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Rooney Verdict

06/04/08 7:55AM By Cheryl Hanna
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(HOST) Commentator Cheryl Hanna, a Professor at Vermont Law School, attended much of the trial of Brian Rooney for the rape and murder of Michelle Gardner-Quinn.  She shares her thoughts on the meaning of it all.

(HANNA) Recently, my husband and I were awakened by the sound a young woman talking rather loudly on her cell phone. She was probably walking home from a night out on the town. We live just a few blocks from Church Street, and not far from where Michelle Garnder-Quinn was most likely raped and murdered.  Earlier that evening the jury had found Brian Rooney guilty.  I couldn't help but think about Michelle Gardner-Quinn - and worry about the young woman passing by. "The world does seem a little safer tonight," my husband said, trying to reassure me. I willed myself back to sleep, hoping that he was right.

A few days later, I saw one of Michelle's friends in City Hall Park. She had testified at the trial, and I could tell she thought I looked familiar but couldn't quite place me. So I introduced myself and told her that I'd been in the courtroom. But then I wasn't quite sure what to say, so I squeezed her arm and told her to take care of herself. She was gracious in her response, smiled, and seemed relieved to move on.

But what I really wanted to do at that moment was just hold her and weep. I was overcome with sadness for Michelle's family and friends - and also for the damage done to all the young women who inevitably lose their sense of freedom and autonomy when something like this happens. It's deeply unfair.

One of the things that particularly concerned me during the trial was that there was needless cross-examination about how many drinks Michelle and her friends had consumed at a 21st birthday dinner celebration. It was a line of questioning designed to paint them as irresponsible party-girls. It was neither accurate nor relevant, and it implied that independent young women who say, hey, I'm ok to walk a few blocks alone after a night out, do so at their own risk, and, maybe, get what they deserve.

Yet, we've taught a generation of young women like Michelle that they have a right to be free, and to live life to the fullest. I believe we should still do that, now more than ever. But as much as I want to believe that the verdict does make us safer, it seems inevitable that, sooner or later, there will be another Michelle.

So it's imperative that we press our lawmakers to examine how and why predatory behavior escalates from violence against intimate partners to violence against strangers, as seems to have been the case here. We should also demand improvements in the laws that protect victims of sexual assault, and continue to provide families of victims with as much support as we can.

Guilty verdicts have a tendency to make people complacent. I hope that won't happen.
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