Monday, 23 January 2012

Under a cloud

Can you imagine what it's like to be falsely accused of murdering your son for 25 years before you're finally cleared of all wrongdoing? It must be sheer hell.

The police questioned Elizabeth Watkins of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, immediately after her son's death in 1987 but then released her without charge. That wasn't good enough for the locals, who were convinced she had killed her six-year-old son Nicholas.

Her other son and his father were also convinced of her guilt and broke off contact with her.

After 25 years of living under a cloud of suspicion, it must be a colossal relief to at last be free of it.

A new inquiry into her son's death has concluded that he wasn't murdered but was killed by a pack of dogs. How tragic that detectives didn't investigate more thoroughly at the time and discover the non-human cause of death while unhealthy suspicions could still be nipped in the bud.

But just imagine the festering feelings of injustice and rage and despair that must have addled her life and crushed the sort of enjoyable, freewheeling existence that most of us take for granted.

And the sick feelings of betrayal and humiliation as relatives, friends and acquaintances all refused to believe her declarations of innocence and continued to assume she was capable of slaughtering her child.

And the feelings of burning impotence as she could find no way of proving to the outside world that she had nothing to do with the death. Presumably she had no alibi for her movements at the time.

Now she has somehow to put all those miserable years behind her and try to recreate a more normal life in which she is once again an unblemished and respected member of the community. Without an awful lot of sincere regret and generosity on other people's part, that's going to be quite a struggle.

Pic: Elizabeth Watkins

27 comments:

Jenny Woolf said...

There were a number of women convicted in the UK of shaking their kids to death weren't there, and it was all based on the evidence of some weirdo pathologist, as I recall. I don't choose to keep such details closely in my head, but I remember thinking that HE should have been put away for a very long time. Not that it would have helped them.

I don't know about this particular case, but it sounds awful.

John Gray said...

hummm the death penalty would have helped here a lot!

Nick said...

Jenny - I think several pathologists have been guilty of presenting flawed evidence that has later been overturned. Utterly traumatic for the parents who know they're innocent but can't prove it.

Nick said...

John - Sorry, I don't agree with the death penalty as there have been too many wrongful convictions and executions. But how do you silence people who insist on someone else's guilt with no evidence whatever? And couldn't the detectives have done a better job in the first place?

nursemyra said...

I can't imagine the trauma of losing a young child. And then to have it compounded by such ugly suspicions. Her grief must have been overwhelming

Nick said...

Myra - Indeed, I didn't mention the trauma of losing her son to begin with. Misery heaped on misery.

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

Good grief .. poor woman! It's tough enough to lose a child without being accused of their murder and having to live through the hideousness that would ensue. She will never, ever, recover, that's for certain.

This is exactly why the death penalty is not, and will never will be justifiable. Until we arrive at the day when we can prove someone's guilt or innocence absolutely (which is an impossibility) we will never be certain that an innocent person will not be unlawfully put to death in the name of justice.

Although Elizabeth Watkins, poor soul, might well have thought it preferable to what she has gone through.

secret agent woman said...

Wow, as if having your little boy killed wasn't hellish enough! And then to lose your other child. No - I can NOT imagine. It breaks my heart for her. There is no truly getting past all that. People can be absolutely brutal about assigning guilt without adequate evidence. So much for innocent until proven guilty, huh?

I'm at a loss about the earlier comment about the death penalty being helpful. Even assuming that state-supported murder should be an option (and I don't believe it ever should), how would that have helped in this case? I can't imagine Ms. Watkins would feel like she'd rather be murdered herself.

Nick said...

Jay - Indeed, can you ever really recover from such a nightmare, even if you live to 100?

Agent - She's hopeful for a reconciliation with her other son, who's had all the evidence explained to him by the police. And hopefully the father too. But people can be very stubborn. And they don't like to admit they're wrong.

I don't understand John's comment about the death penalty, either (and he's very far from being a rabid hard-liner!) What WERE you getting at there, John?

Ursula said...

I don't know John Gray. In my view his comment is very clever.

He means one or both of two things: If they had hanged the mother it would have spared her a lot of grieving. As an aside: If I were her I'd probably jumped off the cliff anyway.

