"Hey, Daddy, remember when you killed Susie?"
By Jamie Kanter
Susan Nason was an 8-year-old girl. She was raped and murdered around 1970. In 1988, George Franklin was convicted of the crime and was sent to jail. The prosecution, lacking any physical evidence of the crime, relied on the testimony of an eyewitness, Franklin's daughter Eileen. She told the jury that she was in the front seat of the family van while her father molested and killed Susie behind her. She said that she had watched her best friend's brutal execution and that her killer needed to be brought to justice. But what took so long?
Franklin's trial occurred almost twenty years after he supposedly committed this heinous crime, not exactly what one would call "swift justice." At this point, you might be asking yourself what kind of woman could have lived with this terrible memory for so many years without doing anything to avenge her friend's murder.
Actually, she claims that she didn't live with the memory.
Eileen Franklin claims that the terrible memory of Nason's murder had lain dormant in her mind until it was awoken by her realization that her daughter resembled the deceased. Apparently the resemblance made her think of the dearly departed and she suddenly remembered that her father had cold-heartedly slain her friend and that he had sexually molested Eileen for years. Oh, and she remembered him committing other murders as well. Boy, I hope that never happens to me when I look at my daughter. I'm not sure that I could handle a childhood murder that I'd forgotten all about.
Eileen's "recovered memory" is a much-debated topic in the world of psychology. Some claim that these recovered memories were traumatic experiences shoved into the recesses of the brain to protect the person from unnecessary duress. They think that the brain can simply shut out some painful event, forcing it into the unconscious, inaccessible part of the mind. The jury believed Eileen and her recovered memory. But George Franklin is now a free man.
The original conviction was overturned in 1995 because a judge had the good sense to question the veracity of Eileen's testimony. The judge examined the details of her testimony and found that every single detail of her story could have been found in the local papers at the time of the murder. She knew nothing that was not made available to the public, thus her testimony could be viewed as a simple recitation of the facts she had memorized. Even I could tell the tale if given twenty years to study the material.
All the tales of so-called "recovered memories" should be taken with a big grain of salt. (One the size of Alaska would probably fit the bill.) Numerous studies, most notably those of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, have shown clearly that memories can be fabricated by outside sources. These memories can inadvertently be created by a skilled therapist. Under hypnosis, for example, the patient is highly susceptible to suggestion. If one were to suggest abuse, the patient just might cry abuse.
And why don't we all, like Eileen and her ilk, repress painful memories? I peed in my pants while waiting in line for a ski lift at Mammoth Mountain. I wet my bed for years and slept on plastic sheets. Why don't those memories go away and then come flooding back (pardon the pun) at some other point in my life? I had plenty of childhood trauma, but I seem to remember every embarrassing or frightening detail with remarkable clarity.
But even those crystal-clear memories might not be completely accurate. Time breaks down memory and we do not remember everything as it precisely occurred. I imagine that Eileen's twenty year-old memories may have been a bit hazy when she read them into the record. I have had only about ten years to forget how yellow the snow became , but she had over twenty years to forget that she did not witness her friend's death.
It turned out that DNA tests proved conclusively that George Franklin was, in fact, innocent of the murder of Susan Nason. Sure, he liked to look at pornography magazines dealing with pedophilia and bestiality, but at least he wasn't a murderer.
We cannot continue to accept recovered memory testimony as a useful legal tool. These memories may in no way resemble first-hand eyewitness accounts of crimes committed. They are better suited for Hollywood screenplays and Danielle Steele novels.
Don't believe everything you remember.
Jamie Kanter is a senior majoring in Spanish and psychology.