The Guilt or Innocence of Joseph Brooks

A couple months ago, a guy named Joseph Brooks–known best as the person who wrote the award-winning song (and panned movie of the same name) “You Light Up My Life” in the 1970’s–committed suicide by putting a bag over his head and pumping helium into said bag.  He left a note, but as of me writing this the contents were not made public (I’d like to imagine, due to the use of helium in his death, that the type point in the note is reeeeeeeeeeeally small, or at least all concentrated on the top fourth of the page).

A twist comes in the story when it is revealed that Brooks was awaiting trial on charges of rape and molestation of over a dozen women, whom he allegedly lured to his apartment with an alleged promise of an acting audition and allegedly gave the women he allegedly brought home an alleged drink allegedly laced with an alleged drug so he could allegedly assault them in their alleged compromised state.

I’ve used the term “alleged” liberally because the point of this post is we do not know if he did it or not.  The only people still alive that know beyond any shadow of a doubt are the women behind the charges.  That’s it.  You don’t know.  I don’t know.  You didn’t know him.  I didn’t know him.  You likely didn’t even know or care that he existed at all.  I didn’t.

So what’s my point?  Let’s take a look at some of the reader comments  from the news article in which I learned about Mr. Brooks, his demise, and his alleged crimes:

“Dude was a molester and a rapist, sorry, I don’t feel so bad.”

“At least his victims won’t have to be put through court and dealing with a defense attorney trying to put the blame on them. Peace to the victims…”

“As a victim of rape by a man who also stalked me relentlessly . . . there was a time in my life when I was in constant fear. as it turned out this man later committed suicide as well, and it was most likely as a result of the fact that it was uncovered shortly beforehand that he had molested and raped dozens of others. i must admit, when he died I felt a measure of relief. now, at least these women need not feel fear any longer.”

“I prefer suicide for this guy rather than paying for his stay in prison.”

“Sex with this dude? EEEWWWWW…….pay a hooker already and don’t molest innocent women – that’s why they make $100 an hour! (I’d charge more.) Sorry for his family anyway, but sounds like the apple didn’t fall far from the tree [referencing the unrelated murder charges against his son]- the fewer the rapists in the world, the better. Still a sad thing.”

“Seriously…those charges sound seriously creepy. And the fact that the son is also charged with murder is also disturbing. Makes you wonder about the family lifestyle.”

When I protested in replies to one of the above commenters, “he plead ‘not guilty’ and he was still awaiting trial, which means nothing had been proven yet,” I was told that “the suicide itself is a really big tip-off that he felt he had done something wrong…”

Now let’s compound the fact that the next morning as I drove my wife to work, the radio show I listen to brought this story up and they and every caller jumped all over how horrible of a person he must have been and how disgusting he was and how disturbing it is that he wrote such a well-loved love song to which people have danced at their weddings and proms.

I’m not blind, mind you.  I get where the assumption comes from that he’s shown his guilt by way of his actions, but I’m also smart enough to realize that may not be the case, and civilized enough to not rest on either assumption because I know that I don’t know.

Joseph had another factor working against him, which was alluded to in one of the comments–his appearance.

He fits our mental image of “creepy molester,” doesn’t he?

“Hey, everyone–this guy here?  He committed suicide.  He was also charged with multiple rapes.  Okay, see ya later!”

It’s so easy to draw those lines ourselves.  I DO want to cast another angry glare at the reporter who chose THIS photo to go with the article.  You know how Zsa Zsa Gabor’s been in and out of the news due to health problems and that amputated leg?  They usually run photos like this for those:

Except that this is closer to what she looks like today:

Now I could drone on forever about the dishonesty in the media over a wide variety of topics and methods, but that’s not the ultimate point here.  I just want to point out that they chose the picture you see up there to be the only image that we’re likely to ever see of that guy to accompany a story about his suicide, oh and by the way he was charged with rape.  Except a simple Google search will show you that there were plenty of other options for that photo.  It’s safe I promise.

They could have taken the “Zsa Zsa Approach,” as I will choose to call it:

Or they could have taken something a bit more recent that doesn’t scream “hide your children”:

So we not only have our default humanity that causes us to assume that this guy was as bad as anyone could have said he was, but we have those responsible for telling us about it in the first place trying to create a reaction through their layout of the story.

