DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This chapter is threaded entirely through and behind the canon of Season 4's "Damaged". If it's been a while, take a look at the episode first. Special acknowledgement to John Ronson's extraordinary and engaging book "The Psychopath Test", Riverhead Books (Penguin), 2011.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To beurre.blanc[at]yahoo.com
SPOILERS: 4.11 Damaged.
The Sum of Contradictions: 45. Humanity
By beurre blanc
"Again! That damned woman. Has she no grasp of reality? 'Be ready by tomorrow, Alexandra!' Tomorrow!" Alex threw the manilla file onto her desk in frustration, only to see its contents slide out and over the edge, fluttering onto her chair and the floor. "God damn it!!"
Alex stilled suddenly, teeth clenched, then turned to face the doorway, exhaling slowly. Anger and frustration radiated from the attorney, and Olivia closed the door slowly behind her.
The detective's brow quirked.
Alex huffed. "Okay, I'm not fine. In fact I'm so goddamned angry right now, I swear, if Petrovsky walked through that door I'd have to charge myself with assaulting a public officer. And you'd be a witness."
"Accessory." Olivia's response was so rapid it took Alex a moment to process it. She waited, watching with a gentle smirk as one part of Alex's brain carried on with her anti-Petrovsky diatribe, while another perceived the quip, and derailed the attorney's tirade entirely.
"You did that on purpose." Not amused.
"Uh huh." Olivia grinned, and put her hands on her hips, cocking her head to one side. "Oh, I do love it when you pout."
Alex pursed her lips, determined to pay the double entendre no outward heed. Instead she stared crossly at the papers on the office floor.
"Trying to reverse history by force of will?" asked Olivia mildly. Alex's eyes narrowed and slid towards Olivia, and she allowed herself a wry smile.
Crossing to sit in the client chair, Olivia said quietly, "Wanna tell me what happened?"
"Short or long version?"
"Since when does a short version exist?"
Alex glared to hide a grin. "Petrovsky revoked Missy Kurtz's immunity."
Olivia eyed the papers on the floor. "And this bothers you how?"
"It bothers me because she listed for tomorrow. Tomorrow! I have to get my entire opening prepped tonight, and I haven't even interviewed Missy." Alex's voice held equal parts frustration and steel, but behind it Olivia could hear a whisper of self-doubt.
Olivia sighed. Figures. She forced a smile, and opened her arms in invitation. "I know, baby," she soothed, feeling the attorney's answering sigh as she firmed her embrace around Alex's chest. "It'll be OK. You'll do great."
Alex relaxed into Olivia a little further.
"Tell you what," said Olivia after a moment, 'You get to work. I'll be back around seven with take-out, and from then on it'll be couch and coffee duty for me."
Alex pulled back until she could meet Olivia's eyes. Really?
"You wanted to see me, Mr Branch?"
"Come in, Ms Cabot." The DA gestured toward an overstuffed leather chair. "May I call you Alex?" he asked convivially.
She nodded her assent.
"Now," he said, his voice a deep Texan gravel, "about young Rebecca Kurtz. I am aware you have reason to believe the foster sister, Missy, was behind the murders." He held up a file, and Alex deduced from the thickness of it that the DA was thoroughly acquainted with the facts of the case.
"Yes, sir. She-,"
"Call me Arthur, Alex. I see no reason to stand on formality in this office."
"Of course. Yes, it is clear she was behind both murders, and we have material evidence in the form of a locket she used to pay for the hit on her sister. We also have video tape evidence that she coerced her boyfriend, Joey Field-,"
"I am told Lena was unimpressed with our office backpedaling on Joey."
Oh, and some
"Yes." Alex pursed her lips, silently wished all manner of ills upon Liz and Judge Petrovsky both. In her current frame of mind the distinction was largely irrelevant.
