MAN SLAUGHTER by Steven Englund
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An exhaustive, clear-headed account of the case of Jennifer Patri, charged with first-degree murder in the 1977 shooting of her estranged husband, but convicted only of manslaughter after a brilliantly-orchestrated defense portrayal of her as the ""classic case"" of a battered wife acting in self-defense--which, Englund suggests, may not have been true. It all seemed straightforward to Waupaca County (Wisconsin) lawmen when Jen showed up at the sheriff's office and wrote out a confession: she'd shot Bob when he came by the farm to pick up their two daughters on his visitation day, buried the body (not too well) in a shed, then attempted to cover up the crime by making it appear that Bob had vanished and trying to burn down the farm for good measure. Open-and-shut, right? Enter Milwaukee's Alan Eisenberg, criminal lawyer extraordinaire--flamboyant, loudmouthed, egotistical, heartily disliked by the conservative Waupacans (""a greasy dwarf,"" said one local lawyer), but tough as nails and a merciless cross-examiner. Eisenberg, who ""operated with a purely utilitarian concern for raw facts"" (such as the medical evidence that showed Bob had been shot from above and behind), found in Jen the ""right mix of pathos and respectability"" and proceeded to paint her as a battered wife, enlisting sympathetic media types and concerned feminists. In Bob--a slightly-reformed smalltown greaser, sometime drinker and frequent bouncer of checks who'd left Jen for a flashy, twice-divorced former drug addict--the defense found ""apt prey for moral nitpicking."" The homicide victim was presented as a ""monster,"" a ""limb of Satan,"" and an ""alcoholic philanderer,"" who regularly beat Jen, displayed depraved sexual tastes (""he apparently dreamed up his own sexual circus,"" Eisenberg was quoted in Time as saying, ""and she was the ring monkey"") and had molested his twelve-year-old daughter. There was slim evidence of any of this, Englund concludes, though he admits that when first brought in for the book deal by the defense team he used ""Monkey"" as his working title--until he began to realize the story was more complex than JeWs partisans made it seem. In court, an inexperienced prosecutor and a cast of mostly inept lawmen made a hash of the state's case and the jurors, challenged to accept the battered-wife argument or be reviled as ""neanderthals,"" grudgingly bought it. Englund, a trained historian born in Waupaca, makes the most of both aspects of his background: he knows that the ""truth"" is often (as here) a shadowy thing, shaped by the preconceptions one brings to the inquiry, and his sense of the mind-set of a small community caught up in a media-hyped tragedy is unerring. Leagues above the usual true-crime, courtroom-drama material--and almost bound to be controversial.

Pub Date: Aug. 12th, 1983
Publisher: Doubleday