have privileged communications with a criminal are his lawyer and his spouse.

Thank you grand moralist! It must be great to be able to make such pronouncements, to be privy to the secret formal, axiomatic system that defines morality for all!

When a doctor says that that there is no way to rescue his patients in an emergency situation, I tend to believe him. The two situations are quite a bit different.

They both involve the taking of life without consent, but one involves innocent life, and the other the life of a rapist.

I believe in doctor assisted suicide, but non-consensual euthanasia is a bit much.
posted by delmoi at 1:52 AM on October 21, 2006


Thank you grand moralist! It must be great to be able to make such pronouncements, to be privy to the secret formal, axiomatic system that defines morality for all!

yeah it's pretty weird, people expressing opinions on the internet and all

it's crazy
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:11 AM on October 21, 2006


Yes. The only people who should have privileged communications with a criminal are his lawyer and his spouse.

Crap! My sexuality cuts my number of possible confidential sources in half!

The only real problem with the thread is that it deviates from the stated question (which I don't actually care too much about). The philosophical bent and the thoughts on the efficacy of prison and the law are totally appropriate. Guess what: people disagree about things that you may think are absolute.

Were I Matt, I would breach the asker's anonymity…

Matt is morally beholden to the confidentiality the OP expected given the use of the anonymous form. Of course that only extends as far as Matt feels it does. If there's any fallout from this it might be an explicit disclaimer on that page that outlines the boundaries of the confidentiality agreement implicit in an anonymous post.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:23 AM on October 21, 2006


Definitely reads like a hoax. A little too deliberately constructed, a little too much narrative.
posted by Manjusri at 2:34 AM on October 21, 2006


I'd be curious to see how that thread would have gone without the religious element. The fact that anonymous is a minister seems neither here nor there, really.
posted by brundlefly at 2:35 AM on October 21, 2006


Manjusri writes "Definitely reads like a hoax. A little too deliberately constructed, a little too much narrative."

I have to confess (har, har), my first reaction was that as well. However, there's no way of knowing, so I think the only useful thing would be to take the question at face value.
posted by brundlefly at 2:38 AM on October 21, 2006


The post reads more like a sociological litmus test than a real question. I know, I know, we have to act "as if" it is a legitimate question, but it really sets off my bullshit meter.

Plus, other than the generally agreed-upon legal advice of "you are under no legal compulsion to say or do anything", there are so many variables as to make our advice useless. Was it premeditated or a crime of passion, if it happened at all? Was the "victim" a rapist, or not?

So many other issues are raised, from the argument that vigilante justice is unacceptable and that we all live under a system of laws, to the moral absolutism of the confessor/minister dyad, that I don't imagine that the poster is any better-off than they were before they came to AskMe.

And seriously... who asks a question like that to the denizens of the internet? A minister/priest/whatever that doesn't know whatever protocol is SOP for their particular faith? At best it's someone looking for validation. At worst, it's straight-up trolling. Somewhere in the middle of that continuum is an attempt to garner data for a paper or conversation fodder. "omg did you see that? half the people in there were advocating murder!" [which is, by the way, clearly an incorrect interpretation no matter how one slices it]

Whatever. My opinion stayed out of the thread-- whatever I have to say about it at this point certainly isn't profound enough to sway the OP either way... although like I said, something about this whole story just doesn't ring true. If the question is legitimate, my guess is that my ephemeral words floating on the screen aren't anywhere as valuable as the OP's own conscience, which has probably made a decision either way, and nothing in that thread is going to sway it.
posted by exlotuseater at 2:57 AM on October 21, 2006


Matt is morally beholden to the confidentiality the OP expected given the use of the anonymous form. Of course that only extends as far as Matt feels it does. So the OP's expectations form a tacit moral agreement. Limited only by Matt's discretion. You must work for Boston legal.

If the killer is a fag then no problem, god hates those gays guys anyhow, even better if the victim was woman or a man or a goat or the only child of someone.

Man if if I posted to askme every time I come, then there would be no peace. across a minister standing over a living confessor.
posted by econous at 3:07 AM on October 21, 2006


IANL, but doesn't this legally obligate matt to call the police? Information regarding murder and all that.
posted by IronLizard at 3:22 AM on October 21, 2006


"Thank you grand moralist! It must be great to be able to make such pronouncements, to be privy to the secret formal, axiomatic system that defines morality for all!"

One needn't be a moral absolutist to make the statement he made. There are analytical frameworks short of absolutism that would allow his conclusion. Unless you want to assert the most extreme relativism and claim that no moral or ethical judgements can be made about anything, ever—a principle that no one I've ever heard of excepting sociopaths actually practices—then of course limited ethical claims are possible and commonplace.

Optimus Chyme hasn't presented his reasoning. One guess as to his reasoning is that he denies any principled sort of confidentiality, asserts as paramount the rule of law, and allows only client-lawyer confidentiality as a simple practical matter.

Those who assert clergy confidentiality may be doing so from some metaphysical, absolutist moral analysis, or not. For example of the latter, I think I'm inclined to support (psychological/emotional) counselor client confidentiality and see the clergy form as a subset of this. My argument would be that the utility of the rule of law is very important, but that the sociological utility of a limited confessorial privilege is greater.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:23 AM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Isn't it funny how when someone sprinkles the word "religion" over something (something like considering the thought of concealing murder), it becomes rational to be irrational, moral to be immoral.

Hardly, considering that the therapist kept it secret. If it was the therapist who'd come and posted the same question, I think you'd have seen pretty much the same response. I'm no fan of religion, but this has very little to do with religion, really.
posted by reklaw at 3:24 AM on October 21, 2006


Oh, and the "rule of law" argument is clearly bullshit. If you believe that, go back and rat on all the people who've used AskMe to ask BitTorrent questions.

It's also interesting that Matt is now pretty much in the same position as the minister. Does he report this, or not? Maybe he should Ask MetaFilter.
posted by reklaw at 3:31 AM on October 21, 2006


I'm kind of surprised at that making it through the anon asking process, to be honest. Aside from it looking very much like a wind-up (you can just picture the first draft in which the murderer drove an SUV and the victim was grossly overweight) you'd think even the vague possibility of legal repercussions would put one off allowing it onto the site.
posted by jack_mo at 5:10 AM on October 21, 2006


And here you are, sitting on your fat asses

Was that really necessary in AskMe, Optimus?
posted by mediareport at 5:47 AM on October 21, 2006


The guy asks, "what is my legal obligation?" Funny, but my reaction is, huh, I have some opinions about this situation but I'm neither a lawyer nor a minister and have no idea what his legal obligation is, so I have no place answering his question when all I could offer is pontificating. Others appear to have chosen differently.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:19 AM on October 21, 2006


Actually he's right. My arse is fat, and I am sitting on it.

What makes me laugh is the thought of Optimus "They will point guns at infants; they will shoot tiny dogs without remorse; they can and will kill innocent people" Chyme all fired up and ready to sic 'em on somebody else on the basis of Internet hearsay.
posted by flabdablet at 6:22 AM on October 21, 2006


The post reads more like a sociological litmus test than a real question. I know, I know, we have to act "as if" it is a legitimate question, but it really sets off my bullshit meter

I agree. The question seems like an obvious hoax. I'm really surprised it was approved by the mods.
posted by prost at 6:38 AM on October 21, 2006


There are several other questions of dubious nature (e.g. NFLfan's). They all remind me of Kohlberg's stages of moral development - I'm surprised nobody is studying this using ask.me (that itself is an ethics question).

However, anon asked about his/her "legal obligation", not about something else. Hmm... it is interesting that most of the answers deal with the moral issues. The hoax might be in the answers (or in the human nature), not in the question.
posted by MzB at 6:38 AM on October 21, 2006


MetaTalk is not the place to continue arguments perfectly encapsulated within a given thread.

Indeed, why is this here?
posted by scottreynen at 6:45 AM on October 21, 2006


scott, these arguments are derails from the original question (much as most of what's in that AskMe thread right now). I think that statement you're reading pertains more to Metafilter than Ask.
posted by onalark at 6:55 AM on October 21, 2006


MetaTalk is not the place to continue arguments perfectly encapsulated within a given thread.

Indeed, why is this here?


What the shit kind of Knowledge of the Lamers of Edom is this pasty tripe!?

NO. NO. LET ME REPEAT THAT. FUCK. NO. AGAIN? NO. ONE MORE TIME? NO!

MetaTalk is indeed that place, and you willfully wrongheaded keyboard-slapping clownhumpers aren't supposed to be arguing in AskMe. Period. No. Don't try to justify it, this is not a special case. Just shut the fuck up. If all you have is a vague opinion or an in-thread retort to someone else's vague opinion or otherwise feel the need to snark and wipe your ass on the screen and you don't have an answer, keep your moist armchair yogurty twatdrippings out of AskMe or I'm going to hunt each and every one of you drooling, twaddling mouthbreathers down and thoroughly ionize your preciously tiny junk packages with copious amounts of gamma radiation.

Have I made myself thoroughly understood? Do not make me break out the Cobalt and Cesium underpants.
posted by loquacious at 7:01 AM on October 21, 2006 [2 favorites]


scott, these arguments are derails from the original question

Really? The original question was whether or not the OP has some obligation to turn in the confessor. Most of the comments here appear to be attempts at answers to that question. Note that I have made no comments in the original thread nor here attempting to answer this question, so I have no dog in this race.
posted by scottreynen at 7:12 AM on October 21, 2006


delmoi: "First of all, you don't have any legal obligation to tell anyone. "

This is utter bullshit, with all due respect. Yes the disclosure laws do vary from state to state but only with regards to how it is reported. In Minnesota, we were required to report it. Confessing to a caregiver whether they are clergy or a therapist is no safe harbor. Most states you are required to report it. What are you basing this observation on?

The rest of your statement in that thread boggles the mind:

This guy is 26 years old, why ruin his life? Just because he killed someone? You know he feels

Unless you were joking or somehow trying to be uber-sarcastic, reading that was a tad chilling.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:23 AM on October 21, 2006


I pastor a Protestant, non-demoniational church

priceless!
posted by quonsar at 7:23 AM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Laffo loquacious. You had that masterful response queued up long before scottreynen came along, didn't you? You get an e-highfive and 10s across the board.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:29 AM on October 21, 2006


mmmm. cesium underpants. aughaughaughaugh....
posted by quonsar at 7:32 AM on October 21, 2006


I removed a few comments from that thread that were better placed in this one. AskMe is not supposed to work like jury deliberations. You give the OP some advice, possibly discuss the topic some with other people in the thread, but at the point at which you're posting in AskMe to berate the other people posting in AskMe for their bad advice, then you should take it here. I put a link to this thread in that one.

