Killing Me Badly

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It has been a bad month for wife-killing in the state of Utah, particularly in the sense that the people doing it aren’t very good at it.

I should indicate up front that I do not advocate any sort of killing, and that within the field of killing, wife-killing is one of my least favorite varieties. So please do not think that my making fun of the wife-killers somehow, in some perverse way, means I support them.

I have been following the trial of James Bottarini, an Illinois man who is accused of pushing his wife off a cliff in Zion National Park five years ago, claiming she fell accidentally, and collecting the insurance money.

(The money amounted to $1.25 million. I say beware of men who take out $1.25 million insurance policies on their spouses.)

I have also taken note of the Provo man, Paul William Turner, who has recently confessed to trying three different times to kill his wife, each time unsuccessfully.

Basically, it would seem that half the men in Utah are trying to marry multiple wives, and the other half are trying to kill the ones they’ve got.

What amazes me is how poorly each of these men set about his respective work. Bottarini, the cliff-pusher, has not yet been found guilty in a court of law, but he has been condemned in the court of public opinion, which is more important anyway.

The evidence is against him. According to the Associated Press, there were drag marks on the ground leading up to the point where the woman fell; witnesses below heard voices and scuffling just seconds before the fall; and when authorities responded to the scene, Bottarini seemed “emotionally separated” from what was going on.

In other words, as is often the case with evil men, Bottarini had a grand scheme and then botched it when it came time for action. Satan is a wuss, and so are his minions.

Meanwhile, Turner’s story is far more amusing. First he gave his wife cookies laced with rat poison; it had no effect. Then he gave her what he thought were poisonous mushrooms but which turned out to be harmless. Then he put hydrochloric acid in a syringe she used to administer prescription medication to herself; it, too, did not harm her.

Turner, whom we are going to call Wile E. Coyote from now on, turned himself in on the advice of his LDS bishop. Apparently, he did not seek advice on whether he should kill his wife in the first place, only on what he should do after he failed. According to police, Coyote wanted to get rid of his wife because he was addicted to pornography, and because his wife wouldn’t let him live the sexual lifestyle he wanted. (The police did not elaborate on that last point, and I’m glad.)

Mrs. Coyote said she didn’t know about the pornography thing until Wile E. was arrested, nor did she know he was trying to kill her. I believe the very height of incompetence among murderers would have to be when your intended victim doesn’t even know she’s being killed.

Where the story turns especially outrageous is in the revelation that Coyote cannot be convicted on the strength of his confession alone: Prosecutors must find actual evidence of the crimes, too.

Never mind that the man turned himself in without ever being accused, or indeed without his victim even knowing she was a victim. Due to a legal requirement known as “corpus delicti” (“delicious corpse”), there must be evidence that the confessor actually committed the crimes. My friend Mike the Lawyer tells me this is partially to prevent crazy people from making up crimes, but more importantly to keep rich people from paying poor people to confess for them.

This seems wrong. If Coyote says he tried to kill his wife, let’s take his word for it. He’s obviously capable of at least thinking very hard about it, which alone makes it a good idea to lock him up. I don’t think attempted murderers should have to save their receipts in order to prove they’re attempted murderers.

Furthermore, I think one of the perks of being rich should be that you can hire people to confess to your crimes for you. If I don’t have that to look forward to, then what’s the point of my getting rich?

I approached this subject somewhat cautiously. It's all well and good to make jokes about murderers among friends, but it's quite different in public -- especially when one of the murderers was successful in his attempts. Hence the second paragraph, making it abundantly clear the target of my derision is the bad guys; and the ninth paragraph ("Satan is a wuss"), emphasizing that I don't just think these guys are stupid, but evil, too. The column is still probably offensive to someone, but what can you do?

If there were a "Tonight Show"-type show for Utah, I can envision this line -- "Basically, it would seem that half the men in Utah are trying to marry multiple wives, and the other half are trying to kill the ones they've got" -- being in the opening monologue.

I was glad I happened to run into Mike the Lawyer while writing this column, because heaven forbid I should ever actually call him.

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