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Court upholds man's conviction for 1987 Roxbury rape and murder; one justice says case shows it's time to start considering femicide as a specific crime

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that James Paige, who remained free until 2016, got a fair trial for the aggravated rape and murder of Dora Brimage, 19, on Warren Street in Roxbury in 1987 and so will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Paige did not come to the attention of investigators until 2014, when DNA from semen found in Brimage's body matched a sample he had given after conviction for an unrelated crime. BPD detectives then found witnesses tying Paige to the rape and murder of Brimage, who sang gospel in her church and who had hoped to become a nurse, and who accepted a ride home from Paige after a party.

In its ruling today, the state's highest court set a new legal precedent: That prosecutors no longer have to rely on traditional evidence - torn clothing or physical damage to the victim's genitals - to prove aggravated rape if a sexual act occurs right before a murder.

The ruling overturns a part of a 2015 decision in which the court ruled that while a man in a murder case could be convicted of murder, there was not enough evidence to prove he had also raped his victim first, because while the two had had sex, and while she was found with two of her teeth knocked out and she had blood in her mouth, she was also working as a prostitute that night and there were no signs of ripped clothing or physical damage to her genitals.

In today's ruling, the court wrote:

We now conclude, however, that where there is evidence that the defendant severely injured and killed the victim proximate to having sex with the victim, the jury may infer that the victim did not consent to the sexual intercourse.

The change matters because aggravated rape proves the existence of "malice," one of the potential conditions for convicting a person of first-degree murder, which carries a sentence of life without parole.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Elspeth Cypher, says it's time to go even further, for the court to specifically recognize femicide, or the murder of a woman because she is a woman, as a distinct crime.

Because the victims of femicide are targeted based on their sex, femicide may be understood as a type of hate crime. See Taylor, Note, Treating Male Violence Against Women as a Bias Crime, 76 B.U. L. Rev. 575, 576-577 (1996). The violence of these offenses serves to terrorize the victims and, thus, to subjugate women as a group. ... As such, hate crimes exact a greater toll on society and women, both individually and as a group, than isolated incidents of violence. ...

To use the term "femicide" also acknowledges its prevalence in our society at large. Reliable data on the incidence of femicide is unfortunately lacking. No official sources directly study male-on-female homicide or its motivations. An analysis of cross-sex homicide rates generally, however, suggests that femicide is on the rise in the United States. See Violence Policy Center, When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2019 Homicide Data (Sept. 2021) ("Since reaching its low . . . in 2014, the rate [of women murdered by men in incidents with one victim and one offender] has increased, with 2019's rate . . . up nine percent since 2014").

Cypher added it's time to stop blaming prostitutes for crimes committed against them:

I also wish to address directly the implication that prostituted women are more likely to consent to a sexual encounter before being killed. A prostituted woman is no more likely to do so than a nonprostituted woman. Even outside the context of homicide, evidence that a woman is prostituted does not decrease the likelihood that she was raped. Rather, studies suggest that prostituted women are more likely to be raped than others. See, e.g., Cooney, "They Don't Want to Include Women Like Me": Sex Workers Say They're Being Left Out of the #MeToo Movement, Time (Feb. 13, 2018) (although "[t]here are no comprehensive, up-to-date statistics on how many sex workers in the U.S. have experienced sexual violence," "[o]ne systematic review of research found that globally, sex workers have a 45% to 75% chance of experiencing . . . sexual violence on the job"). Additionally, evidence suggests that homicides occur with similar frequency alongside prostitution as they do alongside rape. See FBI, Expanded Homicide Data Table 11 (2019)(listing twelve incidents of homicide occurring in context of prostitution and commercialized vice and eight homicides occurring in context of rape).

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Oh, wow, this is a huge deal. A long time coming but better late than never. Rest in Peace, Dora, justice was slow but it's come.

Voting closed 12

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but there is definitely a special place in Hell for men who commit crimes like this against women.