I was also a little surprised the question got approved. Since it's Matt's site, he's the one who can assess what risk a question like that puts him in and whether it's acceptable.

That said, I found the wide range of opinions and options offered in that thread (with a few exceptions) encapsulates why I like the site in the first place. It's clear that many people feel that what the OP should do is obvious. The fact that so many people, people we all know or have known on the site for years, find that the "obvious" thing is so totally different from other people's ideas of the obvious thing to do is the part I find fascinating.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:33 AM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Also, I really don't see the thread as a train wreck. A few people mentioned that, but unlike typical trainwrecks which devolve into a lot of shouting and name calling and hollering at the OP, this was mostly civil.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:48 AM on October 21, 2006


The more I ponder it, the more ridiculous the question seems. Anonymous claims he/she is a clergy member, but then posts a question with the tone of, "OMG!!!! Someone just confessed a murder to me!!! AskMe, what should I do!?!?!" The mere fact that the person would come to AskMe with this question screams "hoax." A real clergy member would already know the answer to this question, and wouldn't even think of coming here to ask it.

From my understanding --- partly based upon a conversation I had with a Catholic priest a few years ago --- those of us who have never been ministers would have difficulty fathoming the kind of shocking things they hear. In my casual conversation with this priest, he told me that there is absolutely nothing he could hear from a penitent that would shock him in the slightest. Now, I realize that it may be slightly different in the Protestant church, but I find it hard to believe that Protestant ministers are not entrusted with very incriminating confessions in the course of their ministry to spiritually troubled people.

For a real minister to ask this question as though this presents a difficult dilemma for him/her, is incredible.
posted by jayder at 7:59 AM on October 21, 2006


hook, line, sinker.
posted by quonsar at 8:04 AM on October 21, 2006


That's what I thought when I read it. You've been gamed. (Pwnwed for you kids.)
posted by timeistight at 8:27 AM on October 21, 2006


The question smells like it's too carefully packaged. A designed dilema. Made for TV movie pitch or first-year law-school hypothetical? Probably what quonsar said.
posted by normy at 8:29 AM on October 21, 2006


My first reaction to the thread was to wonder if it was submitted by NFLFan or maybe that guy with the ricer (though he probably doesn't write that well). If someone wanted to derail and distract MeFites, well, it adds up.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:33 AM on October 21, 2006


I don't think ministers in this fellow's "religion" require a whole lot of formal training.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:39 AM on October 21, 2006


i don't think you have a "clue" about that.
posted by quonsar at 8:44 AM on October 21, 2006


hook, line, sinker.
Mm. That question was totally a troll imho.
posted by peacay at 8:48 AM on October 21, 2006


What makes me laugh is the thought of Optimus "They will point guns at infants; they will shoot tiny dogs without remorse; they can and will kill innocent people" Chyme all fired up and ready to sic 'em on somebody else on the basis of Internet hearsay.
posted by flabdablet at 6:22 AM PST on October 21


I've never said that law enforcement isn't useful. I just noted that anyone in their right mind needs to stay the fuck away from them. Also note that this isn't Internet hearsay but rather - if anon is to be believed - a direct confession of murder.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:52 AM on October 21, 2006


*sips morning coffee*

Now this is getting interesting. Malarky troll? Or effective way?
posted by loquacious at 8:53 AM on October 21, 2006


This weekend I'm pastoring a wall in my kitchen.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:55 AM on October 21, 2006


OMG!!! ANONYMOUS IS TEH MURDRERER!111! I GET TEH CHILLS WHEN I THINK OF ALL THE QUESTIONS I ANSERERERD FOR HIM IN THE PAST.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:16 AM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


It may well be a hoax. But he asked for legal advice, which is not the same thing as moral judgment.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:21 AM on October 21, 2006


Do not make me break out the Cobalt and Cesium underpants.

in soviet russia, cobalt and cesium underpants make YOU break out

come to think of it, that happens anywhere
posted by pyramid termite at 9:26 AM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


jessamyn: I found the wide range of opinions and options offered in that thread (with a few exceptions) encapsulates why I like the site in the first place.

Yes, that was my reaction as well. Most people up to the point where I read last night, which was far enough to see a wide range of views expressed, seemed to accept well the fact that not everyone is going to agree on what is right. I don't know if the person asking the question will find any help there, but it seems likely that some few of the responses will include ways to think of the problem that he hadn't considered. There's really no way it could've been answered better (once you ignore the noise).
posted by sfenders at 9:33 AM on October 21, 2006


Bwahhaha...all these years of simmering revenge; vengeance ripening slowly on the vine of summer camp memories and drug rehab journals; lies placed just so, catching the light of sunset and headlights to refract out in a perfect rainbow of premeditated anguish.

Who drove this story? Who suffered and who escaped their rural small town trap of teenage WASP love and summers with the Minister? Whose story, spun in a moment of inspired deception has matured and thickened over time, to draw in not just the original actors, but now an entire internet? Not the overbearing moralistic boyfriend, obsessed with "helping the needy" and "loving the homeless" but unable to provide simple compassion and warmth to someone who once loved him? Not the homeless man - who suffered more than intended, but was by no means innocent and whos passing makes the world no darker. Not the minister, drawn by decades old lies into a still churning engine of self-recrimination and moralizing about things that never happened?

Who emerges, the secret protagonist? Whose grand scheme worked so well that now, years after it served its end so well it continues to trouble yet more lives? Whose single phone call set all this drama in motion?

That's right - ME! I was the girlfriend! I never died in some cliched car-wreck - I just got the hell out of that podunk town the only way I could. I needed a myth to sell that do-gooder emotional brick of a boy who swore he'd by my husband - some story to sell him where he'd let me the fuck alone - and he bought it. As did everyone else. I never meant the story to spread so far or touch so many people, but I did mean for it to get me the hell out of dodge and teach him he might not be the bastion of patient fucking righteousness he thought he was.

I was freed by a lie a long time ago, and I'm a little sorry it gnaws at him still, but not sorry at all it's caused you overweaning moralizers some distress over events you know less than nothing about.

Because it worked.
posted by freebird at 9:36 AM on October 21, 2006 [7 favorites]


Quonsar is spot on, as always.

"... there is no supervising bishop or denomination headquarters to consult" (from the anonymous question)

Well, if you have no supervisors, good for you. For if I were your supervisor and found out that you had posted things you heard during a confession on a website ---
posted by Termite at 9:38 AM on October 21, 2006


freebird wins!
posted by quonsar at 9:44 AM on October 21, 2006


I take back my previous comment (no disrespect, quonsar). Now I prefer freebird's explanation.
posted by normy at 9:47 AM on October 21, 2006


To me the story sounds a bit "off" re killing the homeless-guy-turned-rapist. I suppose it's possible but it could also be too much Law & Order/Cold Case.

By the way, nobody seemed to consider the possibility that the questioner re-wrote the details of a real question to make it sound that way. Both to maintain anonymity and to simplify the dilemma. It would be a sensible thing to do.
posted by sfenders at 9:57 AM on October 21, 2006


Hoax. An alleged minister turns to a website rather than to his church with a very convenient yet implausible story, revealing much more information than necessary to answer the question (about legal obligations). It would be nice if this was someone doing a psychological study, but it's probably just some jerk satisfying his curiosity.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:00 AM on October 21, 2006


I smell shenanigans, too. If it isn't, the Asker should get his ass to a lawyer; while there are MeFites who know and practice law, this is one of those times when "See a doctor/lawyer/not strangers on the internet" is the best advice.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:04 AM on October 21, 2006


do you think the therapist should've told the authorities?

Lyle and Erik Menendez's brutal slaying of their parents in 1989 came to light after their therapist, Dr. L. Jerome Oziel, went to authorities.
posted by ericb at 10:04 AM on October 21, 2006


quonsar: "freebird wins!"

I dunno Quonsar. TonLoquacious had me at "twatdrippings."
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:10 AM on October 21, 2006


Also note that this isn't Internet hearsay but rather - if anon is to be believed - a direct confession of murder.

Actually an indirect confession of murder. Its an important distinction.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:12 AM on October 21, 2006


I dunno Quonsar. TonLoquacious had me at please stop intercapping me you barking crotchmagnet. What the hell is wrong with your shift key?
posted by loquacious at 10:34 AM on October 21, 2006


twatdrippings and the barking crotchmagnet quintet.
posted by quonsar at 10:46 AM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


The whole thing sounds like bullshit to me too but I answered it anyway. And sfenders, the most sensible thing to do, like Alvy said, is not to post such life-or-death questions to AskMetafilter.

And freebird, are you kidding?
posted by davy at 10:48 AM on October 21, 2006


loquacious: "I dunno Quonsar. TonLoquacious had me at please stop intercapping me you barking crotchmagnet. What the hell is wrong with your shift key?"

Easy, easy Mr. "Funky Cold Medina" of MetaFilter! Want me to bust anutha intercap in yo azz?
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:52 AM on October 21, 2006


Freebird might've gotten away with this if it weren't for you meddling kids.
posted by horsewithnoname at 10:55 AM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Gahh, Horsewithnoname!! Taken out of my own mouth!!! LOL!!!
posted by mynameismandab at 10:58 AM on October 21, 2006


It would be nice if this was someone doing a psychological study

No, it would not.

*presses lever, waits for drop of sugar water*
posted by shoesfullofdust at 11:06 AM on October 21, 2006


What I find interesting about all this is how quick so many responders are to assume said homeless guy was actually guilty of rape without even considering the potential that he wasn't, and then using that assumption to justify murder. Also interesting is how many believe homeless people don't have relatives. Unless the guy was created whole cloth by god and dropped on the planet, he's got relatives somewhere. Everyone has relatives, even homeless guys.

At any rate, I feel the question smells of a hoax, but it is fascinating to see inside the Mefi mind.
posted by Orb at 11:12 AM on October 21, 2006


Dear AskMetaFilter: I was out on a date last night. We drove into the woods and were, you know, getting intimate when we heard a scrabbling noise and got scared and drove back to the city as fast as we could. When we got out of the car we found a bloody hook still dangling from the doorhandle! Do I have a moral obligation to report this incident to the police??

