Yesterday, amid tears of joy from the gallery, a rampaging judge turned loose a guy who said he killed his dad. A dad who was, in fact, killed, as evidenced by the dripping gore where he used to have a face.
Daddy was sitting behind his desk when somebody unloaded a brand new Walmart shotgun into him.
Mom said Charlie did it. Charlie said Charlie did it. Store video shows Charlie coaching his buddy through a straw-man purchase of the murder weapon. Fingerprints show that Charlie loaded the gun.
And yesterday the judge said there was no evidence whatsoever to indicate that Charlie Tan had killed his father. So he dismissed the charges. Double jeopardy means that they will stay dismissed.
Charlie, if the deputies are right, got away with murder. But that's not the half of it.
Not only was there planning beforehand – the purchase of the gun some several counties away, then the drive home from the Ivy League – there was also a lot of wrangling afterword – dead dad lay behind the desk in his office long enough for him to start to rot and for the dog to use him like a chew toy.
Only then did distraught mommy call 911 with feigned hysteria, telling about how her boy had to save her from her rampaging husband.
By then there was already a list of lawyers and a family strategy of silence. A few mumblings when the deputies showed up – my son was protecting me, I had to do it to save my mother – then it was I want to talk to my lawyer.
And then it was a refusal to say anything to authorities.
And then it was now.
And Charlie is a hero.
At least to some in his far-too-selfimpressed neighborhood. The claim of defense lawyers is that dead dad was abusive, and they point to repeated calls over the years for the deputies. Never any arrests, never any broken furniture, never any observable injuries, never any trips to the doctor or the emergency room, never any efforts by the football-playing sons to knock the old man on his ass. Just the purple ribbons, and online polls that show Charlie's Army is 2-to-1 in favor of vigilantism.
The old bastard got what he had coming to him, they seem to believe.
And now Charlie and mom have inherited what he used to have. That's a company and a multi-million dollar estate. That bought Charlie two of the best lawyers in town, and that has bought him his freedom.
Which gets us to the judge.
James Piampiano will be remembered for presiding over the biggest trial in years. And for botching it beginning to end.
That came to a culmination yesterday when, out of nowhere, at a minor proceeding intended to schedule a retrial, he dismissed the charges. He seems to have completely disregarded the legal standard for doing so, viciously attacked the prosecution along the way and threatened to handcuff the assistant district attorney, and given the middle finger to a bunch of voters who had only two days before elected him to a new 14-year term.
Which is one of the devious tangents.
More than a month ago, Commisar Piampiano scheduled the hearing for immediately after a high-profile election in which he was a candidate. His campaign, by the way, was bolstered by a combined $1,000 donated during the proceeding by Charlie Tan's lawyers. It seems clear that the judge used his judicial power to manipulate a system to his political advantage. And 36 hours after the polls closed, he lowered the boom.
And showed that he doesn't stand for rule of law.
The level of shock sent through the legal community by this unprecedented ruling is hard to overstate. When there weren't TV cameras around, lawyers were absolutely dumbfounded. Through the afternoon, lawyers – including defense lawyers – contacted the district attorney offering case references or legal theories that might be used to overturn the the dismisal.
But prospects are dim. Though there doesn't seem to be legal justification for the judge's decision, there also doesn't seem to be legal process to overturn the judge's decision.
Charlie Tan has learned what he long suspected – that he can get away with anything.
The rest of us learned what we long feared – that with enough planning and silence, the criminal justice system can be short circuited.
We also came to fear that maybe we had returned a rogue judge to the bench.
Because this judge who yesterday said there was no legal justification to try Charlie Tan for murder, let alone convict him of murder, let a jury deliberate for eight days. That means he let a man he supposedly believed was innocent face the prospect of conviction and 25 years in prison. That means he asked 12 people to labor over facts and evidence he already had decided were inadequate. And as that jury was closing in on a guilty verdict, he declared a mistrial and sent them home.
Then he granted television interviews, an action so uncommon and questionable as to have reportedly elicited a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commission.
And now this.
Poor kids in the city get a jury of their peers. Rich kids in the suburbs get a runaway judge. Black guys go to prison, Charlie Tan goes to Cornell.
And neighbors and activists say it's about domestic violence. Not the kind allegedly perpetrated by Charlie Tan, but the kind allegedly perpetrated by his dad. Any number of Pittsfordites standing in the doorways of their cookie cutter $300,000 homes will tell you that this is the right outcome.
Somehow, the notion of rule of law means nothing. Mob justice is the way to go. Take the law into your own hands. Calmly and premeditatively execute your own father because you claim he abuses your mother. This was not a crime of passion, it was a crime of calculation.
And somebody got away with it.
Charlie Tan didn't physically protect his mother in the midst of a family dispute, he didn't stand up to his far-smaller father in manly defense of his mother, he didn't use his education and social connections to get her help, he didn't get a job and rent her an apartment and take her away from it all, he came home from college with a shotgun, walked up to his father's office and, while the old man sat defenseless at his desk, shot him over and over and over.
And a few days later mommy called the cops. That's what the evidence showed. And that's what the community has embraced. And that is pretty effed up.
And now he walks free, emboldened in the golden-boy glow his patronizing Pittsford pals have bestowed upon him. Whether he's the greatest guy on earth, or they liked the idea of having a minority around who didn't scare them, Rochester's richest suburb really likes its Charlie.
And Rochester's most conniving judge has turned him loose.
And to people in the real world, that makes no sense at all.