Rewarding Violence And Vigilante Justice: The Unethical Glorification of Randall Margraves

That’s Margraves on the left, with Nassar, his target, cowering in red…

During the sentencing hearing for sexual predator Larry Nasser in an Eaton County, Michigan courtroom, Randall Margraves, the father of three daughters who were all molested by the former USA Women’s Gymnastics doctor, shouted “You son of a bitch!” and rushed Nassar.  He was tackled and placed in handcuffs. Before the attack, Margraves asked Judge Janice Cunningham to grant him “five minutes in a locked room with this demon. Yes or no.”  Perhaps he thought she was Ingham County Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who might have granted his request based on her words at his previous sentencing hearing. Cunningham, however, refused the request.

After the father’s attempt to take the law into his own hands, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis told the stunned courtroom, “We cannot behave like this. This is letting him have his power over us….You cannot do this. I understand Mr. Margraves’ frustration, but you cannot do this. Use your words, use your experiences. Do not use physical violence.” Judge Cunningham added,

“We cannot react by using physical violence and assault against someone who has performed criminal acts. What Mr. Nassar did is horrible. It’s unthinkable, but please let the criminal justice system do what it is supposed to do and issue the punishment he should get.”

Nonetheless, no charges were filed against Margraves. Wrong.  This is irresponsible and hypocritical, as well as cowardly. (We know any punishment will be unpopular with the “Think of the children!” and the “What if it was your daughters?” crowds as well as the “Punch Nazis in the face”  constituency) If the message really is that a society can’t give in to vigilante justice and let citizens employ physical violence as extra-legal means to exact vengeance against criminals, then those who behave this way must be punished.  If they are not, then the opposite message is sent: “Well, when someone is really bad, and hurts someone you really care about, we sympathize. We understand how you feel.” What if Margraves had reached Nassar and delivered a punch to his face, fracturing his jaw? Or ripped his lips off? That he didn’t was just moral luck. Would the father have been charged then, as millions around the nation shut down their ethics alarms and cheered?

For the justice system to remains coherent and maintain integrity, the father had to be charged.

After the episode, the conservative New York Post called him a “hero dad.”  Aaron Pangborn set up a  GoFund Me page seeking $1,000. It has raised more than $31,000 . Not only has Musgraves not been punished for trying to take the law into his own hands, he’s being rewarded for it.

This kind of thing is why it is so difficult to build an ethical culture. For the majority of the society, routinely emotion, anger, rationalizations and double standards overcome ethical principles, and the popular culture and news media, rather than explaining why this is wrong, encourage it.


Sources: Fox News, NY Post 1, New York Post 2

27 thoughts on “Rewarding Violence And Vigilante Justice: The Unethical Glorification of Randall Margraves

  1. Judge Aquilino set the stage for the attack when she made comments about him being gang raped im prison.

    I wonder how much money would have been raised had the father of a son who was sexually abused, if not actually raped, by his pretty teacher in Florida had attacked her Not much and he would have been rightly charged.

  2. As the father of daughters, could easily see myself unable to control those emotions in that environment. As a citizen, I would expect there to be consequences for my lack of control.

    • Such that I would NOT have been in that courtroom at all… my kids are one area where my passion threatens my self control, and I spend a lot of effort to get over those emotions before appearing in polite civil society.

      I purposely cool off, and can once again master my passions, that they do not master me.

      I feel for the dad, I really do… but he should have been charged. He might have been no billed by a grand jury, but the charging alone would sent the message that this is not allowed.

  3. Would there be any charges other than Contempt of Court? Perhaps disturbing the peace? He failed to assault him. The bailiffs were on top of their game. If you were prosecutor, what would be your recommendation?

    • I’d have to know what the laws are. It’s clearly disturbing the peace and assault (that’s placing one in fear of imminent unwanted touching). If you really wanted to get him, his tussling with the officers is theoretically chargeable. It is certainly contempt of court. That would be the simplest way to make a point: lock him up for a day.