I certainly hope the question was a troll; if so it was a brilliant one. If not, the poster is... not very sensible, and many of the answers were morally repellent. It amazes me that people can think "Oh, that poor boy, just because he murdered somebody doesn't mean he deserves to go through a nasty, unpleasant trial and a few years in prison!" and even more that people can think it's OK for a minister to cover up a crime because, hey, he's a minister. I'm the annoying atheist who's always going into religion-bashing threads and telling people to stop bashing religion, but this is exactly the kind of thing that makes me want to grab a pickaxe from Dawkins and start bashin'. Like Sparx said:

Arguments from religion must always lose.
posted by languagehat at 11:19 AM on October 21, 2006


The question was "what is my legal obligation?"

Most of the answers did not address this and should be deleted as derails.

One can infer that the poster and murderer are in the USA, but not which state. Therefore answers discussing US Federal law are relevant, as would be a state-by-state discussion of reporting obligations. Anything else is guesswork and should be deleted as noise.

Answers saying: "Dude, you should have told us where you are." are also useful for future reference.

Any posts in the grey whining about heavyhanded moderation in the green should also be deleted.

A discussion about the morality of vigilante murders might be interesting (it wasn't in this case but maybe next time?) but should happen elsewhere so as not to completely swamp the thread with noise and deny the poster a much-needed answer to his question.
posted by nowonmai at 11:25 AM on October 21, 2006


When I ask a legal question I want a legal answer. Not a moral or religious one. I second nowonmai: "Most of the answers did not address this and should be deleted as derails." Furthermore I'd recommend to mathowie that he not let such things be posted in the future: legal questions like that can really only be answered by JDs, and no lawyer would post a legal answer to that question to Ask Metafilter. All I can see a lawyer posting as a lawyer is "You should ask a lawyer."
posted by davy at 11:32 AM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


It amazes me that people can think ...

Yes, it's amazing to learn that some people think differently than you. Keep in mind that you could take the religious angle right out of the picture, and it would still be a controversial question.
posted by sfenders at 11:34 AM on October 21, 2006


The question was not strictly legal. It was also "any insight or guidance?" Besides which, the legal question seems pretty trivial -- maybe there are some exceptions, but in most places I think it's clear that there's no legal obligation to report a past crime that you heard about.
posted by sfenders at 11:38 AM on October 21, 2006


Boy, I'm glad this thread is here to drain off some of the pus from the one in the green. I'd have spilled some pus there myself after reading things like:

I see absolutely no fundamental moral difference between killing a person and killing a fly.

As for your condescending response, sfenders, I'm very well aware that "some people think differently." But just as I'm aware of the world's beauty but am still capable of being struck dumb by a glorious sunset, I can still feel choked rage at the kind of moral imbecility on display in that thread.
posted by languagehat at 11:44 AM on October 21, 2006


sfender said "[I]n most places I think it's clear that there's no legal obligation to report a past crime that you heard about." Is that your professional legal advice as a professional lawyer?

And hey, to me something that might get somebody sent to prison to be gangraped to death hardly sounds "trivial".
posted by davy at 11:44 AM on October 21, 2006


So where does the line end if Matt supposedly should break anonymous identity to the authorities? Are we suppose to rat Matt out, or if we tell the story to a friend are they obligated to rat us out... This seems like a lot of worry for a situation that is dubious at best.
I was a question we can not answer, and may not even be a legit question. IIRC #1 has talked about talking to a lawyer in the past regarding issues related to MetaUniverse, this may be another time to have a talk, as personally I wouldn't trust the entirety of this community to not go and complain to authorities about hiding the identity of someone who might know the identity of someone who may have killed someone over a decade ago.
posted by edgeways at 11:45 AM on October 21, 2006


languagehat: yeah I had to skip over that comment when reading the thread in question. I doubt it is put into practice, but generalizations like that just make the poster seem absurd.
posted by edgeways at 11:48 AM on October 21, 2006


languagehat, what do you feel about the kind of LEGAL imbecility on display in that thread? When you ask a question about baseball do you want an answer about painting?
posted by davy at 11:48 AM on October 21, 2006


Is that your professional legal advice as a professional lawyer?

Nope. Which is why I didn't post it in the AskMe thread. Feel free to prove me wrong.
posted by sfenders at 11:49 AM on October 21, 2006


pracowity, how do you KNOW "the killer isn't likely to kill again"? Assuming there is a killer in the first place, of course.

So sfenders, are you a lawyer or at least a JD?
posted by davy at 11:52 AM on October 21, 2006


People who don't have any idea what they're talking about, who don't even understand a simple question ("What is my LEGAL obligation?"), spout a lot of empty bullshit about life-or-death issues. I love this here Disinfobahn.
posted by davy at 11:55 AM on October 21, 2006


languagehat, I felt the same way initially. Except I was struck dumb by the idea that people could believe that it was right to report to the authorities, when it wouldn't do anybody any actual good, just serve an abstract principle of morality, something that was confessed in confidence. But after reading that thread and thinking about it, now my incredulity is raised instead by those who've read the many arguments for and against and still think that the right thing to do is obvious.
posted by sfenders at 12:00 PM on October 21, 2006


I'm not a lawyer, davy. I seem to recall that you are, which explains your point of view well enough for me.
posted by sfenders at 12:03 PM on October 21, 2006



'I AM NOT A LAWYER,'
as I said twice in my on-topic answer. Perhaps you've got me confused with another Mefite whose four-character nickname begins with "d"?

All I'm saying anyway is that the obvious answer to a LEGAL question is "ASK A LAWYER."
posted by davy at 12:13 PM on October 21, 2006


languagehat, what do you feel about the kind of LEGAL imbecility on display in that thread?

I'm not fond of that either.

I seem to recall that you are

Uh, his latest comment in the green begins: I AM NOT A LAWYER.
posted by languagehat at 12:14 PM on October 21, 2006


As for my POV on that AskMe thing, sfenders, I have not yet given it. Would you like me to?

In the Green I simply told anonymous (and the FBI, presumably) how I'd get a legal answer to such a legal question -- from a lawyer.
posted by davy at 12:16 PM on October 21, 2006


"I simply told anonymous (and the FBI, presumably)"

Long Live The Illuminati! Hail Eris! Hail Discordia! Immanentize the bloody eschaton already, you twits!
posted by davy at 12:20 PM on October 21, 2006


Ah yes, sorry, four letters, starts with a d. Oh well.

Yes, "ASK A LAWYER" is the only good legal advice I saw over there in the green.
posted by sfenders at 12:29 PM on October 21, 2006


I testified in a rape case one where the defendant was a patient at the treatment center I worked at. At that time (late 80's) we could have invoked the therapist-client privilege but were advised against it. Why? A court order. When I testified, I was coached to only answer questions related directly to the alleged offense and nothing else. Yes, there is a lot of precedent for this and similar scenarios (murder, child abuse) but the simple fact remains that it must be reported if you are in a helping profession.

We can talk about gray area all day here, but in relation to the question asked, this person has first-hand knowledge of a murder. He needs to report it. Period.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, IANAL and I've only seen this from the other side so feel free to discount my comment but it stands.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:30 PM on October 21, 2006


Ooh, I just had a though. What if Anonymous is actually Matt himself? Maybe he's just fucking with us. Using us for some sort of sick twisted psychological experiment. Or some really convoluted practical joke for Halloween.

I bet next week we see a post like:

Ten years ago I was homeless. I used to hang out with these two kids who seemed pretty nice, but one day the girl came on to me. Because of our age differences I didn't think it would be appropriate to act (I was homeless, not moral-less). So I let her down gently, hoping we could still be friends. Anyhow about a week later her boyfriend showed up and for no reason started to beat the hell out of me! Unfortunately for me, he was really angry and long story short, he killed me.

He buried me in a shallow grave in a field and I figured that would be the end of it. As luck would have it, that wasn't the case. I'm not sure if it was because of the radioactive material buried nearby or that it was an old Indian burial ground, but I soon found myself remarkably able to dig my way out of the grave.

Since then, things haven't changed too much, I'm still homeless, but that's not so bad anymore. Sure I constantly hunger for human brains and have lost the capacity to speak (I moan pretty well though) but on the plus side, I'm pretty much indestructible. As an added bonus, whenever I get hungry and have a nip at one of the other homeless people around me, they seem to get sick for a while, but when they get better they are just like me! My question is this, should I pay a visit to these kids and thank them for the interesting changes they brought about in my life?


I can almost hear Matt and Jess snickering at us.
posted by quin at 12:49 PM on October 21, 2006 [4 favorites]


Thought. I had a thought, not a though
posted by quin at 12:50 PM on October 21, 2006


o noes we are all complicit now


i told u i was hardcore.
posted by exlotuseater at 1:01 PM on October 21, 2006


o noes we are all complicit now

i told u i was hardcore.


Goddamnit I just lost the game again.
posted by loquacious at 1:07 PM on October 21, 2006


""what is my legal obligation?" was not thre only question the poster asked. He also wrote "So, Mefites: any insight or guidance? Call the DA's office or forget about it, or something else?," which is a question that asks for more than his legal obligation. He asks for "insight and guidance," as well as a third alternative to alerting/not alerting the authorities, so I don't see any way his whole question can be interpreted as just asking about his legal obligation.

Furthermore, while I certainly wouldn't rule out the possibility of the post being a hoax, it's certainly reasonably possible the post is real, and I don't see how debating whether it is a hoax - especially when no one can say say for sure- on askmefi comes close to being appropriate on askmefi. (Here, obviously, it's appropriate)
posted by spira at 1:33 PM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Meta-meta-question -- why did so many people call it "premeditated murder" when, in the story told by the OP, it clearly wasn't?

Is it just a phrase people trot out without thinking about it? Do they really not know the meaning? It's not a very hard word to parse.

Also, why do they assume that if the guy came forward, he'd automatically get a ten year sentence? Surely if somene comes forward after many years and voluntarily confesses to a crime-of-passion murder with no witnesses and no evidence, the DA or whoever will just plea-bargain him six months in a non-scary prison and probation?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:41 PM on October 21, 2006


Exactly what spira says. The OP explicitly does not limit their question to legal matters and the lawyers suggesting that only lawyers answer in a narrow legal framework clearly have not read the question -- which you know, might be a module of Law School 101 (reading comprehension; don't jump to conclusions; listen).

