In A Dither Over A Slither

TO WIT

October 25, 1992|By DAVE BARRY

I hate to bring this up so close to the presidential election, but it turns out that the problem of snakes in toilets is even worse than we thought.

You may recall that several months ago I wrote about a chilling but true incident in Oklahoma wherein a courageous man fought a lengthy multicommode battle to evict a lengthy snake from the plumbing system of a sportsmen's club. The man would flush the snake down one toilet, thinking he had got rid of it, but then, bam, it would pop up in another toilet.

After that column appeared, I received dozens of letters from readers claiming that they, too, have had encounters with toilet snakes. Even if we allow for the fact that a certain percentage (94) of the people who read this column are, to use psychological terminology, a few croutons short of a salad, we see that this snake problem is not confined to Oklahoma. In fact, it's not even confined to the United States. I base this statement on an amazing incident in Canada wherein a toilet snake appeared as evidence in a court of law.

This was brought to my attention by alert Canadian John Hale, who was the defense lawyer in the case. He sent in a news account from Lawyers' Weekly, written by Elizabeth Payne and headlined -- I am not making this up -- "Lawyers Attempt to Get Snake Down Toilet for Courtroom Demonstration."

To understand why this demonstration was legally necessary, you need to know what lawyers call the facts of the case, (or, in Latin, "ipso factos"):

On the morning of July 21, 1991, a 9-year-old girl went into the bathroom of her Ottawa apartment and discovered, in the toilet bowl, a 4-foot-long python named Even. The girl told her mom, who called the authorities, who managed to capture Even somehow. ("We have this toilet surrounded! Come out with your hands up!")

It was determined that Even belonged to a man who lived in the apartment upstairs; prosecutors then charged this man with cruelty to animals, alleging that he wanted to get rid of Even, so he (the owner) flushed him (Even) down the toilet, causing Even to suffer abrasions and what the article describes as "a bad case of snake pneumonia."

But defense lawyer Hale claimed that the defendant had merely left Even soaking in a bathtub, and that Even crawled into the toilet of his own free will. According to the article, Hale argued that "because Even is a ball python and rolls into a ball when frightened . . . it would be impossible to flush him down the toilet."

At this point, you probably have several questions:

1. Why was he soaking the snake in the bathtub?

2. Did it have snake B.O.?

3. Does the Canadian legal system have a lot of spare time, or what?

When the case went to trial, defense lawyer Hale had an actual toilet brought into the courtroom and filled with water for a demonstration intended to prove that Even would, on his own, go commode-diving. I am still not making this up. The prosecutor strongly objected to this demonstration, arguing that "the very reason we are in court is because of an allegation that someone tried to force a snake down the toilet."

But the judge decided to allow the demonstration. And so, as the various legal parties looked on intently, a state-appointed snake guardian removed Even from a sack and placed him into the toilet bowl. A hushed and dramatic silence fell over the courtroom, and then, suddenly, Professor Prendergast leaped to his feet and shouted: "I did it! I murdered Clarissa with the weed whacker and I'm glad!!"

No, unfortunately nothing that conclusive occurred. Even stayed the toilet for a moment, then slithered back out toward his sack. The experiment was repeated twice, with the same results.

But apparently the demonstration was effective, because the judge found the defendant not guilty. This is yet another example of bleeding-heart-liberal judges freeing hardened criminals armed with snakes to assault the plumbing of law-abiding society. Is there something you can do? You bet there is. You can stay out of the bathroom.

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