The Case of Angelina Napolitano
Angelina Napolitano was both labelled a murderess and a victim of domestic violence, after the killing of her husband Pietro, during the early twentieth century (Dubinsky et al, 2015). Her sentencing, death penalty, sparked one of the largest clemency campaigns for a Canadian murderer (Dubinsky et al, 2015). The public debated her case on a wide-scope and international level. Her story touched, “religious people, feminists, radicals”, and others all of whom condemned the criminal justice system (Dubinsky et al, 2015). The public discussed various motives as to why Napolitano killed her husband however, respondents to the case are influenced by their own values (Dubinsky et al, 2015). The Napolitano trial reflected notions of marriage, womanhood and motherhood, of the time period.
In the courtroom Napolitano was seen as a villain however, the public continued to contest the social meanings attached to her case. Napolitano confessed immediately to the killing of her husband as a response to her domestic abuse and refusal to become a prostitute (Dubinsky et al, 2015). The case, and followed clemency, highlights that, “the notions of ‘victim’ and ‘villain’ are themselves historically constructed,” and that the social meanings attached to Angelina Napolitano’s, “life and crime were shaped by prevailing assumptions about gender, race and class” (Dubinsky et al, 2015). Thus, in this article it is argued that many social categories such as, gender, class, ethnicity and region, are used to explain the constructed social meanings attached to crime and as a result, offer an explanation as to why she killed her husband.
The Italian couple had emigrated to Canada and moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, were there had been a predominant Italian community. The town’s middle class white folk viewed the area in which the Napolitano family lived as a corrupt and impoverished ghetto (Dubinsky et al, 2015). Studies on crime correlation suggest that violent crimes are more likely to happen in less economically developed regions (Linden, 2012). During their time in the community, Pietro had trouble landing a stable job. His financial insecurities and inability to fulfill his dream of owning a home triggered a masculinity crisis (Dubinsky et al, 2015). As a result, his drunkenness and abusive behavior increased (Dubinsky et al, 2015). Violent crime is also correlated with the use of illicit drugs and alcohol (Linden, 2012).
In 1911, the year of his murder, he had become jealous over those in the neighborhood who owned their homes, and constantly harassed his wife to pursue prostitution in order to, make some lucrative cash (Dubinsky et al, 2015). Angelina Napolitano, was a woman who wanted to protect her feminine virtue and did not pursue sex work. As a result, she enraged Pietro who abused and threatened to kill her (Dubinsky et al, 2015). Once Angelina was abandoned by Pietro, she took in a boarder as a way to make a living and had begun an extra-marital affair (Dubinsky et al, 2015). When Pietro retuned, he was happy to see his wife finally use sex in exchange for money. However, when she refused to pay him he stabbed her nine times (Dubinsky et al, 2015). After the abusive event and the threats, she feared her own and her children’s lives and killed her husband while he was sleeping, with an axe (Dubinsky et al, 2015).
Notions of sex and crime indicate how males are more likely to commit violent crimes, and studies on women offenders where lacking (Linden, 2012). Angelina Napolitano’s case was controversial not only because she was a woman, but because her womanhood was not being taken into account. The trial was dominated by men, mirroring the patriarchal nature of the early twentieth century that privileged men (Linden, 2012). Women were not even allowed to sit on the jury (Dubinsky et al, 2015). Angelina, an Italian immigrant, was tried primarily