On the other hand, trying to make an issue appear ONLY answerable by lawyers is, in fact, advanced Legal Business Practices 401.

Which makes me look forward to the day non-archaeologists, say, answering archaeological questions, are shouted down by the lawyers. "I am an archaeologist, but I am not YOUR archaeologist, and this is NOT archaeological advice: Atlantis is a myth."
posted by Rumple at 1:43 PM on October 21, 2006


KevinSkomsvold, you've been making pronouncements in this thread that are just unbelievable in the reckless ignorance they display.

Here, you say:

Yes the disclosure laws do vary from state to state but only with regards to how it is reported.... Most states you are required to report it.

You said you're not a lawyer; but you're lecturing people on what "most states" require?

Then you say:

... the simple fact remains that it must be reported if you are in a helping profession.

We can talk about gray area all day here, but in relation to the question asked, this person has first-hand knowledge of a murder. He needs to report it. Period.



Period!?!?! What the fuck, dude? You're not a lawyer, you don't even know where Anonymous (assuming he is real) lives, and yet you're comfortable laying out unconditional statements about what he must do?

As a broad statement about U.S. law in general, it cannot be said that an event that happened ten years ago "must be reported if you are in a helping profession."

KevinSkomsvold, since you are comfortable making these statements, you must have some authority for them. Please post your authority, so those of us who disagree with you can either be educated out of our ignorance, or so that we can point out that your claimed authorities do not support the statements you have made. You could cause real harm with the assertions you have made in this thread.
posted by jayder at 1:44 PM on October 21, 2006


his authority descends from his telecaster, bitch!
posted by quonsar at 2:18 PM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Yes, because arguing from authority is like the best thing ever. Nobody should bother to back up their statements here, only justify them by declaring to as all that “I'm totally a lawyer/therapist” and then we can take in all of what they say as gospel truth. Authority man, it's where it's at.
posted by blasdelf at 2:30 PM on October 21, 2006


Who the heck are you to say whether or not people should back up their statements?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:33 PM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


The OP explicitly does not limit their question to legal matters

I don't see where you're getting that. I see the opposite:

What is my legal obligation: to report the crime to the authorities, or to maintain the confidentiality of the confession? This is not hypothetical. The details: [details follow] So, Mefites: any insight or guidance? Call the DA's office or forget about it, or something else?

How do you read that as explicitly asking more than a legal question?
posted by brain_drain at 2:53 PM on October 21, 2006


As an aside, for those who are incredulous at the idea that the OP would be untrained, don't be. My brother-in-law has been a pastor at his evangelical protestant church and has had little or no training. Many evangelical independent churches just get run out of someone's home or from a local community centre, with leadership shared among a group of volunteers.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:56 PM on October 21, 2006


Using us for some sort of sick twisted psychological experiment.

*presses lever, waits for drop of sugar wa... zzzzt!*
posted by shoesfullofdust at 2:57 PM on October 21, 2006


Lyle and Erik Menendez's brutal slaying of their parents in 1989 came to light after their therapist, Dr. L. Jerome Oziel, went to authorities. And according to your own link, Oziel went to authorities because "the brothers threatened his life, thus justifying his disclosure." I think we can agree that's not the case here.

why did so many people call it "premeditated murder"?

Look at the timeline again:
1. Alleged rape. (Presumably homeless guy leaves afterwards.)
2. Girl calls her boyfriend.
3. Boyfriend goes to seek out homeless guy.
4. Boyfriend kills homeless guy.

If the boyfriend had been standing there when it happened, and had freaked out and killed the homeless guy immediately, that would be unpremeditated. This looks premeditated. Prosecution is certainly going to be trying hard to show that boyfriend was planning murder while he was looking for the homeless guy; in that case, it would be premeditated.
posted by booksandlibretti at 3:25 PM on October 21, 2006


"This looks premeditated. Prosecution is certainly going to be trying hard to show that boyfriend was planning murder while he was looking for the homeless guy; in that case, it would be premeditated."

Yes, the prosecution would try to make that case, but doing so would rely upon the addition of more information than has been presented to us. On the basis of what we've been told, no, it does not "look" like premeditated murder. On the basis of what we've been told, this was a spontaneous crime of passion. It may not actually have been, and the prosecution would likely try to prove so, but that is a far different thing than a simple accurate description of the murder as it has been described. As it has been described, it is not "premeditated".

Languagehat, you seem to be, like others, rejecting the idea of confessional privilege on the basis of a rejection of its theist association. However, as we can see from examples of therapist confidential privilege, this idea has a basis independent of theism. So rejecting it entirely on only the basis of anti-theism is a fallacy. A non-theist analysis of the matter might be, for example, a utilitarian one and I think an argument can be made either way. I'm inclined to think that limited and carefully considered spheres of legally protected confidentiality have substantial social utility.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:36 PM on October 21, 2006


I just realized, I was making a point about my disbelief about a clergyman coming to AskMe, but then I thought "I'm ordained, and I'm 'untrained'".

So I guess that some of us are just more ambiguous as to what our duties are.

This way, when I come to y'all later with a question about some dubious happening, you can't say jack.

Caveat lector: I am ordained in the ULC, so you might want to take that with a block of salt.
posted by exlotuseater at 3:40 PM on October 21, 2006


"What is my legal obligation: to report the crime to the authorities, or to maintain the confidentiality of the confession? This is not hypothetical. The details: [details follow] So, Mefites: any insight or guidance? Call the DA's office or forget about it, or something else?"

I'm with brain_drain: I see it as a legal question, and the part asking for "any insight or guidence" as asking for insight or guidence[sic] on the legal question.

As for "arguing from authority", who would you rather ask for LEGAL advice, a LAWYER or a cabdriver? A graduate of LAW SCHOOL or a guy with a dog grooming certificate? This question asked for advice on a particular subject, i.e. LEGAL advice about one's LEGAL obligation; I'd think it best to ask somebody who might at least UNDERSTAND THE QUESTION, not a lot of nitwit blog-denizens who are in a hurry to give a murderer a medal. If anyone would risk one's freedom or even life on the advice of anybody but an expert, that's your stupid problem.

Another thing that bugs me: suppose everything about the story is true except the girlfriend LIED? Suppose she did it with "Roy" willingly and was afraid she'd get caught cheating? (Remember, the story itself concerns a hothead killing SOMEBODY.) Or suppose there was never any sexual and/or rape contact at all, suppose literally NOTHING happened and she made it all up? I would not hesitate to kill someone I caught in the act of raping a loved one with my own two eyes, but I'd want more evidence than just "Sniff sniff Roy uh RAPED me really I swear!"

And actually, Bligh's making sense about one thing: I don't know the law, but as a layperson I don't see why a clerical counselor should involve less "privilege" than a "psychotherapist" with a Masters in Social Work.

But I disagree that this hypothetical killing was not premeditated; the hothead had to know killing was at least a possibility or he would not have gone near "Roy". I mean seriously, would YOU want to have "just a peaceful chat" with someone YOU thought raped your Loved One?
posted by davy at 3:43 PM on October 21, 2006


blasdelf: maybe you're kidding, but in case you aren't ... I know a demand for authority isn't cool, but when someone (like KevinSkomsvold) makes pronouncements concerning what the law is, there must be, if their pronouncements are true, some, yes, authority supporting his statements. Otherwise, he's just pulling it out of his ass. I'd love a citation to statutes or caselaw, but heck, I'd be happy to just see a treatise supporting what non-lawyer KevinSkomsvold says "most states" require.
posted by jayder at 3:48 PM on October 21, 2006


braindrain: see spira's post

What is my legal obligation: to report the crime to the authorities, or to maintain the confidentiality of the confession? This is not hypothetical. The details: [details follow] So, Mefites: any insight or guidance? Call the DA's office or forget about it, or something else?

How do you read that as explicitly asking more than a legal question?


And how do you see that as reading the whole question? Read paragraph three. It seems clear, as spira notes, the OP is explicitly asking for both legal advice as well as insight and guidance. Maybe it is how we parse the syntax differently.

In the end, it doesn't really matter, since the whole thing is a wind-up.
posted by Rumple at 4:14 PM on October 21, 2006


I don't know the law, but as a layperson I don't see why a clerical counselor should involve less "privilege" than a "psychotherapist"

Fine, but of course that has absolutely nothing to do with the question. Laws regarding the privelege of the clergy and so on have absolutely nothing to do with the question as posed. They do not prohibit clergy from breaching those traditions, they prohibit the courts, in some cases, from demanding or admitting evidence that's protected by them.
posted by sfenders at 4:19 PM on October 21, 2006


Laws regarding the privelege of the clergy and so on have absolutely nothing to do with the question as posed.

Not true. If the laws of the state where Anonymous had this encounter, or the law of the state where the alleged killing occurred, do establish a confessor-penitent privilege, this then this fact certainly does bear on the legal obligations of Anonymous.

They do not prohibit clergy from breaching those traditions, they prohibit the courts, in some cases, from demanding or admitting evidence that's protected by them.

Such laws may not explicitly prohibit clergy from disclosing secret told them by a penitent, but, by enshrining in law an expectation that penitential confidences will be kept confidential, they encourage clergy to abide by that expectation. The privilege belongs to the penitent, not the clergy member, so the evidentiary exclusion ensures that, if an indiscreet clergy member does reveal a confidence, it still cannot be admitted at trial.
posted by jayder at 4:34 PM on October 21, 2006


jayder: "KevinSkomsvold, you've been making pronouncements in this thread that are just unbelievable in the reckless ignorance they display.

KevinSkomsvold, since you are comfortable making these statements, you must have some authority for them. Please post your authority, so those of us who disagree with you can either be educated out of our ignorance, or so that we can point out that your claimed authorities do not support the statements you have made. You could cause real harm with the assertions you have made in this thread.
"

My "authority" stems from working in the drug addiction field for 10 years and having this exact type of shit drilled into my head in college and in the workplace. Confidentiality issues are of the utmost importance in this profession BUT we all damn well knew that if someone confessed a murder or sexual assault, we'd better be prepared to report it or face the consequences. Most states, from my recollection, all have very similar laws with different shades of gray but the bottom line is if he doesn't report it, he's complicit.

