Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Here's a story I don't know anything about until I stumbled on it today:

Fifty years ago Edgar Smith shattered the rural serenity of northern Bergen County when he bludgeoned a 15-year-old girl to death with a baseball bat and a rock.

...Smith was sentenced to death -- then won his freedom with the help of William F. Buckley. But he was soon back behind bars after he kidnapped and stabbed a California woman.

Now, the 73-year-old killer is again up for parole....

That 1957 murder, of a girl named Vickie Zielinski, was horrible:

It was a chilly Tuesday morning when Vickie's parents, after a night of searching, stumbled upon her black penny loafer on Fardale Avenue, near Chapel Road.

Her coral sweater was pulled up to her neck. Her bra, the straps broken, was down around her waist. She had bite marks on her right breast. Her shoes, kerchief and gloves were strewn about. Her blue Ramsey Rams jacket was blood-soaked, near her body.

Edgar Smith was tried and convicted -- but eventually he caught a break:

Smith spent the next 14 years on death row at Trenton State Prison, filing 19 appeals and writing a book that won him a literary award. He also won the friendship of conservative talk show host William F. Buckley.

Buckley hired high-powered attorneys who got Smith a new trial in 1971, arguing that his confession was coerced. As part of a plea bargain Smith confessed, in court, to second-degree murder and was released for time served.

Two hours after winning his freedom, Smith taped a two-episode interview with Buckley in which he recanted his confession, saying it was a way to get out of jail. He was treated like a celebrity, even embarking on an 80,000-mile lecture tour.

Less than five years after being set free Smith, living in California, kidnapped a San Diego mother at knifepoint. The woman fought with Smith inside his car and was stabbed. She opened the door and rolled away from the moving car, the knife embedded in her side.

Smith was found guilty of kidnapping with the intent to rob -- despite attempting to convince the jury he meant to rape the woman. Rape carried a lesser sentence than robbery. He also admitted during that trial to sexually assaulting an 11-year-old Hasbrouck Heights girl when he was a juvenile.

I bring this up because a few years ago I read Ann Coulter's Slander, in which, as part of her attempt to blame liberalism for all the evils in the world, she denounces Norman Mailer for working to free the imprisoned Jack Henry Abbott, who shortly afterward stabbed a waiter to death in New York's East Village. Never mind the fact that Mailer's ideas are sometimes liberal and sometimes not liberal and sometimes, as in this case, irresponsible crackpotism -- the idea that the release of Abbott was something only a liberal would help to bring about is repeated over and over again by right-wingers.

Yet we never hear about William F. Buckley and Edgar Smith. We never hear about the way the Father of Modern Conservatism fell for a murderer's sob story:

Smith wrote Buckley and claimed that he was a victim of judicial fraud. He was articulate and calm.... He wrote a book and carefully edited his trial transcripts to make his confession sound forced.... Smith asserted that the fifteen year-old had tried to seduce him and that she was known for wearing tight sweaters. The trial was a farce, Smith's book 'A Brief Against Death' concluded and it sold like hot cakes.

And get a load of Buckley's response to all this:

Buckley bought Smith's claims of unfair treatment. "If a gentleman tries to seduce a lady, and she declines to go along, that is not a provocation which justifies him in killing her other than at the risk of conviction for a premeditated murder. If, however, the lady suggests the gentleman has been cuckolded, that is a provocative statement, and any lethal reply by the gentleman -- in a fit of blind rage -- may be classified as murder in the second degree."

In other words: She humiliated him -- you can't really blame the guy for brutally killing her.

Smith probably can't harm anyone now -- he's old and sick -- but he probably won't get parole.

William F. Buckley has long since moved on.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

William Buckley may have been known as the "Father of Modern Conservatism", but in retrospect I would classify him a RINO.