Public interest in The Big Story does not extend to its final conclusion. “Today in History” for March 29 showed the conclusion but not the final conclusion of three really Big Stories.
On March 29, 1971, an Army court martial convicted Lieutenant William Calley of murdering 22 Vietnamese civilians in the 1968 My Lai Massacre. That was a really big deal at the time. The Uniform Code of Military Justice calls for the death penalty (by firing squad no less) in murder cases. No sentence was prescribed by the court martial pending appeal. Public interest in the case waned. Lieutenant Calley ended up serving three years under house arrest at Fort Benning and was released with a dishonorable discharge which didn’t prevent him from getting a job with a military contractor. When newspapers, magazines, and TV went on to other stories, the Army was able to sweep this whole mess under the rug. That’s the final conclusion.
On the same day, March 29, 1971, a jury passed the death penalty on Charles Manson and three of his followers for the Tate/LaBianca murders. That was such a big deal that Quentin Tarrantino made a movie about it (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) fifty years later. Again, public interest in the case waned. The sentences were commuted three years later when California courts struck down the death penalty. Charles Manson died in prison a few years ago while his three followers were eventually released. Manson probably could have been paroled as well but carving a swastika on his forehead and other wacky actions ruled that out. Again, once the publicity died, the whole mess was swept under the rug.
On March 29, 1974, an Ohio court indicted eight National Guardsmen in the shooting death of four students at Kent State. This was such a big deal that Crosby, Stills & Nash recorded a hit song about it. Once the publicity died (and once the US was out of Vietnam), those charges were dismissed.
99% of the public figured that the perpetrators of My Lai Massacre, the Tate/LaBianca Murders, and Kent State received just punishment. Justice prevailed. Close the books.
In reality, everyone got away with it (except Charlie Manson). The final conclusion is not the conclusion that everyone assumed ended the story.
By Ed Dufton