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Ugh, why isn’t this already law? We may not be in the minority (51%), but we are targets based on sex/gender alone.
Sluts, prostitutes, mothers, daughters, sisters, criminals. We are targeted and murdered.

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While I approve of the law treating hate as an aggravating factor, I'm leery about laws that say it's a worse crime to murder a [police officer / transit worker / postal worker / old person / young person / trans person / person of another race / woman / etc] because it appears to enshrine in law a principle that some lives are inherently worth more than others.

I acknowledge that this is complex and that I appear to be arguing opposite sides at the same time:

-- Cold-bloodedly murdering a stranger solely because of hate for her as a trans woman, far worse than murdering someone in a fight that escalated.

-- On the other hand, killing someone in a robbery, the fact of the victim being a trans woman doesn't necessarily make it a worse crime if it didn't come into play in the perp's actions or choice of victim.

Voting closed 16

In both alternative examples you sited, someone is dead. Gone, never coming back!

Also the judge saying its time to go even further. What is currently further than life in prison? Also one would assume, in order for a crime to be considered femicide, it would also need to be homicide, which again has lead this scumbag to spend the rest of his life in jail.

This is nothing more than black robe activism.

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Like repealing settled case law, how dare they! Oh, wait, sorry, we're talking about Massachusetts, not federal-level stare decisis.

In any case, her concurrence isn't very long, you might want to read it (it's at the bottom of the attached decision); you'd see she's not calling for new penalties, just an acknowledgement that, in fact, sometimes women are killed because they are women.

It can be harder to address a problem nobody wants to just come out and admit is a problem, and violence against women is just that sort of problem, is what she's basically saying (she also discusses vestiges in modern law of the days when women were basically treated more like property than people).

In terms of actual day-to-day justice, the big news in the decision is what the majority (with which she, well, concurred) agreed - that juries can convict somebody of rape leading to murder even if the victim's clothes aren't ripped and her genitals don't show any sign of trauma. That's a pretty big deal for cases like that, especially because it overturns a decision the court had made only six years ago.

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I'm just sort of thinking out loud, but when it comes to something like children, women (at the hands of a physically larger man) and elderly people can you justify the extra punishment as a balance to the victim being more vulnerable? Sort of a "too late" equal protection clause action.

Voting closed 10

the fact of the victim being a trans woman doesn't necessarily make it a worse crime if it didn't come into play in the perp's actions or choice of victim.

The essence of what makes something a hate crime is the targeting. That's the entire point. It is the opposite of saying that some lives are worth more than others; it's pointing out that some lives are considered to be worth less than others, and that's why those people are targeted.

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Targeting a victim because of some group membership: hate crime. Victim simply a member of some specific group but said membership not specifically relevant to the crime: victim group membership not a factor in charging or sentencing.

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...I don't think that the judge (or anyone) is saying "person in marginalized group, therefore hate crime". People who oppose hate crimes legislation often use this strawman argument, but that's not how it works.

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"femicide" means killing a woman. To make that a different crime than killing any other human, irrespective of motive or other aggravating factors, is exactly what I'm opposed to. I'm also opposed to laws carving out special penalties for murdering law enforcement officers, or for assaulting, say, postal employees or transit workers as opposed to, say, electricians or convenience store clerks.

Voting closed 9

It's right in the literal text. "femicide" means killing a woman.

IANAL, but I do know (and it may interest you to know) that the "literal text" doesn't mean jack shit where the law is concerned. Words that have other meanings in other contexts can have quite different meanings in a legal context (for example, "deadly force", which includes force that could result in death or serious bodily injury). I don't think table-pounding about the roots of the word "femicide" is helpful.

Voting closed 5

... in the law, looking up dictionary definitions of the _name_ of a crime does not constitute understanding what the legally-defined crime actually is. (E.g. "treason" -- as people casually use it vs. how the US Constitution defines it).

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