There has not been a murder trial like it since Graham Dwyer was in the dock charged with killing Elaine O’Hara. The unalloyed malevolence of the architect who set about murder and concealment much like he would have designed a building structure, coupled with his "middle class professional" status, sharpened the focus of media attention.
Yesterday, the same concentrated interest was again evident, this time in the Ana Kriegel murder trial, where the two acutely violent young people accused of her killing were convicted. Their transformation from Boy 1 and Boy 2 to Killer 1 and Killer 2, confirmed with the figurative thump of the gavel, has rendered them hate figures in a society governed by a political class that has not exactly treated children with the duty of care any authentic culture of social inclusion would exhibit. If, from that, we infer a diminished responsibility on the part of the people convicted, forget it. There is none.
From what I got of it, no other outcome to proceedings seemed possible. Jury members, in delaying their verdict by asking to consider more material, suggests they wanted to finetune their certainty before convicting. This failed to spare them the wrath of the father of one of the teenagers found guilty. His shout, “bunch of scumbags here,” is how most people seem to be referring to his son and his co-accused. “Innocent kid in fucking prison … Are you proud of your victory?” is not going to engender a lot of public sympathy amongst these who have kept in touch with the evidence, followed through the prism of the media.
While her killers are uncharacteristically young it is hard to see how Ana Kriegel was anything less than the victim of unremitting evil carried out for sadistic and sexual gratification. The motive, the planning and the bestial brutality used to execute the murder earns it a place in the Graham Dwyer classification: their tenderness of years adequately compensating in the media lens for any presumed lack of Dwyer's social class background. Even had the killers been mature adults rather than children, the gamut of hideous cruelty inflicted on Ana Kriegel ensured widespread public revulsion.
I opted not to follow the case intensely. It was talked about everywhere, so like many others I was interested in it, while at the same time being fearful of what it was always likely to reveal. Without fail, on the days the court sat it featured prominently on the country’s national news. It was impossible to miss it but I never resorted to the papers for details. The gore, the anguish of the slain child, an isolated life and isolated death, the desecration through abandonment of her corpse, the brutality, callousness and arrogance of those who took her life, I lacked the willpower to deal with the bad mood it would put me in.
Put us in the wrong place at the wrong time and many will be capable of just about anything. Most of us, if wisdom does indeed come with age, will appreciate that we are bad but not too bad and not all the time. Sainthood is not part of the human condition. Consequently, we are rendered susceptible to George Orwell’s desire to be good but not too good and not all time. But this act of gratuitous violence against a child was so far beyond the boundaries of the limits we tend to impose on our own errant behaviour, there is no temptation whatsoever to think, there for the roll of the dice go I. No susceptibility to poor mouth or hard luck stories, no empathy, no mitigation. Ana Kriegel went in search of friends and found only fiends.
From the cradle to the grave, the young girl suffered. Her short life culminated in the bullying, that had so accompanied her in post primary school years, finding its outermost point on the extreme continuum. A life considered valueless by those who took it with precision planning, it is probably better that we never hear their names, remembering instead only the name of Ana as uttered in the words of her parents, 'Ana Will Stay In Our Hearts, Forever Loved'.
No matter how warranted it might seem to many, there is not the slightest possibility that either teenager responsible will be given the type of sentence dished out to the considerably older Trevor Hamilton in the North. A sexual predator with form, Hamilton was told he would spend 35 years in prison for the brutal killing of Attracta Harron.
Ana’s killers will be released probably while still in their twenties. They will be given new identities. Housed wherever, their new persona will be withheld from neighbours. The fourteen year old girls that might live next door will not be told.
This will be considered necessary so that the killers, by now youngish adults, will be able to integrate fully into society and lead productive lives, free from fear of harassment and disruption as they go about their business. The judiciousness or otherwise of such a decision will not be considered this week. As vile as the actions of those who killed Ana Kriegel were, a society that is too punitive invites the Nietzschean admonishment to "distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful." The complex issues thrown up in these circumstances have been brilliantly illuminated in the captivating drama, The Victim.
US Circuit Court judge Stephen Bauer writing about the closing act in any trial said that “the proper integration of competing objectives is the essence of sentencing. Whether or not we always succeed in our efforts is another matter."
It might be years before we find out.