So you're assertion that my statements are "reckless ignorance" is, quite frankly, a load of shit. Just because I haven't produced reams of legal documentation to back up my assertions doesn't mean I can't make them based on some type of experience. If that was a prerequisite to posting here then, well, this would be a stark place.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 4:43 PM on October 21, 2006


Thanks jayder, I am still curious about this. I don't see how that "bears on the legal obligations of Anonymous" in the given situation. Even if the intent of the law can be understood as encouraging clergy to abide by their traditions, rather than protecting those traditions as I'd have thought, surely that encouragement is not an obligation.
posted by sfenders at 4:44 PM on October 21, 2006


Languagehat, you seem to be, like others, rejecting the idea of confessional privilege on the basis of a rejection of its theist association.

Not exactly. Although I'm not happy with the exception carved out for priests in the confessional, I'm willing to live with it. But to extend it so that anyone walking up to anyone else with some kind of divinity certificate, minister, rabbi, guru, whatever, and saying "Hey, guess what, I killed somebody!"—to say that the hearer doesn't have to do anything about it because they've got that certificate, that seems to me pernicious nonsense.

What I really reject with utter loathing, though, is the idea that because the dead person is, after all, dead, and nothing we can do will benefit him or her, we should therefore expend our energy in worrying about the poor murderer and how bad they feel and how unfair it would be for them to have to go to court and take the risk of being locked up with bad people. That displays a moral obtuseness that really gets my goat. (Not directed at you, obviously, just venting.) If you don't like the prison system (and who does?), try to reform it, but the answer is not to let murderers walk free.
posted by languagehat at 5:07 PM on October 21, 2006


I have forwarded this thread to the Multnomah County (Portland, OR) District Attorney's office. Assuming the OP is on the level, he has firsthand knowledge of the identity of a murderer, and his (the OP's) identity is either known to Matt or can be determined from his server logs. This is more than a fun discussion on the internet. The authorities must be notified.

(Not really, but not so farfetched. Matt was foolish to allow this question on AskMe.)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:26 PM on October 21, 2006


So THIS is your basis for instructing Anonymous on what the law (no matter what the state is) obligates him to do, "Period":

My "authority" stems from working in the drug addiction field for 10 years and having this exact type of shit drilled into my head in college and in the workplace.

Thank you for clearing that up.

(This is a case study in why people should not bring their legal questions to Metafilter.)
posted by jayder at 5:32 PM on October 21, 2006


sfenders: I'm not sure what I said is inconsistent with your thought that the intent of privilege statutes is to protect those traditions.

I think we're splitting hairs at this point.
posted by jayder at 5:36 PM on October 21, 2006


languagehat, let me try again to explain. Someone says "Hey, guess what, I killed somebody!", and nobody in this country has the legal obligation to do anything about it, whether they have a church membership certificate or not. (That is, according to my still imperfect understanding of the relevant law. Exceptions may include teachers, social workers, doctors, etc. who are subject to one of those mandatory reporting laws that KevinSkomsvold is presumably thinking of, but none of those that I can find have anything to do with murder confessions to clergy.)

If the hearer of the confession has reason to actually believe the murder took place, then there's some moral obligation to do something, but what exactly that something is will differ according to the circumstances, and with the moral beliefs of the hearer. The relevant circumstance here is that the confession was very likely given with the strong expectation of confidentiality. If I'd given a casual promise of confidentiality, a confession of murder would be enough to induce me break it if I thought that doing so would be of some benefit to society, humanity, or anybody. It's not clear to me whether in this case it would. If I'd given some kind of solemn vow instead (not that our questioner here has), it'd be that much harder to break.

All this to explain that my instinct not to report a crime confessed in confidence has nothing to do with whether or not I give a shit about the "poor murderer." (Although we all probably should, and what's best for him may well be going to prison for all I know.) It's just that I'm not big on vengeance, and take somewhat seriously my moral obligation to not betray a confidence.
posted by sfenders at 5:47 PM on October 21, 2006


On the basis of what we've been told, no, it does not "look" like premeditated murder.

When the guy got in the car to look for the homeless guy, what did he think he was going to do when he found him? Sit down and have a chat? Just rough him up a little?

I would assume when the guy was looking for the homeless guy, he was thinking about killing him, so it does "look like" premeditated murder to me (in the absence of other facts). Of course it hasn't been established, but as it was described, it seems premeditated (to me).

A truly spontaneous (unpremeditated) murder, a crime of passion, would have occurred if the guy had walked in, discovered them having sex, and killed the homeless guy right then. On the contrary, this guy had some time to cool down and think about what he was planning to do -- not long (only while he was searching for the homeless guy), but you don't have to have thought for long for it to count as premeditated.
posted by booksandlibretti at 6:12 PM on October 21, 2006


sfenders, one more thing.

You say that confessor-penitent privilege has no bearing upon the legal obligations that Anonymous inquired about.

But as long as we've got people here asserting that Anonymous is required to report the murder confession (the link is to a comment where I summarize KevinSkomsvold's confident statements of the law of "most states," based on some "shit" he heard in college and the workplace), the confessor-penitent privilege does bear upon the question, because the confessor-penitent privilege is pretty much inconsistent with an assertion that the law requires that Anonymous to report the confession to the authorities.
posted by jayder at 6:16 PM on October 21, 2006


jayder: "So THIS is your basis for instructing Anonymous on what the law (no matter what the state is) obligates him to do, "Period":

Thank you for clearing that up.

(This is a case study in why people should not bring their legal questions to Metafilter.)
"

Well sure; people should not but they do. I hate to break that to you. This exposes them to varying opinions on given issues. What is the problem here again?
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:16 PM on October 21, 2006


On second thought, and after previewing your last comment, don't bother to answer since it's pretty clear where you're at. I'd love to sit and compare eDicks all night but have neither the time nor the inclination.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:23 PM on October 21, 2006


"I would assume when the guy was looking for the homeless guy..."

Again, based only upon what we've been told, this was not a premeditated murder. The clue is in your use of the word "assume". You are assuming something about his state of mind that we do not know. If you want to qualify your belief about this with something like "my suspicion is that this was a premeditated murder" then by all means, do so. But you can't assert that what we've been told about this murder makes it premeditated because there is no premeditation present in what we've been told.

It isn't necessary for me to try to argue what else the murderer might have been intending any more than a counter-argument that what is "obvious" to me (just as it is obvious to you) is that the murdered intended to only talk to the victim. I don't actually believe that, but surely you see my point. There are other possible subtextual readings of what has been presented to us plainly than yours and thus the argument that your subtextual reading is definitive and therefore indicates premeditation is fallacious. Anyway, again, even though it's not necessary, I'll say that I can easily imagine that most people would likely go see an alleged rapist without a clear intent of murder. We bandy the words "murder" and "killing" about pretty easily, but my own sense is that really having intent is more uncommon than our casual use of the words indicate. It's very likely that the murderer had some vaguely formed intent to commit violence, but that is not by itself murderous premeditation.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:24 PM on October 21, 2006


The problem is quite simple: you are not a lawyer, but you are giving unconditional legal advice based on some "shit" you heard in the workplace and college.

It would be like somebody coming to Metafilter, explaining a few symptoms, and me giving them a confident diagnosis -- "face it, you have cancer. Period." -- based on some shit I heard.
posted by jayder at 6:25 PM on October 21, 2006


jayder, yes, that's similar to what I was just thinking; that this privilege could easily conflict with one of those mandatory reporting laws (for child abuse, etc) that do exist. I'd be surprised if there weren't some state in which those laws contradict each other.
posted by sfenders at 6:26 PM on October 21, 2006


Matt was foolish to allow this question on AskMe.

No, not really.

"Officer! Officer! An anonymous person posted a story on the internet about how another person told them that they killed an anonymous person and buried them in an undisclosed location! Come quick!"
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:29 PM on October 21, 2006


KevinSkomsvold: I'm not trying to compare dicks. I'm saying you shouldn't be giving people legal advice, as if you are absolutely certain of what the law is, based on shit you heard. Believe me, I am not trying to be an asshole, and maybe you even meant well with your advice. But you made the statements with an assertion of authority that was, as far as I can tell, completely unmerited, and could even be dangerous if Anonymous were to believe and act upon your advice based on your proclamations of your own expertise.
posted by jayder at 6:30 PM on October 21, 2006


jayder: "The problem is quite simple: you are not a lawyer, but you are giving unconditional legal advice based on some "shit" you heard in the workplace and college."

Well since you have no email in your profile....

Stuff I heard in the workplace? Huh? I've testified in court, learned the laws as they apply to therapy practice in Minnesota and Colorado and the clients I served. What part of that did you miss? Feel free though, to cherry-pick my previous statements to justify your smug assertions.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:39 PM on October 21, 2006


You're missing/ignoring the point -- a subpeona might easily result in these peoples' identification. Matt's betting no prosecutor would be interested. I'm not so sure.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:40 PM on October 21, 2006


I've testified in court, learned the laws ... ah, well then perhaps you'd be so kind as to dig up a link to the legal code in question?
posted by sfenders at 6:43 PM on October 21, 2006


Ok, jayder. My email is in my profile. Rather than my getting all lathered up here, we can take it there if you like. Believe me, I'm not trying to be an ass either but this is an area I do know well, granted, only from a practitioner point of view. Sheesh, I'm trigger happy tonight..apologies..
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:44 PM on October 21, 2006


Optimus Chyme hasn't presented his reasoning. One guess as to his reasoning is that he denies any principled sort of confidentiality, asserts as paramount the rule of law, and allows only client-lawyer confidentiality as a simple practical matter.

Right, but it would make sense if he said all people, including lawyers and spouses should be compelled to tell, but he makes exceptions for those people. Why not ministers? It doesn't make any sense to me, and seems a little too convenient (why, it's basically what the law says now!). Laws our written by compromise between groups of unequal power, and may not be logically or morally coherent at all.

The question smells like it's too carefully packaged. A designed dilema. Made for TV movie pitch or first-year law-school hypothetical? Probably what quonsar said.

Stuff like that does happen in the real world.

When the guy got in the car to look for the homeless guy, what did he think he was going to do when he found him? Sit down and have a chat? Just rough him up a little?

