She Couldn’t Possibly…

If you’ve ever read a story about the death of a young, attractive, white woman, this will sound familiar.

For 17-year-old Taylor Behl of Vienna, Va., happiness was sipping cappuccino and listening to live music at her favorite neighborhood coffee shop….”She was so excited about the future,” [her mother] says. “The list of things that she wanted to do, and who she wanted to be. And she would have succeeded. She would have been all those things.”

She was beautiful, happy, loved life, her family, and friends. Yada yada yada. Pretty much the same description of every murder victim the media considers worthy of a feature story or a foundation in her name. But in this story on CNN (originally from January, but run again with updates last month), the victim is not only portrayed as all of the above, but also as a woman who was sexually naive, innocent, and even prudish. Why? Because her death was the result of asphyxiation during sex in the back of her car.

After reading the story, it’s still pretty unclear what happened — the guy in question sounds sketchy as hell, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, in fact, simply rape and murder the girl, as the prosecution contends. But that’s not really the point, here. The point is that in order to make him culpable of her murder, investigators and the woman’s family and friends had to focus on her complete innocence and sexual inexperience, insisting that this young woman couldn’t possibly have been interested in the sort of sexual play the man now in prison insists she was into. And while I suppose it doesn’t really hurt her, being dead and all, it’s frustrating to see yet another story re-emphasizing the “good girls don’t” message.

This is how 38-year-old petty thief Ben Fawley claims 17-year-old college freshman Taylor Behl died: at her own game, a sex game known as “erotic asphyxia.”

…Fawley claims, that at her urging during sex in the back seat of her car, he tried various ways to restrict Taylor’s breathing. The prosecution’s theory? Fawley took Taylor for a drive to a secluded area to have sex. When Taylor rejected him, an angry Fawley strangled her.

Prosecutors also say Fawley duct-taped Taylor’s wrists — not as part of a sex act — but to restrain her. “Now that’s not erotic asphyxiation, bondage, or any kind of sex in any of the textbooks that I’ve looked at,” [prosecutor] Gill says.

Sex textbooks, huh? And according to those “textbooks,” binding someone’s wrists behind their back with duct tape isn’t bondage? Okay, maybe a poor choice of materials, but…

“How would Taylor have any kind of knowledge about this bondage or any of these sexual practices?” Moriarty [the reporter] asks.

“Fawley showed her,” Johnson [a defense attorney] says. “He had a computer that was filled with pictures of, you know, young ladies involved in various bondage poses.”

[Pounding head against wall.] Right. Because there’s no way an eighteen-year-old woman would have fantasized about bondage or asphyxiation without an older man showing her porn. On the computer, no less!

Taylor’s best friend and confidant, Glynnis…says the defense theory is simply ridiculous. “I know for a fact that Taylor would never have done that. She would have never been into bondage. She was not a sexually experienced person,” Glynnis explains. Glynnis says Taylor never talked about an interest in bondage, and that by 17-year-old standards, she was “a prude.”

In fact, prosecutor Chris Bullard says he was unable to find any evidence, other than Fawley’s word, that Taylor had any interest in bondage and risky sex acts. “There’s no computer evidence to show that she was visiting Web sites about erotic asphyxiation,” he explains.

Right, because there’s no reason why a young woman would be reluctant to come out to her friends about her kinky fantasies. And of course, there’s no way she would have had any interest in this stuff unless she had, again, been visiting porn websites.

What’s more, prosecutors say they can prove that Fawley is lying about how Taylor died that night. By re-enacting Fawley’s story, Richmond police showed 48 Hours what they learned. Officer Sarah Powell portrayed Taylor, while Jason McCleellan of the Richmond Police Department played the role of Fawley. The two young officers are the same size as Taylor and Fawley, and the car used for the re-enactment was an exact replica. Det. Jason Hudson read from Fawley’s own statement as a script. The two officers tried to physically follow the “script” as they were in the car. “I’ve only been here a few minutes and already half my body is completely numb,” Officer Powell, who portrayed Taylor, remarked. “So I know that any teenage girl wouldn’t settle for this too long.” The obvious takeaway, say the officers? “Someone could not get any kind of enjoyment out of this,” McCleellan said.

Sure, that makes sense — oh wait, it doesn’t at all. By that logic, teenagers would never be having sex in the back of cars. Because that’s not something that happens often enough to have become a cliche. And of course, what one person finds uncomfortable and not enjoyable, no one could possibly find enjoyable.

But would this be enough to prove that Fawley intended to kill Taylor? Or, as the defense was counting on, would 12 jurors have their own doubts about the victim herself? “Rural jurors expect, you know, men to act like gentlemen and they expect young women to act like ladies,” defense attorney Bill Johnson explains. “That mindset, we believe, certainly played into our favor.”

Yes. I’m sure it did.

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