We'll refrain from revisiting the grisly specifics of Joseph Edward Duncan murder/kidnapping case in Coeur D'Alene, as the intergalactic press machine has done enough to bring the case into nearly every home worldwide. But the case has become significant for more than just its brutality. It has also spawned several rather severe lessons in cyber-morality.
First, Duncan's online diary, the Fifth Nail (www.fifthnail.blogspot.com) is still online, open to read and, quite interestingly, still able to be commented on. As of press time, his May 11 entry, titled "The Demons Have Taken Over," had 263 comments, mostly from irate readers. His final entry, where he claimed on May 13 that "Despite my actions, I'm not a bad person," had 1,198 comments. Many are beseeching Duncan to cooperate with authorities; others mock the alleged murderer or his victims; and a few contribute lengthy, creepy diatribes in either English or Latin. Visit now before somebody inevitably shuts down what could be the most bizarre venue yet for an impromptu message board.
And second, an associate professor at New York University's school of medicine has used the case to promote the Depravity Standard, an online scale he is developing to provide American courts with a legal definition of evil. Michael Welner, MD, says his system is meant to assist jurors in sentencing, not to actually define evil. "If we consider the greatest punishments," he said in a release, "justice demands clarity for why such punishments are given." How is this scale being determined, you ask? Unlike some recent presidential elections, Welner's scale is based on public consensus. Take the most disturbing multiple-choice test this side of No Child Left Behind at www.depravityscale.org.