Maybe, or maybe he didn't know what he was going to do. I think the DA would actually have to prove premeditation. It may be that he really only wanted to yell at or confront the guy, but when he saw him, he was overwhelmed. That's how I read it, I didn't read it as the guy went out specifically to kill him, which would make a huge difference.

As far as mandatory reporting, do you people believe that if you see a friend of yours smoke pot; you're required to report it? Why would murder be different? Mandatory reporting is only required for a few specific professions, and ultimately you don't even have to cooperate with police or anyone unless you're subpoenaed and deposed, or on the stand.

Metafilter: THEY WILL SHOOT TINY DOGS WITHOUT REMORSE.
posted by delmoi at 7:13 PM on October 21, 2006


Most discussion ever on an obviously bogus question.
posted by beagle at 7:27 PM on October 21, 2006


Wow. What a great thread.

If it's real, I think they got even more than they could've hoped for: a lot of really interesting positions on the morality and legality of such a situation.

If it's not, ditto. The reactions there are damned interesting. It made a crappy joke, since there's no trolling or screaming or anything.

In fact, if this is a fake question, there should be more. And if it's real, I think MeFi performed superbly.
posted by koeselitz at 7:30 PM on October 21, 2006


"I Hate It When That Happens..." - Law & Ethics For Social Workers

Huh, that's interesting. According to this apparently recent and APA-approved overview of US laws and NASW/CSWF ethics, not only are therapists not required to report this sort of thing to law enforcement, they're not often permitted to. Even if a patient says he's off to commit some violent criminal acts right now, a therapist doesn't always have to disclose it, though they're encouraged to seek confidential consultation with experts and lawyers.
posted by sfenders at 7:35 PM on October 21, 2006


My "authority" stems from working in the drug addiction field for 10 years

yeah, that and the telecaster, bitch!
posted by quonsar at 7:47 PM on October 21, 2006


As a data-point worth as little as KevinSkomsvold's but in opposition to his, my own experience in New Mexico as a rape-crisis advocate 16 years ago was that we were not legally obligated to report any crimes we were told of by a client with the exception of any crimes against children, which we were required to report. Obviously, of primary concern for us were unreported rapes, but crimes against children also feature prominently at rape crisis centers. However, jurisdictions differ and I cannot see how KevinSkomsvold can make such wide-ranging assertions, particularly when they contradict what has been posted in this thread by the attorneys who undeniably have more authority than KevinSkomsvold on this question.

Oh, also my previous SO was a long-time licensed LCDC (drug and alcohol abuse counselor), both in the private sector and working with the criminal justice system, and IIRC she (in Texas) was not under a requirement to report most crimes told to her by a client. But that's second-hand and from my fallible memory, so pay it little mind.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:51 PM on October 21, 2006


quonsar: "My "authority" stems from working in the drug addiction field for 10 years

yeah, that and the telecaster, bitch!
"

Heh, heh. My twang is an unstoppable force!

P.S., Q - Our band will be in Otsego next weekend. My invitation still stands.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:54 PM on October 21, 2006


"this person has first-hand knowledge of a murder"

No, anonymous has no first-hand knowledge. It's first-hand knowledge if YOU do it (or have it done to you, hardly possible in a successful murder) or if you yourself see it done. Something somebody tells you happened 10 years ago is NOT first-hand knowledge, it's a second-hand rumor.

E.g., I killed JFK! Me! It was ME on that grassy knoll! Or rather my Astral Self, as my physical self was less than 9 months old at the time and 2000 miles away to boot, but I tellya it was ME that did it not that patsy Oswald! I did it with BRAIN WAVES! So take THAT to the FBI why dontcha. Hurry up, ALL y'all Mefites better report this here CONFESSION OF MURDER right away!
posted by davy at 7:55 PM on October 21, 2006


I killed JFK! Me! It was ME on that grassy knoll!

davy -- you're so fucked ... just like the kid in Wisconsin who posted the NFL Stadium dirty bomb threat this week!
posted by ericb at 7:59 PM on October 21, 2006


Oh no eb! Now y'all should report your first-hand knowledge of my illegal hoax! It's a crime to falsely report that my 8.75 MONTH old self committed a murder, n'est-ce pas?
posted by davy at 8:06 PM on October 21, 2006


davy: ""this person has first-hand knowledge of a murder"

No, anonymous has no first-hand knowledge. It's first-hand knowledge if YOU do it (or have it done to you, hardly possible in a successful murder) or if you yourself see it done. Something somebody tells you happened 10 years ago is NOT first-hand knowledge, it's a second-hand rumor.
"

I stand corrected.

So *sniff-sniff* you mean the Warren Commision report was all wrong?
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:06 PM on October 21, 2006


davy -- on November 22, 1963 were you (as a 8.75 month old self) in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, TX? ;-)

If so, you have some " 'esplainin' to do."
posted by ericb at 8:20 PM on October 21, 2006


*drunkenly checks in*

Should folks who get certified as clergy as a joke over the internet get client confidentiality exemptions in cases like this? If so, how is that not idiotic? If not, how do we tell which clergy get the exemption and which don't?

There are state licensing requirements for therapists.
posted by mediareport at 8:21 PM on October 21, 2006


Now, I realize that it may be slightly different in the Protestant church, but I find it hard to believe that Protestant ministers are not entrusted with very incriminating confessions in the course of their ministry to spiritually troubled people.

Do you realize that "protestants" are generally any non-Catholic Christians? Many ministers and pastors have very little formal training. Most don't go to "non-denominational seminary." They're just as likely to go to non-accredited bible colleges. There are a lot of churches that aren't affiliated with any other churches. They just have a minister and a congregation, and that's it. It's not like there's some certifying body for pastors in the U.S.

IANL, but doesn't this legally obligate matt to call the police? Information regarding murder and all that.

Someone from the internet told you that s/he knows someone who told them that they killed a murderer. You didn't record who this person was. Now you're obligated to call the police? Which police? The local police? County police? State police? FBI? Some other agency? Not only do you know what state the poster is in, you also don't know what state the crime allegedly occurred in. I know if I got that call as a cop, I'd be thrilled. It would definitely be my top priority.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:27 PM on October 21, 2006


. . . certified as clergy as a joke . . .

HEY! It wasn't a joke. It was for the parking privileges. And for the ability to officiate marriages.
posted by exlotuseater at 8:27 PM on October 21, 2006


I too call bullshit.
posted by furtive at 8:45 PM on October 21, 2006


Needs more elephant piss.
posted by flabdablet at 8:49 PM on October 21, 2006


This looks premeditated. Prosecution is certainly going to be trying hard to show that boyfriend was planning murder while he was looking for the homeless guy; in that case, it would be premeditated.
...
A truly spontaneous (unpremeditated) murder, a crime of passion, would have occurred if the guy had walked in, discovered them having sex, and killed the homeless guy right then. On the contrary, this guy had some time to cool down and think about what he was planning to do -- not long (only while he was searching for the homeless guy), but you don't have to have thought for long for it to count as premeditated.

booksandlibretti: Premeditation is a strange beast, what looks to one person like a reasoning process which leads to the killing of a person could look to another person as an act of a person whose mind is not under the sway of reason. I think Ethereal Bligh has done a good job at showing you that there isn't one absolute interpretation of the events as we know them.

I don't want to beat you over the head, and I know I'm a little late to the party, but here is my personal example of exactly this: I witnessed a murder and testified in the trial in which the defendant and victim had a heated argument, the defendant left the scene, walked home, removed a gun from a locked gun safe in his bedroom, loaded the gun, returned to the scene, shot the victim in the back killing him instantly, then fled the scene. All of this was admitted by the defendant on the witness stand. From what I saw when the crime was committed, and from the testimony that I saw after I was released as a witness, I had no doubt that this was a premeditated act and I did not believe that anyone could see it any other way. But the jury decided differently.

Considering all the evidence the jury found that the killing I witnessed not to be first or second degree murder but merely manslaughter: the taking of a life without willful, deliberate, and premeditated intent, like a hunting accident, a drunken brawl, or a heat-of-passion killing. There were other factors that the jury decided were more important than the events that I witnessed. I am still revolted at their awful and unfair decision, but in our justice system that decision is theirs to make.

So this is why asking legal advice on ask.metafilter is pointless. It does not matter whether you or I think that the killer in the minister's question acted with premeditation, it would be up to a jury to decide. It may only depend on something as arbitrary as the personality of the local PA. The justice system determines whether the act was premeditated, so there is no use for speculation here because an attorney can do it better.
posted by peeedro at 9:14 PM on October 21, 2006


I guess I've been arguing the premeditated-or-not point a little too much. I personally think that, assuming only the facts we have, it seems premeditated to me; I see how it could be spontaneous, although that seems much less likely to me -- but I have no stake in whether or not it was premeditated, and my opinion doesn't hinge on it at all.

I commented only because I wanted to respond to AmbroseChapel's comment (perhaps best paraphrased as "These silly little people must not know what the big word means"). I wanted to point out that the murder could legitimately be considered premeditated even by people who own dictionaries (or interwebs).
posted by booksandlibretti at 9:43 PM on October 21, 2006


"...that the murder could legitimately be considered premeditated even by people who own dictionaries (or interwebs)."

But it can't be if we're limited to what we've been told. There is a difference between characterizing an action simply as it's been reported and characterizing an action on the basis of additional supposition. You and I can have a difference of opinion as to what additional suppositions are reasonable and what resulting characerizations of the murder are accurate. I could claim that what "is most likely" and "makes sense" is that the murderer did not have murder in mind when he went to meet with the alleged rapist and therefore the murder was an act resulting from a momentary loss of control.

On the other hand, you and I cannot differ on what the bare account tells us. What the bare account tells us is a matter of simple fact. That bare account does not mention premeditation.

Those who object to the characterizations of the murder as "premeditated" are objecting to your confusing your own supposition with fact. You can correctly only apply the word "premeditation" to that account of this murder if the account includes premeditation (which it doesn't) or if you qualify your use as resulting from your supposition.

Perhaps this is a silly and trivial argument. But it seems to me to indicate an important confusion.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:54 PM on October 21, 2006


IndigoRain writes "I'm floored that the minister is asking MeFi and not God. Unless God told him to ask MeFi or something. Maybe God's testing AskMe."

