Terry Barton might not be a very good forest ranger, but she certainly is a good observer of contemporary social attitudes. Having committed a crime, the US Forest Service employee knows that the best way to arouse public sympathy and deflect attention away from what she has done is to blame a man.
First she tried to pin the crime on the camper in the gold minivan. Luckily for this individual, who was facing the possibility of a stiff prison sentence, meticulous and ardent Forest Service investigators exposed Barton's claim as false.
Confronted with this evidence, Barton decided to switch male scapegoats, saying that she caused the blaze when she burned a heartbreaking letter from her estranged husband.
Remarkably, some people are buying it.
"It's her husband's fault! If he hadn't tried to mentally anguish her by sending her cruel letters, she wouldn't have burned it," wrote one Coloradoan in response to a newspaper editorial critical of Barton.
"Barton should be given leniency and help," wrote another.
"Don't take [Barton's] whole life away for one moment of despair," pleaded a third.
Those more credulous might be skeptical that an 18-year veteran of the Forest Service is incapable of burning a few sheets of paper without starting a forest fire which would ultimately destroy over 100,000 acres and lead to the deaths of several firefighters. Investigators now believe that there was no such letter and that Barton set the fire in order to put it out and make herself a hero.
Predictably, Terry Barton's estranged husband John is now coming under fire. Reportedly he felt that her career--which often required long periods away from home--was interfering with their family life and the welfare of the children. In modern speak, he was a chauvinist who wanted his wife at home and subservient. The fact that he may simply have wanted what was best for their children is little mentioned.
John was no slouch around the house either--according to reports, he took care of his daughters while Terry was away, and sent money from Arkansas where he had gone to find work. He has even put their house up as collateral for his wife's $600,000 bond so she can get out of jail.
John is also being accused of being emotionally abusive towards Terry, and talk show callers have noted ominously that "emotional abuse often indicates that there was physical abuse, too."
In reality, there is no evidence of physical abuse, and emotional abuse has become a catch-all phrase used by some unprincipled women in order to justify themselves legally or morally in whatever they do vis-a-vis men. A man can defend himself against a spurious charge of physical abuse, to some degree, by demanding physical evidence. But emotional abuse can be anything and everything--how can any man effectively counter this charge?
Is there a husband who has never yelled at his wife? Maybe, but he is as rare as a wife who has never yelled at her husband. Now everything John Barton has ever done or said is under a microscope, as we look for evidence that he was an abusive husband who drove his poor wife to do what she did.
For example, at Barton's bail hearing on Thursday Terry's friend Stephanie Howard, a Forest Service biologist, told prosecutors that John Barton is "indirectly" responsible for Terry's crime because he had arrived uninvited at their home the week before the fire and rejected Terry's request that he leave. In other words, John is emotionally abusive because he went to and then refused to leave his own home. The judge then released Terry on bond.
In reality, the evidence is greater that Terry, not John, was emotionally abusive. Terry put the lives of thousands of people at risk, and then attempted to frame an innocent man for it, knowing that he could go to prison as a result. In the context of a declining marriage, and with child custody issues looming, who knows what such a manipulative and unscrupulous person might have put her husband through?
In some observers' rush to excuse Terry and condemn John, it's a question few people are asking.
©2008, Glenn Sacks