"The video tape evidence makes it very clear that Missy Kurtz coerced Joey into raping her sister, in return for sexual favors. Missy was clearly driving this Joey is a lovestruck teenager, and she's leading him around by his libido." Alex's disgust welled up, sour in the back of her mouth. "She drugged that little girl, had her raped again and again by not just one man, but two, or possibly more! She deliberately infected her with gonorrhea. And then she had her murdered because she threatened to tell."
"I read the file. And I watched the interviews. Kurtz is calculating and remorseless. Any show of 'emotion' from her is purely to manipulate the bleeding-heart liberal in you, Alex. That girl is bad news. I want the death penalty."
Arthur Branch nodded slowly. "She is a cold-blooded murderer, Alex. You get a conviction, she gets a needle in her arm. Understood?"
"She's a victim! Her child hood was utterly appalling, she was abused almost from infancy. It's little wonder she's acting out-,"
"It's not 'acting out', Alex." Branch lifted a cigar from the ornate box on his desk, and rolled it absently between his fingers. "She's a killer." He looked up to meet Alex's gaze. She did not flinch.
"I understand the need to take a tough stand on this case, but I cannot believe that capital punishment should be on the table. Her upbringing should confer at least some degree of mitigation."
"Alex, when you got a rabid dog you don't reason with it you put it down."
Alex signaled, and then turned into the parking ramp near her office.
'You think I'm supposed to feel sad, scared? I don't. You can't kill me. I'm already dead'. Alex sighed deeply. An afternoon at Rikers with Missy Kurtz and Roger Kressler had left her jolted and off-center. She felt as though she were hanging onto her humanity with her fingernails.
"And you are certain that she knew what she was doing was wrong?"
"And yet she didn't care?"
"Essentially, yes. She lacks the emotional capacity to care. Elliot's assessment was slick, but he was pretty much on the mark. Missy is a psychopath."
"She's also a victim, George."
"A few of them are, in some way. Like bullies in the schoolyard have often been subjected to bullying in the home. Some psychopaths have themselves suffered severe psychological trauma. But not all."
Alex studied her colleague, puzzled.
"What we would traditionally call a 'psychopath' people with antisocial personality disorder - make up around one percent of the general population, but as much as 25% of the prison population. And they are responsible for 70% of the violent crimes which occur in prison. The havoc a true psychopath can wreak is immense." George Huang shifted in his seat, warming to his subject. "What sets a psychopath apart from a normal person is what he or she lacks. There is no depth of emotion, they simply cannot experience emotion as you or I do. In fact, it puzzles them, and many find others' emotions intriguing. Criminal psychopaths feel no empathy for their victim, and cannot take responsibility for their own actions so most will blame their victims, genuinely believing that the person invited catastrophe upon themselves. They'll say, 'No big deal he was insured', or 'He should have been able to tell what sort of a mood I was in [before I beat him senseless]'. Some have been known to kill, just to find out what it 'feels' like, or because they can't quite remember what it felt like last time they did it. And yet, what they 'feel' is more akin to forensic fascination."
Alex felt queasy.
"But it's not just about lacking empathy. A psychopath becomes easily bored, and seeks out excitement or thrills. They feel no remorse for their actions, and lying is a characteristic part of their interactions with others. They are often glib and charming, and because they study how normal people react emotionally to certain stimuli they can be extremely manipulative. They know exactly which buttons to press to get the response they want. Missy knows just how to get people her foster parents, Joey, even Rebecca to do her bidding. She has learned how to use the emotions of normal people against them, and she does so callously, because she cannot operate in any other way."
"But Missy is a victim! She was raped, violently, repeatedly. From the time she was a toddler she was used by her father and his associates as an object of violent sexual gratification. Missy's early life was the very definition of hell."
"It was." He nodded. "She has suffered more than just the violence and abuse. Missy may or may not have started out as a normal child, but it is clear that what she is now is a rapist and murderer."
"George, I can't seek the death penalty for this girl. It's wrong!"
