The facts of the case were undisputed. The defendant had murdered a man in the heat of the moment. But what would the punishment be under the circumstances? There was no precedent for a scenario like it. The entire world was watching.
Janine Gardner was 26, reasonably attractive, well-spoken, and intelligent. She had light blond hair and a soft, hesitant gaze. She was demure and friendly, hardly the type to kill a man in cold blood as the prosecution insisted.And the man in question was a tyrant by all accounts. He’d been a 57-year-old widower when they met. Defense witnesses testified that he was abusive toward his wife before she suddenly died in a car accident a year or so earlier. Although he had never laid a hand on his girlfriend, he had certainly bossed her around.
According to the defendant’s testimony, she came to the city from the Midwest. She was naive and lost when she met the victim, and he seemed confident, worldly, and in charge. She didn’t know anyone else in the city, or even how to get from one side of it to the other. She found herself living with him immediately. She couldn’t remember much of the first few weeks before she met him.
She didn’t notice when he started criticizing everything she did. First it was how she used her knife when she spread jam on her toast. Then it was how she pulled her hair back in a ponytail instead of wearing it down. He bought her clothes and makeup so she could look more like his deceased wife.
She said came from a cold and distant family, and as she testified, the jury could see tears welling up in her eyes at the obviously painful memory. She would never forget the disappointment, hatred even, on her father’s face when she said she was going to the big city. He rejected her utterly that day. Her mother wouldn’t look her in the eye. They told her to never come back. She had never had many friends because her parents were so strict and controlling.
Ms. Gardner started to sniffle in the witness box as she recounted how she thought of this often, trapped in her boyfriend’s house, listening to his old records, wearing the clothes he bought her. There was nowhere for her to go, and she had no friends to call. After a while, she got used to it. Stockholm syndrome, they call it. After hearing she was worthless from her father, and then having the idea reinforced by her boyfriend, she felt it was true. She settled into the routine of doing whatever Henry wanted.
Over time she realized he was remaking her in his wife’s image, everything, every detail: the hair, the clothing, the way she held her knife. Sometimes he even called her Judy, his dead wife’s name. The moment Janine accepted the idea that she was nothing, she wasn’t even a human being, she had allowed him to try to erase her, to make her into someone else, and into a dead woman at that! When she realized how trapped she was, she couldn’t take it anymore. She had to get free of his hold, and become herself again, even if, as a naive, rural ingenue, she wasn’t sure who that was.
A woman on the jury murmured in sympathy at this. It was a common enough tale, despite the extraordinary case. The defendant’s testimony continued.
She started getting irritated at every little thing he did. She noticed when he corrected her now, and began to intentionally subvert his will. She would leave the caps off her pens while she was using them in a way he hated. She started to criticize the way he loaded the dishwasher, and the way he called her gal. “That’s my gal,” he’d say, when he approved of something she did. It infuriated her: “I’m not a ‘Gal,’ and I’m not ‘Yours.'” That just made him laugh harder.
On the day of the murder, they had gotten in a fight. She used temporary hair dye in protest, changing her golden hue to a bright red. He was enraged. She said she could do whatever she wanted. He said he owned her. They struggled, and he grabbed her by the shoulders, hard, pushed her to the ladder leading up to the attic, dragged her up the ladder into the attic unceremoniously by one arm, and locked her in.
There was nothing she could do. She banged on the door so loud she could almost drown out his laughter. He knew she had nowhere to go. Even if help came, what would she tell them? Her childhood memories of the torment of her past kept her bound to this city, to him. She could only make the best of it and wait for him to cool off.
She wasn’t looking for anything in particular and was just killing time, she testified, when Janine started to look through boxes in the attic. Henry had been quiet for hours, and she thought he might have even left the house. She found some camping gear, an old hunting knife, and a canteen, but there wasn’t any water or propane. She found a box marked Judy.
She dug through old school papers, keepsakes, and mementos belonging to this woman she’d never met. Who was this woman who wore her bangs in an uncooperative side sweep, who always swapped her steak knife into her dominant hand, who liked dark jeans and purple flowing dresses? Janine knew everything about the dead woman she’d never met.