I'm not a big fan of religion but I'm pretty sure most religious people don't actually "talk" to their god(s) on a regular basis. Claims of such chats are usually a pretty good sign of either a scam, a cult or metal impairment.

jayder writes "From my understanding --- partly based upon a conversation I had with a Catholic priest a few years ago --- those of us who have never been ministers would have difficulty fathoming the kind of shocking things they hear. In my casual conversation with this priest, he told me that there is absolutely nothing he could hear from a penitent that would shock him in the slightest. Now, I realize that it may be slightly different in the Protestant church, but I find it hard to believe that Protestant ministers are not entrusted with very incriminating confessions in the course of their ministry to spiritually troubled people. "

Could be he's new to the servant of god business. I know that there is little that users can do to surprise me now but ten years ago I lived a life of awe and wonder because of the wacky stuff I'd see users do.

sfenders writes "Except I was struck dumb by the idea that people could believe that it was right to report to the authorities, when it wouldn't do anybody any actual good, just serve an abstract principle of morality, something that was confessed in confidence."

Society generally and anyone who cared about the victim specifically would incur a good by the murderer being brought before a judge.

AmbroseChapel writes "why did so many people call it 'premeditated murder' when, in the story told by the OP, it clearly wasn't?"

I don't think it's clear one way or the other. The poster states: "He attacked and raped her. She called the confessor, a 6'8" jock, who found Roy and killed him in a fit of rage.". It could have taken Roy 5 minutes or 5 weeks to find the victim.
posted by Mitheral at 9:57 PM on October 21, 2006


I'm willing to agree we're both making suppositions; I assume the guy went out with murder on his mind, and you assume, I think, that he was anticipating some nebulous kind of confrontation, if anything (right?). I just have a very hard time believing that the guy either didn't think about what he'd do, or thought about what he'd do but didn't imagine murder.

assuming only the facts we have, it seems premeditated

I should have been clearer and said something like "working from only the facts we have." If we considered literally only the facts we have and used not a bit of critical thinking, I don't think we'd find premeditation unless the guy told someone his plans, or unless he brought the murder weapon (if there even was one) when he left. Even in the latter case, you could argue that it's possible the guy only meant to use the weapon to intimidate the homeless guy.

But all this is only valid if the poster's situation is accurate, and if the guy told the poster every last detail...and I'm going to assume that those conditions make this debate highly theoretical.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:09 PM on October 21, 2006


My position on anonymous' question.

(Or should I have posted that here and link to it in the Green? Would an admin please reverse things if I screwed that up?)

Anyway. Suppose it came out later that the girlfriend had in fact lied to the big jock and Homeless Roy was slaughtered for nothing. How would that affect anybody's opinion on this story?
posted by davy at 10:37 PM on October 21, 2006


b&l: Funny thing about the last line of AmbroseChapel's comment, in my totally unrelated case the sentence was 10 years, so for me that hit close to home and that's why I typed my experience into this box. I think the 10-year term has some basis in people's real-world expectations and that's why it took hold in the thread. But that ties into what Ethereal Bligh says, this discussion is mostly fueled by reading more into the question than what the question states.

Murder is a raw and disgusting event; I'm okay if we fill in some of the blanks (or deny that there can be blanks) so it makes more sense because the idea of murder really sticks in our craw. The two threads on this topic show how this issue is emotional, morally and intellectually confusing for us. Image how the minister and the "jock" feel about this.

b&l: those conditions make this debate highly theoretical.

I agree. However, if we assume that the original question was lacking in details of the events, this debate is still theoretical and still not very fruitful because we'd never figure it out that way either.
posted by peeedro at 11:15 PM on October 21, 2006


the simple fact remains that it must be reported if you are in a helping profession.

KSkomsvold may be thinking, in part, of "mandatory reporters" under state statutes, such as social workers, school workers, health care workers, law enforcement officers, etc. These laws do not typically apply to lawyers or clergy, so there is no conflict between the reporting statute and those privileges. (Doctors do not have it so easy; they are generally subject to both the privilege and the statute.) Also, it's my understanding that mandatory reporting statutes are usually limited to situations that would not apply here, such as a reason to believe that a child has been abused (like, recently).

The other situation KSkomsvold mentions is where there is a court order. A court order might result when a person receiving treatment asserts doctor-patient privilege or a right to privacy, but the judge finds that the right to discovery outweighs the privacy interest asserted. [Or, if one side subpoenas a witness to testify, and the other side fails to challenge the subpoena, that in effect becomes a "court order," but it doesn't mean that anyone has really figued out the merits of the questions of privilege and privacy.]

The problem with analogizing the medical example to attorney-client or clergy-penitant privilege is that those particular privileges only have a few narrow exceptions (e.g. imminent threat of harm or crime), while the medical stuff is usually a balancing test.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:44 PM on October 21, 2006


I'm a lawyer, and my legal analysis is that SOME OF YOU ARE LOONIES.
posted by norm at 12:40 AM on October 22, 2006


All this to explain that my instinct not to report a crime confessed in confidence has nothing to do with whether or not I give a shit about the "poor murderer." (Although we all probably should, and what's best for him may well be going to prison for all I know.) It's just that I'm not big on vengeance, and take somewhat seriously my moral obligation to not betray a confidence.

Having slept on it, I now think I was too dogmatic and expressed myself too harshly earlier (a constant hazard here on MeFi), and I probably left a false impression, coming off as a Javert type who wants all malefactors hunted down savagely and who is entirely lacking in human understanding and empathy. Not so! I can have empathy for murderers, and I feel sorry for anyone who has to endure our criminal "justice" system. My problem is not with people's empathy but with their refusal to engage their brain. Fine, the victim is 1) dead and can't be brought back, and furthermore he was (allegedly, and I still think the story is probably bullshit) 2) a bum with no one to mourn him or want vengeance for him. But generalizing 1 implies that murder should not be punished, and generalizing 2 implies that we should punish only those who kill well-connected victims—bums, elderly widows with no relatives, &c. are fair game. I don't think anyone wants to draw those conclusions, but if you accept that murderers must be punished no matter who they kill, even though the justice system is flawed, then I don't see how you can logically make an exception for this one. To say "I don't care about murderers in the abstract, but I've pictured this one because I read about him on MetaFilter so he seems like a fellow human being and I don't want him to get hurt" is the reasoning of a child. (To those who think there is "no fundamental moral difference between killing a person and killing a fly" I have nothing to say; I just hope they stay far away from me.)
posted by languagehat at 5:36 AM on October 22, 2006


Oh, and I still think it's nonsense that a normal person's obligation to report a crime vanishes because the person is wearing a dog collar.
posted by languagehat at 5:37 AM on October 22, 2006


murderers must be punished

There are various reasons for murder to be punished. Most important to me are: reinforcing the social consensus that it's wrong, preventing people from doing it again, allaying the urge to vengeance of the victim's friends, and deterring others from considering it. It seems possible that none of these might apply to this case, although it's hard to say.

There is also respect for the principle that the law should prevail everywhere and always. It is of course a requirement that the legal system should aim to follow that principle, but my duty to help it with that is limited. After all, the law itself says that I am not obligated to assist it in this way. That decision is left to each of us, and there is no fixed guideline as to when we should report a crime. Certainly we cannot reasonably report everything, when for example possession of marijuana is in some cases a felony. There's no prescribed list of what we're obliged to report that includes murder. Obviously most people, most of the time, will want to report information about a murder, but it is entirely within our rights to weigh the decision on the merits of whatever circumstances seem important, even when they are not important to the law.

The idea is not that this one should be excused from punishment. Some may have said that, but they're a small minority and that's not the main debate. It's just that the moral obligation to take affirmative action to help inflict that punishment has to be weighed against the cost of betraying someone's trust over a crime commited years ago, when they pose no immediate danger to self or other. I say yes, he should be punished, but no, it is not the minister's obligation, and perhaps not even his right, to take an active part in administering that punishment.

My feelings on the matter probably have something to do with the fact that most of my family is Catholic, so I'm quite used to the idea of the sanctity of confession.
posted by sfenders at 8:39 AM on October 22, 2006


Should folks who get certified as clergy as a joke over the internet get client confidentiality exemptions in cases like this? If so, how is that not idiotic? If not, how do we tell which clergy get the exemption and which don't?

Dude, you're totally ragging on my universal life church ministry. My friends how have carte blanche to commit bad deeds and I don't have to testify against them!

They get it off their chest, I get the sweet satisfaction of God's love, HOW IS THAT WRONG?!!?
posted by dflemingdotorg at 8:47 AM on October 22, 2006


When I put on my dog collar, my only obligations are to Svetlana
posted by Flashman at 8:49 AM on October 22, 2006


I say yes, he should be punished, but no, it is not the minister's obligation

OK, I can buy that, as long as we're not saying it's the dog collar that exempts the minister but rather the universal human right to decide one's own course of action based on one's own morality.
posted by languagehat at 10:01 AM on October 22, 2006


I still think the idea that some people are "safe harbors" for confessions is a socially useful idea and while I'm not thrilled that some/most of the people so designated are so merely by virtue of being theist authorities, I'm not that upset by it, either. Actually, it makes more than a little sense to me because the rationale is that a higher power exists and that these people can be assumed to serve that higher power. Not to mention the assumption that a culture's morality is expected to be mostly in alignment with its dominant religious morality and thus the clergy will be expected to serve the purposes of that morality in their own way.

But, also, I'm surprised at your intolerance of this, languagehat, because I thought you and I were largely in agreement in our sort of tolerance for the theist worldview. The above rationale for the confessional role of clergy in a society that nevertheless highly respects the rule of law is a pretty convincing rationale, assuming the theist assumption, which most people do. There are a number of expressions of theism (a great number, actually) I find absurd and worth protesting, but this isn't one of them. Are you sure you're not reacting on instinct and not giving this the serious, generous thought that the subject deserves?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:47 AM on October 22, 2006


I thought you and I were largely in agreement in our sort of tolerance for the theist worldview

Heh. I was going to make a similar comment saying I was surprised that you didn't agree with me on this! As you know, I'm very tolerant of theism as long as it's simply a matter of personal belief and activities that don't impinge negatively on others (the creation of great art, for example). But just as your freedom to swing your fist ends when it reaches my nose, your freedom to believe in an imaginary deity should end when it has a negative impact on the rest of society; religious wars and inquisitions are obvious examples, but less extreme ones still practiced in the US of A are the tax exemption for religious institutions and the alleged right to cover up crimes if you graduated from an institution of imaginary-deity studies or bought a certificate from the ULC. I find it hard to see how an atheist would justify that, but I respect your reasoning ability, and I'm all ears.
posted by languagehat at 11:18 AM on October 22, 2006


There are various reasons for murder to be punished. Most important to me are: reinforcing the social consensus that it's wrong, preventing people from doing it again, allaying the urge to vengeance of the victim's friends, and deterring others from considering it. It seems possible that none of these might apply to this case, although it's hard to say.