      • In my mind the assault on the deputies is a charge that politically should be able to stick.

        If the deputies have a union, they should be making a stink.

      • Wait – you mean all of those years where my sister put her finger a centimeter from my nose and said “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!” was actually assault?!? My mom said I couldn’t raise a complaint until she touched me!

        But on the other aspect, with the deputies. If you jump at someone and while in mid-air a deputy tackles you from the side, what’s the legal theory that you assaulted the deputy? You all are blowing my mind right now and it’s apparent that I’m in need of a lesson.

        I agree on the contempt of court. It’s the easiest way to show punishment. I thought he’d spend up to a week in jail for it. The other charges could be interesting if they had a trial. Was it pre-meditated? He certainly had planned to ask the judge for the 5 minutes to physically abuse the prisoner. Was he overcome with emotion and temporarily insane? Perhaps, but I’d lean more towards pre-meditated. Could be interesting as a mental exercise, but in reality, he just needs a few days to consider his actions and come up with an “I’m Sorry.”

  4. Just symptomatic of that goofy judge’s failure to control her court room. Or perhaps more accurately, another example of her stirring up trouble. This defendant is going to end up serving his entire 157 years right there in her court room. The judge clearly does not want the cameras to stop rolling. Awful. The chief judge of that court should take her off the case and put someone else on to wrap this circus up.

  5. “For the justice system to remains coherent and maintain integrity, the father had to be charged.” Frankly the problem is not Justice, it is the “system” which is too often used to delay justice, or to minimize it through “plea deals”. Justice that is delayed years & years through abuse of the system has made people increasingly frustrated and, sometimes, violent. The “system” needs a major overhaul to include some recognition of the victims rights. Otherwise vigilante justice will take over. We are not that evolved.

    • That’s completely irrelevant to this post, and this situation. Nassar isn’t getting any breaks: to the contrary. And the victims have no right to beat him up, nor should they. Victims have no special rights, nor should they? What exactly are the rights you see lacking?

      • To a significant extent, the Justice system is neither coherent nor does it possess integrity.
        This should not blind us to the fact that most of those involved are doing their best to perfect an inherently imperfect system. There’s just too many who aren’t.

        A suggested correction;

        “For the justice system to become less incoherent and attain some greater measure of integrity, the father has to be charged.”

        So agree in spirit if not quite in letter.

        • “inherently imperfect system”

          That’s gonna require some unpacking.

          There are imperfect *systems*. Then there are imperfect *people* within REALLY REALLY good systems.

          I don’t think it does any good to describe the American *system* as inherently imperfect. No justice system is 100% perfect, that would require omniscience.

          I think the American *system* is designed to bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of avoiding the pitfalls of imperfect *people* and therefore the American *system* is as close to perfect as any justice system will get.

          I don’t think you can perfect a *system* that is about as optimized as you can get. I think the furthest you can cast your loaded comment with any fairness is that the individuals involved strive to adhere themselves to fairness and operating the system as it was designed.

  6. This reminds me of the “Why Gary, why?!” 1984 incident, where a kidnapper and sexual harasser got shot by the victim’s father, Gary Plauche, when getting transported by the police. This was caught on tape as well, which made it a pretty big story back in the day. Gary got off relatively easy, getting probation and community service hours, never spending a day in jail. So our society has some similar examples, which are then given kid gloves, so to say.

  7. You are absolutely correct, though I think using the word “vigilante” makes the guy seem more heroic, not less. At the core of our culture’s idealized vigilante concept is the idea that they must step in when the justice system fails. That can’t even be argued to be the case here; attacking him after he has already been convicted is just needless cruelty. I might sympathize with his desire to be cruel to a man who was despicably cruel to his daughter, but that doesn’t justify his actions.

  8. What role would “prosecutorial discretion” have here?

    Is the fundamental problem the victim statements?

    (I’m asking in complete ignorance to either issue)

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