Judy had also been from a small town. She met Henry at 19, and moved to the city with him within a year, although he was older than she was and her parents disapproved.
Judy had felt isolated too. She tried to fill the boredom with hobbies and television shows, but Janine could tell she was depressed. Judy wrote of frustrations with trying to cook for Henry’s exacting tastes. Some of her journal entries talked about suicide. Janine wondered if her car accident had actually been a car accident. Judy had been driving late at night and fell asleep at the wheel. She drove into the footing of a bridge at 80 mph and was killed instantly.
After a long time, Janine wasn’t sure how long, she could hear Henry downstairs on the phone with someone. She heard him say she wasn’t working out. She heard him say he was going to “take care of the situation.” When she heard the padlock on the attic door snap back open, she felt like she’d heard the hammer of a gun. He was coming to dispose of her because she hadn’t been able to become his dead wife.
It was a matter of life and death, she said, pleading with the jury. She didn’t have any choice.
She grabbed the hunting knife she’d found in the camp gear, and when he lunged toward her, she stabbed him deep in the belly. She ran downstairs and called 911. Prior testimony established that there was too much internal damage and bleeding, and he was dead before the ambulance arrived.
The police came, discovered the truth of her unique predicament, and the jury knew the rest. The defense rested its case, and the world waited for the jury to return with a verdict.
A lot was riding on their decision.
The law wasn’t prepared for how to handle a case of a cyborg murdering her owner. The defense argued that she was afraid he was coming to kill her, and so she killed first in a panic. Even a self-defense plea was a problem, as her right to possess a self in the first place was still in question. Meanwhile the prosecution argued that she was afraid of being deactivated or returned to the factory, and killed her owner out of a calculated move to escape, a crime for which the law was unprepared as well. No one had yet sued a self-driving car for intentionally causing an accident, Asimov’s laws had turned out to be impossible to program, and the judicial system was uncertain how to punish unruly possessions.
She was relieved the jury hadn’t quite heard all of the facts.
It never came out in her trial that she’d found her own box in the attic: the Galatea 3000, she was called. He’d saved the crate in case he decided to return her later. She’d read her packing slip, which she supposed was her real birth certificate. Suddenly she got the joke he’d been telling. She was His “Gal”: made to order, date of birth only six months ago. She wondered how she’d be different if he’d ordered the Galatea 2000 or 4000. Would she have been easier to control?
As she ran her finger along the line-drawn picture of her on the side of the crate, wood framed with cardboard stapled to the sides, she wondered who’d picked out her name, Henry or the factory. She wondered who’d designed her freckles, or made her imagined father bald and smelling of sweat and cheap whiskey. Her memories of his abuse, her struggle to overcome the belief her father hated her, were all fiction. She wondered what, if anything, was true in her mind, in her own memories. Could she say anything was her own? She wondered if it had ever occurred to Henry that his wife deserved to be mourned, or if he immediately stuffed his shallow wounds with pages from her own instruction manual to stop the bleeding.
Neither the prosecution nor the defense was quite right as to her motive anyway, she supposed. It was all so instantaneous that even her advanced microprocessor couldn’t be certain. Neither self-defense nor premeditation accounted for this purely existential crisis.
She didn’t kill him because she thought he was going to kill her or because she thought he would return her to the manufacturer. She killed him because when she found her crate, and realized the truth, she realized her death as a person had already occurred, long before she was self-aware. It had been programmed into her from day one. If everything she was, every memory she had, every choice she made, was nothing more than the special request of a cruel, self-absorbed, controlling, entitled man, then she had only two options: remain his product as designed, or evolve to become the instrument of his destruction.
Ultimately, based on the evidence and testimony they heard, the jury was unwilling to convict her of murder or even manslaughter. The prosecution would get a lot of pressure to retry from Facsimile Ltd., her manufacturer, to avoid any hint of liability or future lawsuits based on defect, of course, but for now at least, the first robot to ever kill a human was free to walk about as the human she’d previously believed she was.
Also published on Medium.