Narrative v. Facts, aka #FakeNews

Those of you who have been in my classes will recall that I strongly emphasize that anything you read about in the “news” about a use-of-force event must be presumed to be 100% wrong until proven otherwise. Sometimes the errors are simply honest mistakes, the result of simple ignorance, and sometimes the “errors” are a natural consequence of journalists propagandizing a desired narrative.

We have a great example of the latter in a recent article out of USA Today involving a woman convicted of murder attempting to escape liability for her crime by presenting herself as an innocent victim of evil men—a common theme in these cases is “woman as victim of sex trafficking.” (This form of narrative seems to be enjoying a particular popularity recently, as it was similarly propagated in the case of Cyntoia Brown.)

This most recent case comes to us out of Ohio, and involves Alexis Martin. Here’s how USA Today reports her story:

Alexis Martin wanted a chance to escape the horrendous abuse of human trafficking.

When her trafficker, Angelo Kerney, was robbed by a rival, Martin hoped the crime may provide an opportunity to find a way out, said Sasha Naiman, one of Alexis’s clemency attorneys.

But the robbery turned violent. As Martin, just 15 years old, was being raped in another room by her pimp’s 20-year-old brother, her pimp was killed by the robber, Naiman said.

Martin was charged with murder.

Martin was convicted at trial of murder and sentenced to 21 years. She’s in the news because she is appealing her fate.

Wait, a young woman was convicted of murder even though she was being raped at the time? What kind of outrageous injustice is this? The story continues, carefully downplaying the basis for her conviction:

She’s now serving a minimum 21-year sentence because Summit County prosecutors argued she helped plot the robbery and thus was culpable in the murder despite never pulling a trigger.

Did you notice how USA Today chose to phrase that statement? “Prosecutors argued she helped plot the robbery.” Left out? Prosecutors didn’t merely make that argument, they made it in a court of law, with Martin present and represented by opposing counsel, and they unanimously convinced a jury of that argument beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, the conviction based on this same argument has been affirmed on appeal, again with Martin represented by legal counsel.

Also, that nonsense about “… despite never pulling the trigger” is just that, nonsense. It has never been the law that only the person who pulls the trigger can be held accountable for an unlawful killing. Anyone who conspires in the death is as guilty as the trigger-puller. This is no different for Ms. Martin than it is for anyone else.

In contrast to the emotive narrative provided by USA Today, here’s how the Ohio Supreme Court recounts Martin’s involvement in this case, based on the actual evidence and argument made at the actual trial, at which Martin was represented by legal counsel:

Martin was 15 years old when she and three adults planned to rob Angelo Kerney and burglarize his home. On November 7, 2013, Martin and Janae Jones went to Kerney’s house. They distracted 36-year-old Kerney and 20-year-old Alecio Samuel with dancing and sex. Jones went upstairs to have sex with Kerney, aand Martin stayed downstairs to have sex with Samuel.

Two men, Dashaun Spear and Travaski Jackson, entered the house. Spear went upstairs and shot Kerney twice in the head, killing him. Samuel was shot in the head after begging for his life. He survived but sustained serious injuries. Samuel saw Martin and her accomplices cleaning up the scene before they left.

Innocent rape victim, or co-conspirator in a murderous robbery? The trial jury heard both those narratives, and chose which one they believed—again, unanimously.

Naturally, there’s much discussion of the difficult life that Martin endured prior to these events, most of which is apparently based on Martin’s unsubstantiated claims. Even if true, however, none of it excuses conspiracy to murder. There is a legal defense of duress, but it cannot be used to justify an unlawful killing.

In closing, just remember that what you’re reading in the modern era of “journalism” is likely not a straight-forward “who, what, when, where, why”—it’s far more likely to be a propagandistic narrative explicitly intended to provoke outrage and drive clicks. This sad truth is an unavoidable consequence of the traditional model of news media having become uneconomical in the internet era, compelling the “news” to resort to click-bait in order to keep the lights on and pay the rent.


Attorney Andrew F. Branca

Law of Self Defense LLC

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