Jeffrey Chapman, who is soon to stand trial for first degree murder in Great Bend, Kansas, wants to remove the giant tattoo that spells out the word MURDER around his neck, believing that it will prejudice the jury against him.
The judge will allow Chapman to have the tattoo removed before the trial, it appears. There is precedent for this: in Florida, in 2010, a neo-Nazi charged with hate crimes was permitted to have the hate-related tattoos on his face and neck, including a swastika, covered up by a professional make-up artist. It was paid for by the state, naturally.
- I suppose this is the necessary and fair decision by the judge. Lawyer-pundit Alan Dershowitz made some interesting points regarding the Florida case, however, suggesting that the swastika and other tattoos were an extension of tattooed defendant John Allan Ditullio’s character, and covering them could be construed as misleading the jury. “He is alleged to have attacked people on the basis of sex orientation and race. The court has the chance to make its rulings based on whether the tattoos are relevant to the case,” Dershowitz said. “It depends on what the prosecution is trying to prove. If they are saying his Nazi ideology drove him, then you could argue that seeing the tattoos is relevant.” Dershowitz noted that his tattoos were obviously the way he chooses to present himself publicly. “It’s not like the swastika was on his rear end,” he said.
- Where does this stop, however? If a defendant is allowed to cover up marks he placed on his face that convey a negative impression, why shouldn’t a defendant be allowed to have extensive plastic surgery so that he won’t “look like a criminal”? Shaving, grooming and dressing up criminal defendants is already standard practice; lawyers can even place accused murderers in glasses they don’t need so that they will appear less threatening. How far can this this strategy go, or are there no limits?
- Are other conclusions one may reach about someone with a MURDER tattoo fair and reasonable, or just bias? Is it fair, for example, to fear such a person? Would a potential employer be exhibiting a bias if he refused to hire someone based on such a tattoo, even if the potential employee promised to wear turtlenecks? I think it is reasonable to be biased against people with MURDER tattooed on their necks. Now, to be fair, Chapman had the word printed backwards and in a mirror image, so that only he would see it written properly as “MURDER” when he looked in the mirror. This shows planning and intelligence, arguably.
- Are we “blaming the victim” by arguing that it is unjust for taxpayers to have to pay for the basic needs of someone who can’t find employment because of a completely self-inflicted handicap like the word MURDER tattooed on his neck? Would we be unkind and ungenerous to resent being ordered to support such an individual?
- What other self-destructive conduct is like tattooing MURDER on one’s neck? Or is the official verdict of American society that there should be no personal responsibility for self-destructive conduct?
Graphic: The Wichita Eagle