No place to fit this crime

“I don’t think I’m ready for this,” a female attorney said yesterday just

before Gregory Aguiar—accused of turning his wife of nine years into a ball of

fire—was brought into the courtroom.

I knew exactly how the attorney felt.

I, too, was not ready. For me, that turned out to be the most real thing I

heard at what was supposed to be Aguiar’s preliminary hearing.

As it was,

the defense asked that Aguiar be examined to determine if he was physically and

mentally fit to proceed. Judge Kobayashi agreed and postponed the hearing

pending the examination by a panel of three psychiatrists.

I had come to

watch the proceedings, not to report the facts, but to try to personally come

to grips with how such a horrific act could ever come to pass.

Ever since

hearing about it, I have not been able to put out the image in my mind of Miu

Lan Esposo-Aguiar running across the street on fire Sunday morning, leaving a

trail of clothes, skin and hair to smolder on the ground.

For all the

reports of murder and world disasters that move through our office, this is one

catastrophe I haven’t been able to shake.

I don’t want to believe that a

man married for so long, who has been through the bonding process of having

children together with his partner and who has lived peacefully on Kaua’i for

so many years could simply set his wife on fire. This is too

close.

Neighbors described the ‘Ele’ele man as friendly. Esposo-Aguiar’s

family said they were close to the defendant. A police spokesman said he had

just “snapped.”

I thought of calling around to different experts in the

field of psychology to find out how someone could snap in such an extreme way.

Could, as one woman reacting to the case said, it happen to anyone? Are

all men just a couple of steps — a couple of hard drinks, a couple of

stressful days, a couple of bitter arguments — away from committing

torturously painful and unusually cruel acts to our loved ones?

I’ve heard

violent acts in domestic abuse cases explained away as “crimes of passion.”

A fit of jealous rage, it has been argued, can temporarily render a man

deaf to the voice of reason.

But I didn’t want this to be explained away.

Soceity as a whole is always looking to move on. The media, from the televised

O.J. Simpson trial, which I think trivialized society’s dark side into daytime

soap material, on down, has helped peddle this idea.

The main priority

has always been to get things back to normal. Make Aguiar disappear in

yesterday’s headlines.

When someone we know dies, most of us perform

something of a mortality check. That is, we have the selfish, yet natural urge

to consider our own eventual demise. When something inconceivable like this

crime happens, too, people should do a morality check instead of simply moving

on.

An act like this burns a hole in all of us collectively.

I’ve

been morality-checking myself all week. I’ve had violent impulses before — to

throw my pen at my professor during a particularly boring lecture in college,

to throw myself off whenever I am standing atop a high structure. I made it

through school and am still alive to write this column, so obviously I didn’t

give in to impulse.

Someone in the newsroom asked my partner if she thought

I was capable of doing such a thing to her. To my relief, she looked me in the

eye and said no.

Yet I still couldn’t conceive of how such a thing was

possible — even though I read the reports in the papers, even as I read about

the angry response from community members towards Aguiar and the forgiving

comments made by the victim’s family. Even though there is a term called

“crime of passion.”

There was an organized protest scheduled in front of

the courtroom yesterday, but despite the anger voiced in news reports, the

turnout was low.

What’s even more strange to me is that society has a place

to file even the most heinous of crimes. Why isn’t everyone in shock? I was

suprised that we had a charge for setting someone on fire. But looking at the

police report on the burning, with all boxes ticked and entries made, I found I

had no place to file this within myself.

In walked Aguiar, head bowed. A

small, wiry man. Both my girlfriend and I felt a chill as he sat down within

feet of us. As normal as everyone was trying to be in the small district

courtroom, the place did not feel equipped to handle an act of such immensity

within its walls.

Most horrifying of all, however, was to see how wholly

and painfully human Aguiar was, head lowered before the world.

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