Where courts won’t step, media happily leaps

Today, the tragic case of a murdered family has been in the news as the trial opens.

Rzeszowski is accused of stabbing his wife, their two children, his wife’s friend and her daughter, and his father-in-law. He tried to enter a plea of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, which was refuted by the prosecution, and rejected by the court.

And yet, the media seem quite happy to blame his wife and imply that this wasn’t really his fault. Has anyone seen a report which doesn’t include either “driven to”, “couldn’t cope with” or “as a result of”?  Has anyone seen a report which doesn’t mention that his wife had told him she’d had an affair?  Or a report that doesn’t state the actions were as a result of “domestic problems”?

People wonder why so few are willing to report or press charges in cases of domestic violence.  Well here’s a clue.  Even in this extreme case of a mass-murder, there are strong hints from the media that this was her fault.  This mess could all have been avoided if she’d been a better wife.

Even when the courts are pursuing a murder charge and rejecting the plea of diminished responsibility, the media are there to argue “yeah but…”.  This reporting is something I’ve mentioned before, and really isn’t a surprise.  But it needs to be stated again.  Victim blaming isn’t acceptable.  Whether Rzeszowski was in control or not, responsible or not is to be determined by the court.  But whoever was responsible – it wasn’t the victims.

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8 Comments on “Where courts won’t step, media happily leaps”

  1. Emm says:

    I can’t believe the papers even have the audacity to go there. I haven’t been following this story, I must pick it up.

  2. Cadno says:

    You appear to completely misunderstand the way that the criminal Courts work – the trial is continuing (at the time of the article) and the Court has not rejected anything as yet – especially not the defence’s entire case – it tries to be impartial like that and therefore likes to keep that bit until the end – or not as the case maybe.

    At the end of the trial, it’s the jury – after hearing the evidence as set out by first the prosecution and then the defence – that reaches its verdict. The Guardian article is merely summarising the prosecution case that this was murder and then the defendant’s (partial) defence that it was manslaughter. How would you write it ?

    • jenniesue says:

      You’re right that I don’t understand the way that the Courts work, and since reading your reply I would change the title of this post.

      But my comments and my anger are directed towards the media, and the way that the case has been reported. I agree absolutely that everyone has a right to defend themselves and have that determined by a jury. But the way that this case is reported is what really angers me – her ‘affair’ triggered the murders, while his ‘one-night stand’ was just a reaction, there are quotes saying what a loving father he way, nothing talking about her good character.

      The media have yet again chosen to partake in victim-blaming, rather than blaming the perpetrator.

      • Cadno says:

        I don’t agree that anyone is ‘blaming’ Mrs Rzeszowska for her death – no right minded person would consider for one moment that wanting to get out from a violent relationship or having an affair justifies or a reason to be blamed for being killed as in this case. So I don’t accept here in this case – this could ever constitute ‘victim blaming’.

        However, in order for the jury to hear all of the evidence, it needs to hear what the defence case is saying. The Guardian article is saying that Mr. Rzeszowski is stating that he is pleading the defence of diminished responsibility – and presumably he is saying that her behaviour was in part a ‘trigger’ for his crime. So it’s just reporting the case. Criminal cases are open to the public – with justice being seen to be done. The article is only right and proper.

        (as an aside – a bit of law – It is here important to realise that such a defence is only a partial defence and is only applicable to the charge of murder – it isn’t open to a defendant in relation to any other charge such as assaults, battery , rape, etc. If the jury belief he was suffering from DR then he has to be found guilty of manslaughter – ie he doesn’t get off scot free. I think the reason why DR and the other partial defence of provocation existed at all (provocation has now being abolished and replaced by the defence of ‘loss of control’) was because murder was always punishable by hanging – and the law took the view that some killings did not warrant a death sentence. Although the death sentence has gone away – the mandatory sentence for murder is now a ‘life sentence’, whereas for manslaughter, although the maximum is still a life sentence, the Court when sentencing can impose a more lenient punishment. And because there is this mandatory life sentence for murder – those charged with it don’t have the option of an early guilty plea to reduces the sentence, as with other charges. Therefore they don’t lose anything by pleading not guilty at all to the killing or admitting the killing but guilty only to manslaughter – as in this case)

        But in general terms sometimes, those who are victims of crimes, do themselves act in blameworthy ways – the old saying it takes two to have an argument – each case turns on its individual facts. If I were to stress any one point – its that – EACH CASE TURNS ON ITS INDIVIDUAL FACTS. People who commit violent crimes are sometimes provoked by their victims beforehand (with assaults etc, it’s not a defence but will often be good mitigation against a harsh sentence). An extreme example – You may recall the case of Thornton, where a wife had been abused over a long period of time, killed her husband whilst he was asleep in fearing he would assault her again when he woke up – she was successful in her partial defence that her provocation was a ‘long burn’ – but the point is, her husband was the victim to the stabbing – I don’t recall anyone saying not to ‘victim blame’ there – his past behaviour was a factor to be brought into proceedings and the light of the media.

  3. Cadno says:

    He was found not guilty of murder on all counts – but guilty of manslaughter. Sentencing set for late October.

    • jenniesue says:

      Hi @Cadno, sorry for not responding, I’ve been really unwell. I really appreciate your comments and update.
      I think again though, I want to emphasize that I’m talking about the media response to these things. I completely agree that a court needs to take all evidence into account, and everyone has a right to make a defense. But I still think that the media is way to quick to adopt defense arguments in cases of violence against women. Perhaps partly to reassure other readers that nothing bad will happen if you’re a good girl, and perhaps as part of the bias that we get from only 1 editor of a national newspaper being female.

      • Cadno says:

        Sorry to hear you’ve not been well.

        It seems common ground that the break-up of the marriage was what resulted in Rzeszowski killing his victims – if you read the article again, It’s the prosecution that informs the Court of her having an affair – but neither the defence nor the media are blaming the victims – and so its not a case of the media adopting the defence argument to shift the blame.

        His defense case was not say this – “Because my wife threatened to leave me, I believe I was justified in doing what I did’ That was not it.

        It was accepted by the defence that the killings were ‘unlawful’ and therefore a criminal act – but which crime – was it Murder or Manslaughter. The one and only question therefore that the court has to decide upon – was ….’did this defendant at the time of the killings have the necessary state of mind to know what he was doing’ – ie the mental test for murder – and in this instance, the Court decided that he did not and therfore his crime was manslaughter.

        I realise that I keep coming back to the Court proceedings – but only to show that there was no question of either the prosecution or defence blaming any of the victims.

        ( A similar defense may well be put by the driver of the van recently in Cardiff that killed the woman and injuried the other pedestrians in a series of hit-and-runs)

  4. Cadno says:

    He was sentenced to 30 years in prison for each killing – sentences to be concurrently


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