By the time this publishes, it could have come out (as a bottom-of-the-page, buried article, no doubt) that his suicide note included a full confession to his alleged crimes.  Even if that were the case, that doesn’t excuse anyone for concluding his guilt based on an article combining the story of his death plus his charges plus a creepy photo.

What still upsets me about all this is that there are some people who won’t be able to grasp the logic here–especially if it can be proven, postmortem, that he was guilty.  Americans are fed the whole “innocent until proven guilty” line in our grade school classes as we learn about the “glory” that is the United States, but are never really taught what it means.  Let me explain.

It means that until a trial is over and the accused is shown to be guilty, the state, the authorities, the court, the jury, the media, and–as an extension and display of decency–the public should all assume that said accused is NOT guilty.  Now, if you’re the kind of person who wouldn’t have thought twice to leave a comment like the ones I listed above, this next part might be a little hard to follow:  assuming innocence at that stage does NOT mean that we therefore assume that those who made the accusations are liars, either.  It means no bias.  The only persons that are reasonably allowed to assume either the guilt of the accused or the dishonesty of the accusers are those personally involved.  To have connection to it outside of that, yet assume guilt (or lying) is no different than believing the stories about the awkward girl that sat by herself in the cafeteria in 7th grade.

You can argue with me, as at least one person has, that none of this should really matter because I nor anyone I know is involved with the death or charges of Joseph Brooks.  To that, I say (and conclude with) if anyone you know and love was accused of a horrific crime and a large portion of the public happily believed in their guilt (not to mention the media pulling their little sly tricks to nudge opinions in a certain direction), you would be happy to have someone you didn’t know call those kinds of people out.  I certainly would.

[Note from Braden: I wrote this well before the whole Casey Anthony Verdict fiasco.  Though the trial was going on at the time, I knew nothing about it except faces from tabloids in the line at Safeway.  But my perspective on this topic is the same for both stories.  Sure, by all accounts I’ve seen, Anthony looks guilty as sin.  But I know what the media is saying, which is playing to popular opinion, and the fact is that I wasn’t there and the jury felt that, based on the evidence, Casey must be found innocent.  If we’re going to be civilized about this and not reactionary and emotional, we must accept that Casey was not found guilty–our own opinions are our own opinions, but those more involved said she has to go free.  At this juncture, that’s all we can do.]

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3 responses to “The Guilt or Innocence of Joseph Brooks

  1. I think there are issues of common sense here that are obscured by the legal issues.

    It is one thing to hold the presumption of innocence as the cornerstone of a just society. It is quite another to look away from the simple reality that, always, where there’s smoke there’s fire.

    It’s not normal to let 30 days go by with a missing child and no word to the cops. It’s not normal to have a group of women claim you drugged and assaulted them. I am fine with what my brain tells me: these people were involved in some very bad stuff. My brain and my gut tell me that’s true.

    Now, does that common sense drive our court of law? Absolutely not. And it should’nt. But it drives my interactions with others and I am just fine with that, and the rest of us should be as well.

    We need to be more articulate about the separate realities of court and life, and to defend each. They are each legitimate realms of reality. Case in point, we have a public defender in my hometown arrested for trying to prostitute a 5 year old boy over the Internet. He may never be found guility in court, but the evidence amassed for his arrest is enough to tell me that he is a very bad man. Will he go to jail? I don’t know. I don’t really care. But he needs to stay the hell away from me and my family, and I have the right to make that assessment.

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. I appreciate this intelligent response. I still hold to what I’ve said, but it’s a breath of fresh air to have a civilized disagreement to my opinion.

      The main objection I have to this, though, is that in the end you still only know what you’ve been told by third- and fourth-hand sources. Or more. I would also lean more towards your side of this if the news media were fact-based and not sensationalism-based and secretly meant for entertainment. But since it is, I feel its our responsibility to take what they tell us with the proverbial grain of salt.

      There are so many angles to every story that may not be covered and you or I may never think about. There may be details we don’t ever learn because it wasn’t in the media’s best interest to bring it up. It’s one thing to know what we know and react accordingly (like not wanting Casey Anthony to babysit your kids), but it’s another to cry out for the “crucifixion” of someone based solely on what we’ve been told by people with no more connection to the real situation than the rest of us.

  2. I don’t know if you caught my post on the Anthony trial: http://essediemblog.com/2011/07/06/saving-everyones-baby/ We are probably in the same universe on this where it counts.

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