Monday, 16 August 2010

Cast-iron defence

OK, I want you to picture a courtroom.

Our wrongly accused defendant has taken the stand, sworn the oath and sweated his way through a rigorous cross-examination.The prosecuting attorney has done a pretty good job of besmirching our hero's alibi, calling witnesses' testimonies into question, and outlining his potential motives.

After a hopeful start, this is starting to look like an open-and-shut case. Then the door of the court opens, and the defence attorney's plucky assistant creeps forward, holding a small envelope. He hands it over and our hero's lawyer glances at its contents.

The lawyer then walks around the desk, picks up Exhibit A (the bloody knife - sheathed in a plastic evidence bag), and throws it at the defendant. Instinctively, the hero raises his right hand to catch the projectile, causing a gasp of realisation to ripple through the packed courthouse.

He couldn't have done it you see - because the forensic expert's testimony confirmed that the killer was left-handed, based on the angle of the stab wounds that were inflicted. With a bang of the gavel, our hero is released into the loving embrace of his wife, free to pursue a life of religious fulfilment.

As movie clichés go, this is the oldest one in the book. If there was any veracity in these legal thrillers, southpaws would have been rounded up and imprisoned years ago since, according to Hollywood screenwriters, they're about three thousand times more likely to commit murder.

And yet, in a bizarre case of life imitating sort-of-art, Paul Reubens is claiming the 'left-handed' defense for the time he was arrested for getting a little too 'hands-on' in a grot-cinema back in 1991.

The incident pretty much ended his career as Pee Wee Herman, the falsetto-voiced man-child who occupied a strange place in popular culture throughout the 1980s - somewhere between children's entertainer and Krueger-rivalling nightmare figure.

Ruebens was fingered by police in an 'adult theatre' for taking matters into his own hands - making him and his 'Pee Wee' the subject of a media frenzy. His TV show was dropped and a range of toys and merchandise swiftly removed from branches of Toys-R-Us. Although he kept working, his popular character was shelved indefinitely.

Reflecting on this difficult time in a new Playboy interview, Paul has spoken out about what might have happened had the case gone to trial. "We had... an expert from the
Masters and Johnson Institute who was going to testify that in 30 years of research on masturbation the institute had never found one person who masturbated with his or her nondominant hand. I'm right-handed, and the police report said I was jerking off with my left hand. That would have been the end of the case right there, proof it couldn't have been me."

Well, you never saw that on Perry Mason.

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