And if they had hanged her, only for her to be proven innocent later, what an argument AGAINST the death penality. Or maybe not: See above.

U

Nick said...

Ursula - We're all so puzzled I think John needs to clarify his comment. I've asked him to do that.

John Gray said...

yes I need to clarify my comment
I was just being ironic
what worries me about the death penalty are cases like this one...

how many people, like this woman have been falsely jailed only to have their sentences cut short when the truth was known...

if she recieved a lethal injection, the electric chair or some other barbaric hand of"justice".......what then?

Thats why the death penalty should be scrapped PLAIN AND SIMPLE...

apologies for the irony... you cannot quite "hear" it in a written comment sometimes can you?

Nick said...

John - Thanks for clarifying. You're right, sometimes things don't come across properly in a written comment.

Yes, an unjustified death penalty is bad enough, but as you say people can also be banged up in jail for many years on the basis of a false conviction. And despite the image some people have of cushy, pampered surroundings, the permanent loss of your liberty is no joke.

Rummuser said...

If I was in her shoes, I will never be able to forgive or forget all the people who would not believe her innocence. I would also sue the police for damages.

Nick said...

Ramana - After 25 years of vilification, it will be incredibly hard to forgive her accusers, or to accept any apologies they care to make. The bitterness must go so deep.

Ursula said...

Hippo, Nick and John, what a gracious lot you are. I rarely go indignant but am now. I interpreted John, it appears correctly, and none of you had the grace to acknowledge it.

U

Nick said...

Ursula - Actually I think you interpreted John in a rather peculiar (and mischievous) way. His explanation is a perfectly sensible one.

Wisewebwoman said...

I originally thought John ironic too. Perhaps there should be a sign( ~ ) for irony?
I can't imagine what this woman is suffering and continues to suffer, she will never regain the lost years with her other son. I am just stunned she hasn't taken the easy way out.
Awful awful awful.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - A sign for irony would be useful. Indeed, her suffering is nothing like over, perhaps reducing a little if she's lucky. Given such a lack of support from those around her, you do wonder if she considered suicide as one way out.

secret agent woman said...

Too me a while to get back here, but thanks to John for the clarification. That makes sense. I am whole-heartedly opposed to the death penalty.

And if I were the Mom, having one son remaining that I might eventually get to re-connect with would be the primary reason I'd have to keep living. I wouldn't want to leave that son with the legacy of a mother who committed suicide.

Eryl said...

Jesus fucking christ! Sorry, Nick, for my use of such obscenities on your fine blog, but fuck, I cannot imagine what that woman has gone through for the past twenty five years. To lose not just this son, and in such a horrible way, but also her other son and her husband; everything, in other words.

I agree totally with secret agent woman, the other son would certainly have been my primary aim for keeping myself alive. I do hope he returns to her now.

Nick said...

Agent - I agree. Suicide would have been an awful legacy for her other son - and his father. And suppose her name had been cleared the very next week?

Eryl - It's unimaginable, isn't it, the sheer scale of her anguish? Especially, so it seems, with not a soul giving her the support she so desperately needed.

Magpie11 said...

Perhaps the society that this woman was/is a part of needs to look very closely at itself.
As for Johns comment: I found myself thinking:" Oh I wish I was that quick." The irony stuck out a mile.
And yes death could be some kind of out get from such a situation.
I hope I would have the courage to walk tall and spit the world right in the eye(to paraphrase The Man in Black)in such a situation. However, I might just be driven to murder.

As for the Horse and the Little Bear... I bet their contributions would have lightened a gloomy topic. But I'll never know now. :-(

Nick said...

Magpie - Being English, I'm steeped in irony, but I managed to miss it on this occasion. You might be driven to murder? Murder whom exactly? The people who were vilifying you?

Ah, the Horse and the Little Bear. A sore point. Maybe I let my feelings get the better of me? Maybe I acted too hastily? Who can say? But what's done is done. For the time being anyway.

speccy said...

Oh, god, what an awful tale. It's remarkable that the poor woman has survived so far- she must have incredible strength.

Nick said...

Speccy - It's remarkable indeed that she hasn't killed herself or gone completely mad with the sheer impossibility of the situation.

Nick said...

Bikehikebabe - I did as you requested. And welcome to the very special world that is nickhereandnow....