We were stunned and appalled when Lloyd Billingsley, a journalist and would-be author of a book on Daniel Marsh, wrote an overly-sensational column that likened Daniel Marsh to a “superpredator” and suggested a “Maupin’s Law” to prevent such convicted juveniles from being eligible for parole.
In part we were stunned because he alluded to support from the victim’s family, but the victim’s family, namely Mary Northup and Robert Northup, both in the press and at the Vanguard Event last year where they received an award on behalf of their father, was very careful to note that Oliver Northup and his wife Claudia Maupin would not have been approving of a revenge scenario.
The level of pain was evident last November, a full six months after the tragedy, and it must have been very difficult for Robert Northup to write the response he did. But we are glad he did, because it restores our faith.
He writes that the evidence revealed during the murder trial provides us all with many “teachable moments.” And he wants to believe that this double homicide “might somehow result in something more than just a horrible tragedy.”
He writes, “The guest opinion piece by Lloyd Billingsley, published Tuesday, suggests that one of those lessons was to show the need for ‘Maupin’s Law.’ The purpose of the suggested law would be to ensure maximum punishment for juveniles, with no special compassion offered on the basis of their young age.”
Mr. Northup responds, “I knew Claudia well enough to say with certainty that she would be horrified to have her name and legacy associated with such a thing.”
Instead, he focused on our biggest global concern – the “systemic failure at many levels.” He believes, “This was an entirely preventable tragedy. If we truly want to honor Claudia Maupin, an angel who walked this Earth, I would hope that ‘Maupin’s Law’ would accomplish more than revenge. If such a law facilitated the prevention of similar tragedies in the future, something positive might be derived from this horrible nightmare.”
Instead, he proposes Maupin’s Law, version 2.0, which “would make it easier to share the information with appropriate authorities when someone makes explicit threats of homicide.”
He notes, “One of the more disturbing revelations that arose during the trial was to learn that mental health professionals are legally prevented from breaching confidentiality regarding threats of homicide, at least until a dangerously high threshold has been exceeded.
“Daniel Marsh’s repeated expressions of his intention to kill someone did not meet the threshold, as he did not provide the names of any specific persons to be murdered. And he couldn’t have, because he didn’t even know the names of his victims until after he ‘made the news.’ ”
Mr. Northup continues, “We will never know if such a law would have been enough to stop Daniel Marsh before it was already too late,” he continues. “However, we do know that multiple people whose job is to assist with mental health issues heard this teenager make explicit announcements about his intention to commit murder.”
Robert Northup writes, “The kind of ‘Maupin’s Law’ that truly honors her legacy might have at least made it legal for them to share this information with each other, and with the police.”
“There are millions of American teenagers who suffer from depression, and who feel so awful about life that they often contemplate suicide,” he continued. “On the other hand, I would like to believe that there aren’t more than a few hundred such teenagers who constantly obsess on homicidal thoughts, study serial killers as role models, and who would experience extreme joy from torturing and mutilating an actual human being.”
Mr. Northup notes, “It could be argued that our mental health system failed on multiple levels in the case of Daniel Marsh. But it was through no fault of their own that therapists, counselors, etc., had their hands tied by laws governing confidentiality.
“If we are going to attach the name of someone as wonderful as Claudia Maupin to any new law, I would hope it is a law that helps to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the first place, and not simply a way to make it possible to punish juveniles as severely as possible after they have already murdered someone,” he concludes.
We agree with Robert Northup that this was a preventable tragedy. Lloyd Billingsley damaged our sensibilities by seeming to want to profit off this tragedy and sensationalize it.
Mr. Billingsley clearly misrepresented the views and wishes of the family as he wrote, “Northup, 87, was a lawyer and staunch death-penalty opponent who would have been the first to defend the teen. Marsh took Northup’s life, and Maupin’s, but under current law Marsh not only preserves his own life but someday could be paroled and walk free again. That strikes some friends and relatives of the victims as an injustice.”
Mr. Billingsley continued, “They wonder if juveniles tried as adults and duly convicted of first-degree murder should also be subject to adult penalties such as life without possibility of parole.” He added, “A ‘Maupin’s Law’ along those lines could draw a measure of reform from one of the worse violent crimes in California history.”
Back in 2013, Mary Northup said, “My dad would say, ‘At 16, they should know better, but they can’t think clearly… If this person did it, they need to make compensation, or get better if this is someone who needs mental health help.
“But I’m not into revenge, and I don’t think my father would be into revenge,” she added.
Mr. Billingsley had his own agenda to profit off Daniel Marsh as a monster and a “superpredator,” and to suggest rolling back a law signed just two years ago by Governor Brown that banned life without parole for juveniles.
Back in June of 2013, we wrote in a commentary following the arrest of Daniel Marsh: “If this young man indeed ends up being the killer, this is a failure of our system. This time it is our failure, our system, our schools that perhaps did not read the warning signs in the right way and find help for a kid who may have been ready to snap.
“We have a culture of bullying and depression, and we still do not do enough to help those troubled kids when there is still a chance,” we wrote at the time. “We are still, in many ways, a community in deep denial about a group of our young people who do not make it through the system unscathed. So yes, we did not want this to be one of our own, but now that we realize it might well be, we need to wake up and start dealing with real problems.”
Dr. Steve Nowicki, who specializes in pediatric developmental behavior, illustrates the problem here when he writes, “Reading this testimony has me furious. This is one case in which there are three victims. This testimony illustrates the need for our community to take pediatric mental health, childhood trauma and child development extremely seriously.
“The Black Box Warning is most important in the first weeks of starting any SSRI as it can cause ‘activation’ which may appear as irritability, increased energy and even the energy to attempt a suicide already contemplated as a result of major depression. It is clear that depression is the root of suicide and SSRIs are quite effective in treating depression. The irritability can persist and that prompts a change in medication, a reevaluation of the diagnosis and intensification of therapy.
“The real issue is the lack of coordination and the obvious lack of patient ownership that should be the cornerstone of a good physician,” he continues. “It is unrealistic to think that we should rely on a school psychologist in this situation and there should have been more immediate response by his psychiatrist.”
Robert Northup restores our faith. During a time of immense hardship, he reached out again to correct the record. This horrible tragedy has left a void in our community and we need to heal.
—David M. Greenwald reporting