July 27, 1998
Do not wait for the last judgment, it takes place every day. - Albert Camus
On March 3, 1997, a 30-year-old Iranian woman showed up at a hotel south of Los Angeles with her two-year-old daughter and requested a room on a high floor. Once there, Farinoush (aka Roya) Dalili stepped out on the balcony of the tenth floor hotel room and jumped out of the window. This was to be the third and her last attempt at suicide in recent years. On the concrete sidewalk below, fifteen feet from her, also laid the body of her daughter, splattered with blood and dead on impact.
Most of you outside of southern California have probably not heard of Ms. Dalili, and many of you in southern California were probably too busy to pay attention as her trial ended this July in Los Angeles. The trial had been quite a spectacle; it was a topic of heated discussion on many forums from "Women's Rights" to "True Crime."
Ms. Dalili survived the fall, and not long after the incident, was charged with murder. According to the prosecution in the case, Ms. Dalili caused her daughter's death by holding the girl while throwing herself down. According to the defense, however, the little girl simply followed her suicidal mother out the window and onto the sidewalk below. In either case, the little girl died instantly. The mother was rushed to the hospital where more than 200 pins were inserted into her body to repair the damage caused by the fall. The Los Angeles Times described her as not only sustaining massive internal injuries, but also having "shattered her feet, hips, pelvis, knees, an ankle and an elbow."
The trial started in November 1997, and Ms. Dalili attended most of the proceedings on a stretcher. Throughout the trial, her family and supporters initiated a visible campaign to portray her as a woman who was under such sexual, emotional and physical abuse by her husband that she knew of no other exit than through that balcony on the tenth floor: "a depressed and desperate woman driven to suicide by her husband's abuse; a loving mother left physically and emotionally broken" is how one local press report described her. The husband held the opposite, professing that he thought of his wife as only "slightly depressed," and he had never expected such extreme reaction; he also vehemently denied any abuse. In the meantime, he filed suit against his wife both for divorce and wrongful death of his daughter.
Earlier this month Ms. Dalili's trial ended. The final plea-offer by prosecution had been 11 years in prison and psychiatric care for Ms. Dalili. She refused both, opting instead for a jury verdict. The jury convicted her not of murder but of the lesser charge of manslaughter, and the judge sentenced her to a year house arrest - no time in prison. Needless to say, cries of injustice were issued by both the prosecution and the husband while Ms. Dalili and her family issued statements calling this a just solution to an irresolvable dilemma.
I can't quite bring myself to fall on either side of the Dalili case, and I am not sitting in judgment here. The truth is probably somewhere very uncomfortable: right in the middle. There possibly was abuse, and there probably was enough cause for her to wholly give up on any hope, but then the sentence was as light as her hopes for the future, and as the prosecution put it: all the punishment did was to preclude her to go shopping for a year.
But here it is, another American dream blown to pieces on a sidewalk, another family in ruins, a child dead and a husband and wife forever scarred both physically and emotionally. No "cause celebre" for any movement, no tragic end for a higher purpose and no memory of this probably five years down the road; all this symbolizes is a collection of shattered dreams, like a cupboard full of china violently thrown to the ground.
I want to make generalizations from the Dalilis but there is no bigger picture I can connect this to. I am certain there are a lot of abusive partnerships and depressed spouses, but they rarely commit suicide or end in morgues. That's the problem with this case, it's so extreme that it defies judgment, and yet because the characters are Iranian it is so close to home that it cannot be ignored. You feel your skin burn but don't quite know how to remedy the situation. All you can do is to bow in defeat and pray it will never happen again all the while fearing that it will.