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In defence of Joe Korp, failed by the system

I doubt this story has made much of a blip outside of Melbourne, and I would be surprised if it has registered at all outside of Australia. I will spare the reader details of the lives of the protagonists. I have little and they irrelevent.

In February, Joe Korp's wife, Maria was found near-death having been strangled and left in the boot of a car. Eventually, Joe Korp's lover pleaded guilty to attempted murder and is currently serving a nine-year sentence. A vast majority of the press coverage has made Joe Korp out to be a murderer. His biggest crime? Having had an affair. While he had been charged with attempted murder, he had not gone to trial, and so must be presumed innocent.

I had been planning to write a piece discussing how, given the press coverage, Joe Korp stood about as much chance of getting a fair trial as Dreyfus did the first time. His guilt or innocence would have basically hinged upon what he ahd said, rather than what he did. There is no question that his mistress tried to kill his wife. This has been pleaded guilty to. But at what point is he culpable? I'm not suggesting any of the following statements were actually said. But hypothetically, at what point should he be found guilty?

  • "If only I didn't have a wife, we could be together."
  • "My wife won't grant me a divorce, so I could only marry you if she was dead."
  • "If Maria was dead, we could be together"
  • "If you killed Maria, we could be together"
  • "If you killed Maria, I'll marry you and we can share the inheritance."
  • "I'll pay you to kill Maria."
  • "If you don't kill Maria, I'll kill you."
  • For mine, he is innocent for the first 3. Definitely guilty at the last one, probably innocent of the fourth and probably guilty if he said either the fifth or sixth. Depending on context. Sadly, we'll never know. At least, not for 9 years until the mistress releases her "tell-all" book. But there will always be an air of doubt and an air of suspicion.

    Meanwhile, a near-dead, unconscious Maria Korp was clinging to life. Her daughter to a previous marriage seemed to blame Joe for her mother's state, and did everything she could to freeze him out. Whether she genuinely blamed for the act, blamed him for his mistress having killed her mother, blamed him for having an affair, or had some other cause for resentment is irrelevent. The result was that Joe Korp was frozen out of the decision making process while his wife's life hang in the balance.

    A public guardian was appointed, and, after much consultation, he decided that the best thing to do was to let her die by removing her feeding tubes. I'm generally pro-euthanasia in principle, but in this case, he got it wrong. From media reports, neither her husband nor her family wanted her to be let die. There is no record that she had expressed a desire to be let to die in these circumstances. While the public guardian may have thought he was doing the right thing within his principles, I don't believe he did the right thing within the principles of the person he was set as guardian over.

    At the funeral, the decision was made that Maria Korp would be cremated. Again, this was a decision contrary to the wishes of a husband who, while charged, had not been found guilty of anything. Further, bail conditions had been made so that Joe Korp had only been allowed to visit his wife's deathbed once the tubes had been removed, and he had not been allowed to attend the funeral.

    On the day of Maria Korp's funeral, Joe Korp was found dead, alone in his house, having taken his own life. An act he believed would enable him to be united with Maria in limbo. Believing that, by being cremated, she would not be able to get to heaven.

    While I cannot even pretend to understand what was going through his mind, I can believe that someone who has: had his lover try to kill his wife; been found guilty of the murder by trial-by-media; been charged; been frozen out of any and all decision making processes; been banned from staying by his wife's side; had his wife's feeding tubes removed despite his wishes; had his wife cremated despite his wishes; and then, in a final indignity, been barred from his wife's funeral; I can believe that he would be soemwhat shaken and upset.

    So, here's what I think should have happened. First, he should never have had an affair. Ok, that's a little flippant. Starting from the point, where Maria Korp's near-lifeless body has been found, here's what should have happened.

    He should have been charged and tried far faster. There was time to try the lover, there was time to try him. I have discussed free speech previously - There should be limitations on how the press should be allowed to report such cases. In particular, the names of any accused should not be allowed to be published until there has been a trial.

    Any decisions which needed to be made quickly, such as any medical decisions, shoud have taken his wishes into account strongly, making the assumption of his innocence. The public guardian should never have been put in the position he was. It is unreasonable to require an outsider to come and deal with such emotive situations. Maria Korp wasn't going anywhere. She should have been left until after the trial, if possible.

    Finally, I can't see any reason why Maria Korp should have been cremated rather than buried. As with everything else in this case, why take the irreversible path? If cremation was so important, she could have been exhumed and cremated at a later date. Otherwise, Joe Korp's sensibilities should have been taken into account, and she should have been buried.

