Smith, his accuser deserve each other

H. H. Morris

December 12, 1991|By H. H. Morris

F. SCOTT Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway would have loved the William Kennedy Smith trial. They could have renewed an old debate. Fitzgerald claimed the very rich are different from the rest of us. Hemingway said yes, they have more money.

The Smith trial proves both were right. Hemingway discovered why the rich are different. Fitzgerald wrote about the results.

Consider the agreed-upon facts. Man goes to bar with friends or relatives. Woman does likewise. Man and woman meet, talk, dance, kiss while dancing and leave together. Sex ensues. The man says the act was consensual. The woman disagrees.

She goes to the cops and cries rape. Between a rape counselor and detective, she survives a hospital exam and tells her side of the story. The law creaks into action.

Those facts have nothing to do with wealth. Biological urges cut across such artificial divisions as class and race. So does a woman's right to determine what she does with her own body -- in theory, at least.

Everything that's happened since the accuser screamed rape -- and a lot that occurred before that -- would be almost unthinkable among working men and women. The Smith case took place in a world insulated by wealth from reality. It's as if both complainant and defendant saw no risk in the bar pick-up scene. Simply possessing the clothes and money required to enter a trendy nightspot like Palm Beach's Au Bar provides armor from crude, harsh reality.

The accuser was incredibly careless. She gave a man she'd just met a ride home in the wee hours of the morning. She kissed him. She removed her pantyhose, although she can't remember doing so. She went to a deserted beach with him.

Was Smith any smarter? Nice women get thirsty, go to bars, dance with men and give out phone numbers. The ones who go farther and agree to accompany strangers to deserted beaches at 3 a.m. don't always behave nicely. He should have stayed alert to the possibility the lady preferred teasing to pleasing.

The biggest error of all belonged to both of them, however. One or both picked on someone his or her own size. He discovered the tramp he picked up was Miss Trust Fund of 1991. She learned that the bum she gave a ride home could afford a million-dollar defense team.

Imagine some working woman telling the Palm Beach cops she'd been raped at the Kennedy estate by the senator's nephew. When the cops got through laughing, they'd have busted her for parking in front of the precinct while she made her complaint.

And if the complainant, with her independent wealth and social position, had said some stylishly retarded laborer hitched a ride home and made the mistake of thinking her "no" a negotiable statement, he'd have had two hours in the courtroom, a public defender copping a plea and a stretch in the slammer.

It's too bad the judge couldn't impose a sentence on both Smith and his accuser: a life term in each other's company with no hope of parole.

H.H. Morris writes from Aberdeen.

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