|Flights of the Forensic Imagination is a collection of all things "forensic" in news, media, and art.|
ADLER: The play comes out of a book that was written more than four years ago by James Douglass, “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters.” Although the book is in the JFK assassination conspiracy tradition, it has a religious and pacifist sensibility.
The book argues that John F. Kennedy was killed at a moment when he was profoundly turning toward peace, not dissimilar to the arguments in Robert Kennedy Jr.’s recent piece in Rolling Stone. And while the book raises more questions than it answers, it argues that this turning angered cold warriors and the national security state, providing fertile ground for assassination. A group of people started organizing around this book. They commissioned a play.
COURT DORSEY: We’re trying to raise questions.
ADLER: The playwright, Court Dorsey.
DORSEY: We’re not trying to dot all the Is and cross all the Ts and try to prove that this and this and this and this happened.
ADLER: They had the idea their project could be something like Project Lysistrata. During the Iraq War, a group of women put on readings of Aristophanes ancient Greek comedy where women refuse to have sex with men until they end the Peloponnesian War. Dorsey says reading a play aloud is different from reading a book. A book is good for reflection, but not for community discussion and action.
DORSEY: But to have people read a play together where you have to become an active voice, where you give your voice to the voice of these historical people in a community of people who are encountering this material together.
ADLER: It’s more empowering, he says. Some 20 readings and performances have already taken place from Georgia to Seattle. The play tells the story of the failed Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination. Except for the narrator and the woman who describes her dreams and emotions, most of the words come from historical documents or from people who were there."
Nita Farahany, a professor of law who sits on Barack Obama’s bioethics advisory panel, told a Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego that those on trial were mounting ever more sophisticated defenses that drew on neurological evidence in an effort to show they were not fully responsible for murderous or other criminal actions.
Lawyers typically drew on brain scans and neuropsychological tests to reduce defendants’ sentences, but in a substantial number of cases the evidence was used to try to clear defendants of all culpability.
“What is novel is the use by criminal defendants to say, essentially, that my brain made me do it,” Farahany said following an analysis of more than 1,500 judicial opinions from 2005 to 2012.
The rise of so-called neurolaw cases has caused serious concerns in the country where brain science first appeared in murder cases. The supreme court has begun a review of how such evidence can be used in criminal cases. But legal and scientific experts nevertheless foresee the trend spreading to other countries, including the UK, and Farahany said she was expanding her work abroad.
The survey even found cases where defendants had used neuroscience to argue that their confessions should be struck out because they were not competent to provide them. “When people introduce this evidence for competency, it has actually been relatively successful,” Farahany said.
Few cases turn solely on neuroscience evidence, but scans and other techniques have swayed judgments in the past. In 2009, an Italian woman called Stefania Albertani pleaded guilty to murdering her sister, setting fire to the corpse and later attempting to kill her parents. She received a life sentence, but in 2011 Judge Luisa lo Gatto at a court near Milan considered new evidence based on brain scans and genetics. Experts argued that Albertani’s crime was driven by abnormalities in the anterior cingulate gyrus, which is involved in impulsivity, and the insula, which has been linked to aggression. The judge reduced Albertani’s sentence to 20 years.
Despite the fact that the science is often poorly understood, and that some experts say it is too flimsy to use in court, such evidence has succeeded in reducing defendants’ sentences and in some cases clearing them of guilt altogether."
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