The Crime of Punishment
June 10, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — There is no tragedy so great that a trip through the criminal justice cannot make worse. The Hon. Charles H. Solomon, New York State Supreme Court, became the latest jurist to demonstrate this on May 28, 2015, when he sentenced Gigi Jordan to a staggering eighteen years of imprisonment for manslaughter, six months after a jury refused to convict her of murder in the death of her son.
Ms. Jordan’s defense proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Ms. Jordan was suffering from extreme emotional disturbance when she took her son’s life, and tried to take her own, on February 5, 2010. Justice Solomon, while paying lip service to the jury’s verdict, compensated for their compassion by imposing a sentence that would guarantee Ms. Jordan would actually serve at least fifteen years behind bars. Too coincidental to be an accident, fifteen years is the minimum amount of actual time that must be served for second-degree murder.
Everything about the Jordan case was marked by palpable sadness. Ms. Jordan, a native New Yorker who became a self-made pharmaceutical company executive, had one child—a son named Jude who was diagnosed as “autistic” when he was two years old in 2003.
At that time, autism diagnoses were commonly given to a range of poorly-understood conditions, some of them curable and most of them treatable. Ms. Jordan, who understood the medical field and had the resources to engage it, began a seven-year odyssey in search of some way to unlock the prison of suffering in which Jude was trapped.
Such terrible journeys are commonplace. After engaging the best specialists in a wide variety of therapies, Jude was diagnosed with catatonia, likely caused by repeated sexual abuse inflicted by his biological father. The diagnosis explained a legion of previously inexplicable medical manifestations – urinary tract infections, genital inflammation, swelling and irritation, massive dental infections and abscesses and an extraordinary elevation of Jude’s “fight-or-fight” hormones resulting in hospitalization for elevated blood pressure, heart rate and chronic changes to his heart.
Ms. Jordan also became convinced that her ex-husband and former business partner defrauded her of millions of dollars, and was prepared to kill her, thus leaving her son back in the hands of his sexually-abusive father. Ms. Jordan was blocked from testifying about her belief that her ex-husband was connected to organized crime and introducing as evidence the documents that influenced her views.
Seeing no way to protect her son, Gigi Jordan administered a fatal dose of pills to both of them; first him, then herself. Ms. Jordan’s demise was thwarted by the unexpected intervention of the police, and her sojourn through the criminal justice system began.
From the outset, the prosecution intentionally overcharged the case as second-degree murder, despite massive documentary and testimonial evidence that manslaughter was the most appropriate charge. The prosecution originally claimed Ms. Jordan was a cold-blooded premeditated millionaire murderess who killed her son so she could, in the words of one ADA, “resume her life as a socialite.”
Of course, since she admitted to taking Jude’s life in her suicide note, and his manner of death was easy to prove, this theory made no sense. Later, when it came time to oppose her bail application, the same prosecutor’s office portrayed her as a delusional psychotic who killed her son based on a fantasy. And at trial, since the defense was extreme emotional disturbance, the prosecutor attempted to merge the irreconcilable – portraying Jordan as deliberate but delusional, crazed but calculating, irrational but Machiavellian, and benevolent but self-centered..
In the end, the jury conclusively rejected the prosecution’s rabid but unfocused blood-lust. In finding EED, the jury, having heard the evidence, found that Ms. Jordan’s professed mental state was genuine and objectively reasonable. That is worth repeating— in accepting the affirmative defense of EED, the jury had to expressly find that a reasonable person in her circumstances would have also believed the things that she believed.
Why the long sentence? Certainly not general deterrence; people do not kill their children unless something is horribly and tragically wrong. And for those who are so desperate that they do so, it seems more than unlikely that a long jail sentence will deter them—especially if they intend to kill themselves in the process. I mean, no one is going to say, “Gosh, Gigi Jordan only got five years, so I think I’ll kill my child.”
Nor does she need to be deterred from any future criminal conduct; even the most cynical and biased of those who brushed paths with this case agree that for Gigi Jordan, this was an isolated occurrence generated by complex extenuating circumstances. There was no argument that Ms. Jordan was a current danger to anyone, or would be a danger in the future. A forensic mental health evaluation submitted at sentencing described her as not suffering from any mental illness besides depression induced by grief for her son.
Neither is Ms. Jordan in need of rehabilitation. Indeed, even the evidence adduced by the prosecution portrayed her as intelligent, resourceful, motivated and independent. Denied bail during the pendency of the prosecution, she has spent more than five years in detention; serving over a third of her sentence as a pre-trial detainee.
During that period, she has devoted her time to charitable endeavors, including foundations and institutions doing ground-breaking work in the fields of trauma, child abuse, and alternative forms of communication for children with autism.
So what is more time beyond bars going to do for or to Ms. Jordan that the current five years has not already achieved? The answer, of course, is simple— it will satisfy the urge for schadenfreude, – it will make her suffer even more than she is suffering now, and it will entertain those who delight in such suffering. Forget fairness, or justice, or compassion. Mission accomplished, criminal justice system. On to the next one.
Main image via Flickr/Scott Robinson