Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Perception

“Actors act… People live reality.” -- M. Gerald Schwartzbach,
in his opening statement.



“I looked and there weren’t any tears,” said Sean Stanek, who witnessed Robert Blake’s behavior the night of the murder. “I don’t know, people cry in different ways.”

The prosecution tried to bolster its circumstantial case against Robert Blake on the second and third day of the trial by calling four on-scene witnesses from the night of the murder.

Sean Stanek, the neighbor who answered the door to a frantic Blake and called 911, said Blake, after pounding on his door screaming for help, left Stanek to tend to Bakley, telling Stanek that he had to make a phone call.

A school nurse, Teri Lorenzo-Castaneda and her friend, Carol Caputo testified that Blake seemed at times distraught and at other times passive. Lorenzo-Castaneda said that Blake was evasive to her questions and never went near Bakley. Both said they saw tears when Blake cried.

Dr. James Michael McCoy, a hospital administrator, watched Blake from a distance. He noted that Blake did not appear distressed. In fact, McCoy said that Blake sounded “cajoling” when banging on Stanek’s door.

One might assume the prosecution would like the jury to believe that Blake’s inconsistencies upon seeing Bakley bleeding from the head and shoulder were part of an elaborate act, put on for the witnesses’ benefit. But in her opening statement Deputy District Attorney Samuels said that the State believed that Blake “freaked” at the sight of his “first murder” and abandoned the part of the plan to return to the restaurant.

“What the defendant didn’t allow for is that shooting someone in real life is a whole lot more traumatic than shooting someone in the movies,” Samuels said.

Was it an act or real life?

Shock manifests itself in different ways. It is unpredictable. We witness “strange” behavior on the TV news almost every day –- a man, zombie-like, pulls his child from a wreckage. A woman alone wails uncontrollably in the middle of a town. Rescue workers, apparently unfazed, dig through rubble in search of bodies. The news provides us only a snatch of this behavior. If the camera were to follow these people, we would see behavior that we might question if we didn’t know the circumstances.

Victims and witnesses of violent crimes suffer from “acute stress disorder” (ASD)during and/or immediately after a trauma. According to The State of Alaska Violent Crimes Compensation Board a person experiencing acute stress disorder must exhibit at least three of the five “dissociative” symptoms: “(1) a subjective sense of numbing, detachment, or absence of emotional responsiveness, (2) a reduction in awareness of his or her surroundings (e.g., “being in a daze”), (3) de-realization, (4) depersonalization and/or (5) dissociative amnesia (i.e. inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma).”1

De-realization is “a reaction to trauma in which the mind splits off certain aspects of the trauma from conscious awareness. Dissociation can affect the patient's memory, sense of reality, and sense of identity.”2 The Linden Center, Bradenton, Florida, describes de-realization in some of these ways3:

• spaciness
• withdrawn
• feeling cut off or distant from the immediate surroundings
• like being a spectator at some strange and meaningless game
• artificial

Depersonalization is “a dissociative symptom in which the patient feels that his or her body is unreal, is changing, or is dissolving.” The Linden Center describes this symptom as:

• unreal
• apart from everything
• unattached
• alone
• strange
• weird
• acting a part
• having mechanical actions
• remote
• a spectator
• witnessing one’s own actions as if in a film or on a TV programme
• not doing one’s own thinking

It appears that witnesses to Blake’s behavior described accurately the symptoms of ASD.

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The following are medical references:

1The State of Alaska Violent Crimes Compensation Board, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

2CHC Medical Library, Wausau, WI, Acute Stress Disorder

3The Linden Center, Bradenton, FL, Depersonalization, Derealization & Anxiety Disorder

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