The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, January 8
January 8th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Arrest for “Abominable Act and Detestable Crime Against Nature”: 1962. Read that year again. It was in 1962, not 1562, when Max Perkins and Robert McCorkle were arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina, on the charge that they “did unlawfully, willfully, maliciously and feloniously commit the abominable and detestable crime against nature with each other.” The North Carolina statute they were charged under was a 429-year-old law carried over from England which provided imprisonment of between five to sixty years, after having been modified in 1869 to remove the death penalty. McCorkle pleaded no contest and received the minimum sentence of 5 to 7 years. He served a portion of that sentence (I don’t know how long) and was released. Perkins, who was at the very least a cross dresser but more likely may have been transgender, pleaded innocent. The jury however found Perkins guilty, and the same judge who sentenced McCorkle earlier sentenced Perkins to 20 to 30 years in prison.
Perkins went to Federal Court, and on October 5, 1964, Federal Judge J. Braxton Craven ruled that Perkins was wrongly convicted. Craven found that if the statute outlawing the “detestable crime” was a new one, it would be unconstitutionally vague. But since it wasn’t, he held that the weight of historical interpretation and common law pointed to a much more specific crime. “It has been interpreted many times by the North Carolina Supreme Court,” Craven wrote. “Although the court has said it means much more than it meant at common law or at enactment during the reign of Henry VIII, its decisions have made equally clear that crime against nature does not embrace walking on the grass.” Based on those decisions, Craven found that the specific crime being outlawed was “buggery”; Perkins’s “detestable crime” was fellatio. He also found that Perkins’s excessive punishment, when compared to McCorkle’s, was obviously imposed because “his not guilty plea inconvenienced the court and that he was punished for it.” Further, he found that Perkins’s court-appointed counsel refused to mount a defense or call any of Perkins’s witnesses. Judge Craven ordered Perkins released before concluding his opinion:
Is it not time to redraft a criminal statute first enacted in 1533? And if so, cannot the criminal law draftsmen be helped by those best informed on the subject — medical doctors — in attempting to classify offenders? Is there any public purpose served by a possible sixty year maximum or even five year minimum imprisonment of the occasional or one-time homosexual without treatment, and if so, what is it? Are homosexuals twice as dangerous to society as second-degree murderers — as indicated by the maximum punishment for each offense? Is there a good reason why a person convicted of a single homosexual act with another adult may be imprisoned six times as long as an abortionist, thirty times as long as one who takes indecent liberties with children, thirty times as long as the drunk driver — even though serious personal injury and property damage results — twice as long as an armed bank robber, three times as long as a train robber, ten times as along as one who feloniously breaks and enters a store, and 730 times as long as the public drunk?
These questions, and others like them, need to be answered.
Judge Craven would go on to serve on the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit from 1966 until his death in 1977. Perkins received a new trial and was found not guilty.
Graham Chapman: 1941. When Graham was growing up, his favorite radio program was the surreal British sketch comedy program The Goon Show, which made Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers household names. Chapman acknowledged that it was a major influence on him: “From about the age of seven or eight I used to be an avid listener…. In fact, at that stage I wanted to be a Goon.” He never got that chance, but he did go on to become a part of the Goon Show’s obvious successor: Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Chapman’s characters tended to epitomize the famous British Upper Lip, although those characters were often undone when their masks slipped to reveal a loony madness underneath. He also co-wrote the “Dead Parrot” sketch about a man who tries to return a dead Norwegian Blue Parrot to the pet shop, a sketch which is one of the Monty Python classics. Chapman played King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and he played the title character in Life of Brian.
Chapman came out as gay just before Monty Python’s Flying Circus went on the air in 1969, and he was committed to his life-long partner, David Sherlock, since 1966. In 1972, he helped to co-found the publication Gay News in an effort to change the way gay people were perceived by the public. Chapman was a raging alcoholic through much of his career, but he went sober in 1977 following a drunken interview on British television. He died on October 4, 1989 of throat cancer, on the day before a planned twentieth anniversary celebration of the first Flying Circus broadcast. Fellow Python Terry Jones called it “the worst case of party-pooping in all history.” John Cleese delivered the eulogy: “Graham Chapman, co-author of the ‘Parrot Sketch’, is no more. He has ceased to be. Bereft of life, he rests in peace. He’s kicked the bucket, hopped the twig, bit the dust, snuffed it, breathed his last, and gone to meet the great Head of Light Entertainment in the sky.”
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?