    The problem with this case is that everything which happened assumed Joe Korp's guilt and every decision which was made was made despite his wishes or interests. He may have done some morally questionable things. He may have even been responsible for his wife's death. He has never, however, been found guilty by a jury of his peers, and, as such, is entitled to be treated as innocent. He wasn't, and his blood lies on the hands of the system and on the hands of the media.

    And, for one final shot, I would like to comment on the following, reprehensible statement which can be found here: "On Friday, Maria was cremated. One might say it was meant to be "her day" when she could be remembered and celebrated on her own terms. But once more she was over-shadowed by her husband's emotional needs. That night, Joe Korp walked into his shed and ended all his troubles."

    A funeral is not about the person who is dead. A funeral is there for society and community to provide comfort and support to the friends and loved-ones of the deceased. By being prevented from attending the funeral, Joe Korp was cut off from society and community at a time when he needed them most. I find this lack of sympathy appalling. This was the first John Elder article I have read that I am aware of. It will also be the last. I hope he re-reads that paragraph and feels ashamed of himself.

    Response by John Elder, 25/08/2005

    i don't feel ashamed of myself, alex nor do i feel there was an absence of sympathy for joe -- but my greater sympathy lies with his children and maria's children. joe's brother has ruthlessly exploited this situation -- including the sale of pictures of maria in her coma. it's not unreasonable to believe that joe was aware of this exploitation given he was in conversation with joe about joe's impending death.

    the suicide of an able-bodied and sound-minded person is a selfish or at least self-centred act, and quite often a cowardly one -- although i can fully empathise with people who kill themselves out of despair. why that night -- when his little son was already gutted from watching his mother laid to rest?

    i won't get into an argument about joe's guilt or innocence -- although the evidence is compelling -- and i can't take seriiously your ludicrous comparison to the dreyfuss affair.

    my point is this: everything in joe's history points to one thing: joe was all about joe.

    i feel you could put your energies and outrage into something more deserving -- given the misery in the world at the moment.

    if you want me to take a moment and hold your hand and say, yes, poor old joe -- fine. poor old joe.

    now what about poor old maria and poor old everybody else in the man's wasted life?

    My response to John Elder's comments, 25/08/2005

    No one is denying that the children in this case deserve sympathy. It is not an either/or situation. Pretty much everyone in this affair deserves some sympathy (although Joe's brother may be running out of some level of sympathy through his blatant exploitation of the situation). I think you answer your own question when asking - why that night. As I said in my final paragraph:

    "A funeral is there for society and community to provide comfort and support to the friends and loved-ones of the deceased. By being prevented from attending the funeral, Joe Korp was cut off from society and community at a time when he needed them most."

    Probably the one time when no person should be alone. The one time when every person deserves to be surrounded by other people for love, care and support. And he was left alone. He was barred from that support. The funeral of a loved one has a variety of psychological benefits for the mourners, too, and he was denied that sense of closure.

    The point of the comparison with the trial of Dreyfuss wasn't in either the nature of the alleged crime or the alleged guilt. The point was the nature of the trial. Every accused person deserves to be tried fairly in an impartial court of law, and they deserve to be sentenced based on a reasonable weighing of fairly presented evidence. For months before his death, the media, your paper's rival in particular have been screaming about him being a murder and guilty etc. I believe that this would have prejudiced any jury to the extent that a fair trial would have been impossible. He may well have been committed an act which a reasonable jury of his peers would have found him guilty of. But he had very little chance of facing a reasonable jury.

    As to where I channel my outrage and energy, a brief look through my blog (click "don't show personal" at left to avoid the parts about the tedious minutiae of my life) will show that my energy is spread over a range of topics, global and local, ehtical, social, political, philosophical, religious. Not all of which I might actually believe. Yes, there is misery in the world. Always has been and always will be. A large portion of which, I cannot do anything about. And when I see someone getting pilloried in the press because he has been depressed enough to take his own life, I think that is a point where I should write to defend him. I might have a tiny readership at the moment, but I still have a forum to present a defence of him and anyone else for that matter.

    There a large number of voices channeling outrage at all sorts of misery in the world, where would my words be better spent? Joining a chorus or presenting an argument I have not seen elsewhere?

    Certainly poor Maria and poor everyone else. But there were lots of words being written about poor Maria and poor everyone else. The post was about poor Joe, who was being victimised and marginalised even after he had taken his own life. Don't speak ill of the dead usually at least lasts until the dust has settled. In his case, he wasn't even afforded that luxury.

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