Chicken or Egg?

on November 12, 2005

I have an admittedly macabre fascination with what turns people to the dark side. Perhaps that’s why Star Wars always held such a strong allure for me.

The original premise of The Kill was that of a wrongfully convicted man released because of DNA evidence more than thirty years later seeks revenge on those who put him in prison. I say original because the book took on a life of its own and really became more about the real killer and how he managed to ellude police for so long.

Shawshank Redemption is one of my all-time favorite movies, and probably the best book-to-movie adaption from a Stephen King novella entitled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption from the book DIFFERENT SEASONS. The protagonist, Andy, was wrongfully convicted, though the circumstantial evidence was strong (his wife was in bed with another man.)

(As an aside, SR is like another brilliant movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where the narrator is someone other than who the story is really about.)

Andy truly was innocent, and he never let his experiences in prison turn him into a bitter or brutal man. In fact, his strength of character and perseverence against everything thrown at him, made him one of the most memorable heroes of the 20th century.

Which brings me to my premise. Inner character, personal strength, values, beliefs, and ultimately actions are based on two things: our soul (what makes us unique from all the other human beings on the planet) and our experiences.

I’ve always been fascinated that some people are raised in an abusive environment and don’t end up being abusive themselves; others become vicious serial killers. Obviously, there’s something different about those who become killers and those who don’t hurt other people. Something outside of environment. But it’s also clear to me that an abusive background is an almost universal experience among serial killers, often particularly cruel abuse from those who should love them the most: their mother.

When I started thinking about the first villain in The Kill, I was faced with a dilemma–he was innocent going into prison, why did he turn out to be a killer when he got out? How? Would he have ended up being a killer if he had never gone to prison? Did his wrongful conviction save future victims?

My killer is not Andy Dufresne. My killer is neither noble nor filled with hope. But I couldn’t help but think he may not have fallen as far if he hadn’t been in prison for thirtysome years.

Which brings me to Steven Avery.

My friend and former critique partner Edie told me about the case last year when I shared my original premise of The Kill. Like me, she’s been fascinated with what happened then and now … and she’s been sending me news stories about Mr. Avery’s recent troubles.

Eighteen years ago in Wisconsin, this guy was convicted of rape. A group of law students petitioned the court to have his DNA tested against evidence from the crime: lo-and-behold, he’s innocent. He’s released. Two years later, he’s been arrested for murder. The evidence seems pretty damning (he was the last to see the victim alive, his blood was found in her car, he had unexplained injuries to his person, etc. — read all about it here.

Prior to his rape conviction, he didn’t appear to be an upstanding citizen. But he WAS innocent of that crime. Which makes me wonder, would he have been capable of murder if he hadn’t spent eighteen years in prison?

I don’t think we’ll ever really know.