For those that might have missed it, Sarah's nine year old brother had been found the day before, badly beaten, and was listed in serious condition in Cook's Medical Center in Fort Worth at the time of this writing. Bobby Woods, the prime suspect and the former live in boyfriend of the children's mother, provided information which led authorities to the body of the dead girl. He remains in the Hood County jail charged with the capital murder of Sarah and the attempted murder of her brother, Cody.
Now back to the concept of torture. Before the civil libertarians rally on the Wise County Courthouse steps, please let me explain. I do not mean to imply that Bobby Woods, if in fact he committed the crime, should be tortured as we speak. I don't even believe he should be tortured if he is convicted of capital murder. Put to death, yes. Tortured, no.
But for a while last week, hundreds of law enforcement personnel and volunteers combed the rugged terrain of Hood County in hopes of finding the girl, like her brother had been, alive. In such a rare situation, government sanctioned torture would be appropriate.
Let me suggest this option: If the State can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a suspect knows the whereabouts of an individual who is under eighteen years of age, and can additionally prove that the suspect "probably" committed a crime which caused the location of the child to currently be unknown, a district judge should have the authority to order the defendant tortured. However, the sole purpose of the court ordered torture is not for punishment's sake but instead to cause the suspect to reveal the location of the child. The torture should be videotaped, and it should be conducted in a manner that has been predetermined by the legislature.
How should the torture be administered? I'm not sure. However, the dental drill scene in the movie the Marathon Man would surely seem an effective suggestion, at least it was to the character Dustin Hoffman portrayed.
At the subsequent trial of the suspect, the fact that a judge had previously found the defendant probably committed the crime would be inadmissible. This is consistent with the general rule that other crimes, misconduct, or bad acts of a defendant are not allowed before a jury before he is found responsible for the crime for which he has been charged. However, if the jury finds the defendant guilty of the offense, the defendant would be allowed, if he so chooses, to introduce into evidence during the punishment phase of the trial the fact that he has previously been tortured at the hands of the State in connection with the crime. The jury, therefore, could take the pain the defendant experienced into consideration when they deliberate on the appropriate punishment. They do not necessarily have to consider such evidence to be mitigating in nature, but they would be allowed to do so.
In the case of Sarah Patterson, the torture of Bobby Woods, if the requisite proof could have been established, may not have saved her life. However, to have hundreds of good, honest citizens searching in desperation for a child is ludicrous when another individual can lead them to the exact location of that child. If he knows where the victim can be found and if the State can prove it, let's inflict excruciating pain upon him until he reveals his morbid secret. After all, the life of a child could hang in the balance.
Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.