"Alex, whether or not you seek capital punishment for her is a matter for you and the DA. I cannot advise you. What I can tell you is that Missy is aware of the difference between right and wrong. She is aware of societal norms. She has had to learn them in order to 'function' in normal society, so she can mimic normalcy herself. But that's the thing she knows the rules, and could easily identify when others are 'doing wrong', but she feels no inherent need to apply them to herself."
"So what sort of treatment can she get? How do we make up for what's been done to her?"
George sighed heavily. "The best research indicates that the more detailed and intensive the therapy, the better the outcome appears to be " He trailed off, waiting for Alex to meet his eyes. In them he saw hope, anticipation that he would be handing her an opportunity to exercise her own humanity in seeking justice for each of the victims in this case. His eyes closed briefly, knowing he was about to say would extinguish that hope.
"There's nothing you can do, Alex. Nothing anyone can do."
Alex sat motionless, stunned. "But you said-,"
"I said 'appears'. The best research indicates that the most a psychopath can gain from therapy of any kind is that it teaches them how to mimic emotional responses. They learn to feign empathy, and their manipulative skills increase commensurately. They do not gain true insight, and they do not ever grow a conscience. The best you can hope for is that as they age they'll grow too bored to be bothered to commit criminal acts. You can't help this girl, Alex." Huang studied the attorney, noting with regret that another small part of the brash, idealistic naïveté which had so determined her early effectiveness with the squad had been replaced by callous reality.
He gave her a moment.
"Alex, may I ask you something?"
"What bothers you more about this case? Is it seeing for yourself that there are genuine monsters in the world, or feeling like you're a monster for having to do your job?"
Alex leaned back into the couch, and kicked her shoes off wearily. Eyes closed, she rubbed slowly at her temples, not bothering to stop as she heard Olivia set a wine glass on the coffee table, and felt the detective sit beside her.
"I think you're wrong," Olivia said quietly.
"The death penalty, for Missy. It's wrong."
"The girl took out a contract on her sister, and two young people died because of her."
"I know. But it isn't that black-and-white, Alex."
"She's a psychopath, Liv."
"She's a victim. You know what was done to her!"
Alex sat up and looked tiredly at Olivia. "She was a victim. She's now a perpetrator. She raped and killed her baby sister."
Olivia sat motionless on the couch. "But don't you see, Alex? She has been acting out, crying out for help after what was done to her."
"No, Liv. I know what happened to her - Huang gave me the file-,"
"Then you know I'm right. You're punishing her for what was done to her. You're blaming her for being raped herself."
"I'm not, Liv. I know what happened to her. But she's gone beyond just acting out. She's too damaged. She can't form normal relationships now she can only give the appearance of it. For her, the outward displays of emotion are play-acting. And none of this excuses her actions, or what she did to her sister. It might help explain it but it isn't an excuse. It's not a defense."
Alex sighed heavily. "Huang and I talked about this for the better part of an hour today. As far as he's concerned, she has no capacity for empathy or remorse, and, in his opinion, she'll never learn them. Which means the chance of reoffending is nearly a certainty." She glanced at the detective. "It's pretty hard to escalate much further beyond the proxy rape and murder of your little sister."
"So you just forget what she's suffered?" Olivia was appalled.
"No, Liv. I don't forget but I also don't forget what was done to Rebecca."
"How do you justify declaring one victim more worthy than another?"
"That's just it. Justice for Missy would be prosecuting her abusers, putting them behind bars. And that's already been done, for the most part. Justice for Rebecca is having her murderer punished. Missy knew she was committing acts of abuse, and murder. She knew it was wrong, but she did it anyway.
"I stand up for the victims, Liv. That's why I'm in this job." Alex paused, and her voice took on an edge of steel. "I know what I saw in that interview room this afternoon. Not who, but what. Missy no longer has the qualities which define humanity she no longer has a soul. I will not let Rebecca's murderer off without prosecuting her to the full extent of the law. That's my job, Liv. That's the law."
Olivia closed her eyes and nodded.
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