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Just so you know, TED is a “nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment, and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics—from science to business to global issues—in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.” Sounds good, but a recent TED event may have left some confusion about the ideas in play.
This TED talk showed up in a May 16 YouTube video, since removed, titled “Embracing our Humanity.” The speaker was Daniel Marsh, 20, backdropped by a banner of the Richard J. Donovan CorrectionalCorrection Facility, a state prison near San Diego.
“Daniel had a troubled childhood punctuated by abuse, indifference, and loneliness,” the video description says. “After losing the most important person in his life, he went on a downward spiral that would eventually lead to his incarceration. But it was in the exploration of those depths that Daniel found the thing that he had been needing all along: Human Connection.”
As Daniel explains, “I see myself as a resilient, loyal and kind-hearted individual who may not always say the right thing but always means well. Friends and those that know me have described me as friendly, funny, intelligent and resourceful. My biggest interest and passion in my life is music. I am both a singer and a guitar player and writing my own original songs and material occupies a great deal of my time.” In this video, the loyal, resilient singer only speaks.
“The home environment I grew up in was both lonely and hostile,” he said. “For the vast majority of my childhood, I was alienated. I was hated. I felt more like an object than a person.”
“It made me feel as though I had no connection to humanity,” he continued.
His mother and father would fight and “I was sexually abused by two different people, both of whom I loved and trusted.” He was “alone and ashamed,” with “no one to confide in, cry to, to tell me it wasn’t my fault. No one.” And it was actually worse.
“Every single person in the world used and took my kindness and discarded me like a piece of trash. I was bullied at school as well as at home. I became extremely introverted.” His mother fell ill and his mentor, a man named Boris, killed himself.
“My connection to humanity was severed. I fell into deep depression.” His “hurt turned into anger” and he felt “an uncontrollable rage that grew stronger with each passing day. I hated the people who had hurt me.” The hate continued to grow and “I would come to hate all of humanity.”
As Marsh explained, “I did horrible things to people who never deserved to be hurt.” He “blindly hurt other people for no apparent reason.” In juvenile hall, he found “kind people,” but the California Youth Authority “brought anger and hatred to the surface,” and in adult prison, he was “living with a violent, hateful man.”
Even so, “there is no such thing as evil people in this world,” Marsh explained, “only damaged people.” He concluded, “we must always embrace our humanity” and the video closed out with a loud ovation. Viewers got no detail about what, exactly, had landed the friendly, resourceful speaker at the Donovan Correctional Center.
In April 2013, Daniel Marsh, 15, murdered Oliver Northup, 87, and his wife Claudia Maupin, 76, in their Davis, California home. A police report said the killer showed “exceptional depravity” and the autopsy runs 16 pages and 6,658 words. Marsh meticulously planned the crime, researching the serial killers he admired. As Marsh told police, killing the elderly couple “felt amazing,” and he experienced “pure happiness” and “the most exhilarating enjoyable feeling I’ve ever felt.” So the self-proclaimed “kind-hearted” man in the video did not kill for “no apparent reason.”
In 2014, a Yolo County court sentenced Marsh to 52 years to life, with eligibility for parole. Two years later voters passed Proposition 57, which barred prosecutors from filing cases directly in juvenile court. An appeal court applied the measure retroactively to Marsh, and vacated his conviction.
There was no new exculpatory evidence, and no errors in the trial, but the convicted murderer would gain a hearing to determine whether it had been appropriate to try him as an adult. If the hearing went in his favor, Marsh would be resentenced as a juvenile and the maximum punishment would be incarceration until age 25.
Marsh’s TED talk was sponsored by Brilliance Inside “a project for harmony and peace” led by Mariette Fourmeaux du Sartel. The organization works with inmates “to reduce conflict and increase communication and connection” and “growing resilient high-performance individuals contributing their purpose and a safer society on their release.”
Brilliance Inside notes that “thanks to CA Prop 57, good behavior and participation in qualified programs also allow residents to earn time off their sentence.” That’s why Marsh talked up his great treatment in juvenile hall and portrayed himself as a victim. As his trial made clear, the double murderer was not an abused child with no one to lean on. Marsh had a circle of friends and a network of sympathetic counselors, psychologists, and teachers. He was depraved, not damaged, and has never shown the slightest remorse.
When the judge would not toss his five-hour confession, Marsh changed his plea to insanity. Prosecutors Michael Cabral and Amanda Zambor showed that he knew the difference between right and wrong, and the jury found that he was sane when he killed Oliver Northup and Claudia Maupin. Brilliance Inside cast him in a TED talk and put it up on YouTube. As Claudia’s daughter Victoria Hurd said in a comment, “what an unconscionable thing you have done.”
The Proposition 57 hearing, meanwhile, is a sign that California’s judicial system can no longer distinguish between right and wrong, between violent criminals and their innocent victims. If Victoria Hurd chose to call that unconscionable, or even evil, it sure would be hard to blame her.