Editor's Note: Tom is on vacation this week. An earlier version of this column appeared here on July 21, 2002.
The facts of the case are not in dispute. The defendant was the last person to see her husband alive. His disappearance coincided with a weekend do-it-yourself home remodeling project that went sour. The prosecution wants you to believe that the defendant murdered her husband over a botched bathroom-tile project, even though neither a body nor evidence of foul play has been presented. The prosecution’s entire case is based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence.
It has been a lengthy trial. You have been inundated with depositions and hardware store receipts.
Before you begin your deliberations, I want you to set aside the facts as the prosecutor sees them. I want you to consider the possibility that someone else is responsible for the disappearance of the defendant’s husband. The burden of responsibility should be placed at the feet of the national media, both print and broadcast.
Who among us has not been enticed by a home-improvement TV show to tackle some job that professional craftsmen are paid handsomely to do. “Build a replica of the Sistine Chapel, complete with frescoes, in just one weekend. We’ll be back in a minute to show you how.”
Maybe it’s a simpler project, like tiling a bathroom. Those people on the television look like you, they look like me, they look like the defendant. They are obviously good folks, full of enthusiasm and well groomed.
As we watch them, doing all the tile tasks in a cheerful and step-by-step fashion, we begin to see our bathrooms as sub-standard and shabby. This insidious sense of dissatisfaction is coupled with an egocentric and visceral realization — if that knucklehead and her brainless boy-toy of a husband can tile a bathroom, we sure as heck can.
And therein lies the tale.
There are tasks that husbands and wives can do together — like taking separate vacations — and there are tasks that can lead to a courtroom — like a home-improvement project. The television industry should be required to include a warning at the beginning of every home-improvement broadcast.
“Government warning: According to the Surgeon General, couples should not embark on home-improvement projects because of the risk of divorce or homicide. Such projects impair your ability to speak civilly to one another and may adversely affect your financial status.”
If such a warning had been given to the defendant, we wouldn’t be in this courtroom today and she wouldn’t be missing a husband or suffering that kink in her neck every time she looks at the misaligned tile in her shower stall.
In conclusion, my client is not guilty of murder. Rather, she an innocent victim of media-induced expectations and a reckless sojourn down the “tile aisle.”
As for the whereabouts of her husband, I have a private investigator following a lead that has led to Pahrump, Nevada, where there is a possibility that our errant spouse is living under an assumed name and dealing blackjack at a discount casino.
A tile job gone bad will do that to a man.
The defense rests.