Murder and the Reasonable Man: Passion and Fear in the Criminal Courtroom by Cynthia Lee. New York: New York University Press, 2003, 371 pp., $37.95 hardcover.
In 1933, Pearl Reed noticed that her husband, Bubba, was missing from a church benefit supper. Eventually, she found him and a female church member wrapped in a sexual embrace by the side of the road. She shot at them both, but killed the woman. The Texas Court of Appeals held that the Texas law that established adultery as legal provocation applied only to hot-blooded husbands who caught their wives in the act of adultery. Reed, cuckolded and outraged though she might have been, was fresh out of justice. As the court made plain in Reed v. State, "If the Legislature ... has not given equal rights to the wife as they have given to the husband ... the courts are without power to do so." What was provocation for the gander was, well, nothing for the goose.
The law that snagged Reed had been around for two centuries. While in-his-face adultery was such an affront to a husband's masculinity that he couldn't help but kill his wife, apparently, a wife was expected to grimace and bear it.
Eventually, the adulterous-wife defense was extended to an even bigger pool of aggrieved men, including single men provoked to kill unfaithful girlfriends and married men not present at their wives' adultery. Along with this expansion carne a new standard for determining legally adequate provocation: the Ordinary Reasonably Prudent Man.
I first met the Ordinary …