I think you are forgetting two very important things.

First, you assume that just because he was a homeless bum he had no family or loved ones. Do they not deserve to see his killer get justice, let alone be informed of the fact that he was murdered?

Secondly, everyone reading AskMe (potentially thousands of people) has just witnessed this person get away with murder unpunished, despite having confessed the act -- assuming we believe anon's story. If that doesn't scream "you can get away with it as long as you're careful and the person you kill is scum" then I don't know what does. Punishing him would most certainly send a message to anyone in those thousands that might be thinking (consciously or subconsciously) that they might one day kill a bum and not get caught.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:34 AM on October 22, 2006


"I'm very tolerant of theism as long as it's simply a matter of personal belief and activities that don't impinge negatively on others (the creation of great art, for example)."

Ah, there I think we probably differ profoundly.

A very deep way in which I break with the majority of liberal/leftists is my principle of tolerance for social activism. I very strongly believe that it is "right" for me to proselytize and actively promote the cause of what I believe is the proper organization of our society. I believe that it is "right" not merely because I happen to be promoting the "right" version of a proper organization of society, but because it is both the right and responsibility of every individual to promote their view of the proper organization of society. I am more than willing to say that the theists who are promoting their view of the proper organization of society are wrong, and I oppose their actions, but I in no way dispute the rightness of their efforts to do so.

This really comes down to the relativism debate. Or, rather, relativism as it has asserted itself in popular culture. I think there's something deeply incoherent and self-serving about popular relativism—I'm very sympathetic to the theists who point this out and complain about it. Liberal popular relativism very conveniently exempts its promotion of its values from imperialism while condemning as imperialist (and thus in principle wrong in the only sense popular relativism is willing to make such a judgment) every promoting of values that is in contradiction to its own. This really, really bothers me.

The other half of your argument is built around a popular (American) version of libertarianism, also something I disagree with. In general, I find that popular American libertarianism ignores entirely that rights inevitably come into conflict and that one necessary function of civil organization is a balancing of those rights, often finding compromises where all rights are infringed upon the least (though nevertheless infringed upon). Popular American libertarianism conceives the possibility of a world where some number of self-evident rights are protected almost absolutely, improbably by individuals acting in self-interest. Moreover, I find popular American libertarianism's definition of "rights" and its selection of rights to be rather conveniently a reflection of the American status quo and in many ways astonishingly arbitrary. All this is to say that I find the libertarian half of the argument "as long as it doesn't negatively impact others" to be almost entirely useless.

Both halves, the relativism and libertarian halves, of your argument (a very common argument) seem to me to be Leon Kass-like rational glosses on gut-instinct status quo.

Anyway, back to the particular, I don't begrudge what I think is the theist's moral (even civil) right to agitate for the organization of society into a reflection of their belief system. I oppose them because I think their vision is wrong. But I don't think their activity is wrong independent of their aim. This is also in accordance with my view of what tolerance truly is: a respect for the views and goals of other people that manifests as a sincere effort to comprehend them and in granting others the earnestness and good-will one assumes in one's self. The vulgar version of tolerance is "don't try to tell me what's right and don't try to make me live according to your values". I oppose that version of tolerance. My tolerance allows anyone their social activism because it requires that I respect their beliefs and grant them the civil and moral legitimacy, if not the correctness, that I grant myself. It does not, of course, require that I accept their beliefs and aims as true and correct and thus does not prohibit me in any way of simply saying they are wrong and should be opposed (nor actually opposing them).
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:33 PM on October 22, 2006


OK, I can buy that, as long as we're not saying it's the dog collar that exempts the minister

Sounds good to me. Now to decipher whether EB is actually opposed to that or not.

Rhomboid: "you assume that just because he was a homeless bum he had no family or loved ones."

No, I don't think I made that assumption. To make a long answer short: The penalty for murder is the same whether the victim had family or not, and so should be the standards for investigating it.

Somehow I don't think that the knowledge that one can confess things in confidence to a priest, psychotherapist, or lawyer will encourage people to commit murder.
posted by sfenders at 3:09 PM on October 22, 2006


murderers must be punished

I find myself aligned against the many opinions I have seen written down by people who seem to afford the protagonist in this tale a pass because "he is unlikely to do it again".

Based on a non-fatal assault against someone he knows, he decided to kill someone. He would seem to have poor impulse control. He has apparently spent many years in an intoxicated, psychologically unstable state. I question his decision-making abilities, especially under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Many people find the barrier against killing another person insurmountably high. This character did not. I would think that it is a priority that he begins to receive treatment and, if necessary, incarceration until it can be determined that he no longer represents a threat to others.

The issue of why so many people seem to think the murder of a "bum" is somehow a victimless or at least victim-light crime says a lot about labelling and framing.

The concept that a serious crime can somehow be detoxified by communicating it to people who believe in one or many gods is problematic. Unless you're willing to establish State-sanctioned religions, then clerical privilege is hard to define. Do we give it to Discordians? To Scientologists? To Bobians?

Just ask all those Catholics who heard the confessions of (former or current) paedophile colleagues and did not inform the civil authorities. The concept of a "present danger" demands greater urgency, this is true, but if a a crime was once committed, then it would seem to me to raise the probability of that crime or a similar crime being committed by that person in the future. It is not a guarantee, but it does represent an increased risk. Relying solely on a therapeutic or mystical relationship between a priest and a pentient to deal with this is, I feel, not a way that a way that is optimal.
posted by meehawl at 4:46 PM on October 22, 2006


Now to decipher whether EB is actually opposed to that or not.

I don't think it's that difficult to decipher. EB thinks religion is mostly irrelevant because he thinks that there is an important social interest served by confession. Insofar as religion is relevant, the facts: 1) that people feel comfortable confiding in religious figures, and; 2) that they have an expectation of privacy when they do so, together provide reason enough to give religious figures special consideration. Others in similar situations would qualify as well, like psychiatrists. I'm not sure I agree with him about the utility of confession, or even about whether utility ought to be the most important consideration in this matter, but it's a decent argument.

As for his argument against "relativism," I think he needs to amend it a bit. Here's the conclusion:

I am more than willing to say that the theists who are promoting their view of the proper organization of society are wrong, and I oppose their actions, but I in no way dispute the rightness of their efforts to do so.

EB, as I read this argument, it's attacking something like the principle of liberal neutrality. If so, I think it's persuasive and I agree with it. But you make this argument in the context of tolerance, and I think you need to qualify it. It's easier to see why I should respect the theist who has spent time thinking about and debating his faith and then acts based on his carefully-considered beliefs; it's much harder to see why I should respect the theist who spends almost no time being skeptical about his beliefs. I can respect theists in the former category, not so much in the latter.
posted by smorange at 8:38 PM on October 22, 2006


"But you make this argument in the context of tolerance, and I think you need to qualify it. It's easier to see why I should respect the theist who has spent time thinking about and debating his faith and then acts based on his carefully-considered beliefs; it's much harder to see why I should respect the theist who spends almost no time being skeptical about his beliefs. I can respect theists in the former category, not so much in the latter."

Oh, I absolutely and strongly agree with this. Where we might differ is that I think that I have a responsibility to take as my initial assumption that someone has arrived at their beliefs meeting some minimum standard of thoughtfulness. I don't think this is actually true in most cases (particularly with regard to religious belief), but I think the danger of beginning with an assumption of bad-faith and/or thoughtlessness is greater than the danger of beginning with an assumption of good-faith and/or thoughtfulness. This is because I believe that we inherently have a very strong bias toward the assumption of bad-faith and/or thoughtlessness on the part of those with whom we disagree and thus taking as a starting assumption some measurement of how often this is empirically proved to be true will quickly creep toward greater and greater levels of assumed bad-faith and/or thoughtlessness. By vastly underestimating these things and being fairly diligent about correcting all initial assumptions as they prove to be incorrect, I am able to better approach something closer to neutrality.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:02 PM on October 22, 2006


I'm sympathetic to your argument because I agree that the assumption of bad faith and/or thoughtlessness is one of the biggest problems with political debates everywhere, and especially here, on Metafilter. Incidentally, I believe that we ought to be more generous online in places like this because of specific dangers that are less likely to present themselves offline (anonymity, dehumanization, &c). So I agree with that. At the same time, as I said, I think people need to meet a standard of thoughtfulness, or epistemic responsiblity, before I am obliged to respect them. I'm fairly confident that, for example, your president fails this test, and I can't say I respect him much at all. But, of course, there's lots of evidence to suggest that he's not much of a thinker.

But do we always need evidence? It seems to me that there are at least some beliefs that are manifestly ignorant and/or stupid, so much so that we can assume bad faith and/or thoughtlessness. The tricky part comes when we have to decide which beliefs can be expected to be held by people who have met their epistemic responsiblity and which ones can not be expected to be held by such people. For example, I don't think creationist beliefs are at all reasonable. I don't think anyone who makes a good faith effort to arrive at the truth will arrive at creationism. I might, of course, have compassion for them, but not intellectual respect or tolerance. Their temerity in the face of manifest ignorance and/or stupidity strikes me as reason enough for their efforts to offend me. And these efforts offend me not simply because their conclusions are false, but because they haven't done the work. They haven't earned to right to wield the weapon of the law for their cause. If they had, they wouldn't be creationists.

How many beliefs fall into this category? I don't know. I'd say creationism does. I'd throw in a number of similarly absurd beliefs: ghosts, magic, astrology, conspiracy theories, etc. Does theism itself fit into that category? Actually, I don't think that's easy to answer. On the one hand, I know and respect a lot of people who happen to believe in God; on the other hand, I've read and thought enough about this issue that I'm confident in my disbelief. So I often go back and forth on this.
posted by smorange at 10:16 PM on October 22, 2006


"moral imbecility"

This doesn't actually mean anything.
posted by spaltavian at 9:16 PM on October 30, 2006


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