Please help for a friend guilty of manslaughter
April 24, 2007 8:11 AM   Subscribe

A year ago, a friend of mine was drunk-driving and killed his best friend in a car accident. He needs help. Where can he turn to?

His trial is coming up and he's shattered with guilt. He was an alcoholic but stopped drinking the night he collided with his friend's car. He's heavily medicated but it isn't helping. Are there any support groups for recovering alcoholics who were guilty of manslaughter? Or for those who've killed someone on the road through their own fault? Is there any way he could help others and so help himself? Perhaps he could set up an organization to help drunk drivers stop drinking or drinking-and-driving?

Finally, on the legal side, perhaps there are lines of defense outside Portugal which his legally-appointed provincial lawyer hasn't considered? He doesn't care about his lawyer or his defense but his family and friends are in a panic as they obviously want his punishment to be as light as possible.

He's a very nice guy - a fisherman, 50 years old, lives in an isolated hamlet by the sea - but now he's apathetic and depressed and just wants to go to jail and leave his (wonderful) family alone, in the hope they won't suffer so much - psychologically and financially - because of him. He's stopped working, driving and chatting to his friends. Everybody around him is desperate, including me.

Any help - however remote it may seem - will be much appreciated. Thank you.
posted by MiguelCardoso to Law & Government (37 answers total)
Does he have a social worker assigned to his case? They might be able to help him seek out counselling. Alternatively, a registered psychologist could help with counselling and provide credible witness testimony as an advocate, from what I understand.
posted by acoutu at 8:19 AM on April 24, 2007

Thanks, acoutu. He was visited by a social worker but this is a very small community we're talking about and he's effectively been ostracized. Everybody blames him absolutely and wishes him to be severely punished - hence my appeal here.

I did search on the web but, understandably, support groups for those guilty of manslaughter keep a low profile and I couldn't find any. Ditto for any specific legal advice. I hope someone might know of a website or an organization that could help impartially - as he isn't going to get that help in the tiny village where he lives.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:27 AM on April 24, 2007

Maybe AA could help get him in touch with something more specialized? Shoot, even if not, AA themselves may help.
posted by Kellydamnit at 8:37 AM on April 24, 2007

… but now he's apathetic and depressed and just wants to go to jail and leave his (wonderful) family alone, in the hope they won't suffer so much - psychologically and financially - because of him.
Maybe I’m missing something, but what’s inappropriate about this response? Why does he need help—what can it achieve? Do you think it’s reasonable to expect him to become cheerful and optimistic following what happened?
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 8:38 AM on April 24, 2007

Is he at all religious? It seems to me like the big-time sin and redemption stuff might be more appropriate for a priest than a shrink.
posted by craichead at 8:45 AM on April 24, 2007

Why does he need help—what can it achieve? Do you think it’s reasonable to expect him to become cheerful and optimistic following what happened?

He needs help so he doesn't spend the rest of his life apathetic and depressed. Do you think it's reasonable for him to spend the rest of his life apathetic and depressed? I second the AA suggestion, though of course there's probably not a chapter in his fishing village; maybe he should move somewhere else? It can't help to be in a place where "everybody blames him absolutely and wishes him to be severely punished."
posted by languagehat at 8:55 AM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

There are a many people in AA that have similar stories. A good friend of mine who is in AA had a drunk driving accident that killed his 6 year old son - he is now a happy and productive member of society.
posted by cinemafiend at 8:58 AM on April 24, 2007

Aidan, it's not bout being cheerful, it's about being able to function as a person and as a family member. It is unhealthy and dysfunctional to sink to a depth where one opts to drop out of the world rather than take the simple steps necessary to continue living: namely, facing the legal consequences in sound mind, and continuing to invest in the lives of those around you (especially in this case, as everyone seems to be willing to go out of their way to invest in him).

acoutu's advice will be the most helpful on all fronts; the irreconcilable guilt he feels will go a long way in speaking for his reformation. However, the real point of this therapy is to keep him from committing a slow suicide, which is clearly what's already underway.

If ever there was a situation in which I recommended having someone committed to round-the-clock help, this is it. If you have the funds to put him in a private rehab, that's where he will suddenly find himself immersed in surroundings that open his eyes to the reality of his situation and the toll it is taking on everyone. One tragedy should not have to result in a whole chain of them. He has an opportunity (and a responsibility to the memory of his friend) to put himself together again so he can get on with his life.
posted by hermitosis at 8:58 AM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Maybe I’m missing something, but what’s inappropriate about this response? Why does he need help—what can it achieve?

Jesus, I hope you never do anything insanely stupid in your life because if you do then you deserve fuck all help with that attitude. People make mistakes you know and they deserve to be given second chances.

Shit happens and sometimes we need help to deal with it. Drinking+Driving = really fucking stupid, not extremely evil (especially if the guy had an illness and was genuinely an alcoholic).

It's not cold blooded murder (and even they deserve some sort of help imho). This guy may have killed his best friend by accident but if he was an alcoholic and is now completely off the drink then he deserves help to stay off the drink, cope with his punishment and get on with his life.
posted by twistedonion at 9:00 AM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

reasonable to expect him to become cheerful and optimistic

No, but unless he plans to off himself he has to continue his life. I would think that through AA he could meet other people who have physically injured and/or killed others accidentally through drinking.

Also I think some of the drunk driving speakers (who go to high schools, etc.) are people who fit that bill: from googling, try Jim Thayer. Thayer is a doctor who killed someone by drunk driving. He is reach-able at the Hooper Detox Center in Portland, Oregan.

A bit different, but my grandfather accidentally killed his daughter (my father's little sister) by hitting her while driving a vehicle on the farm. The family never really recovered -- no one ever spoke of the girl or her death. That can't be the answer.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:01 AM on April 24, 2007

Prison may actually be therapeutic for him. He is wracked with guilt and serving his time may allow him to feel that proper penance has been paid. If he is a religious man he needs to connect with God. AA is all fine and well for overcoming the addiction, which he appears to have already done, but will it really help with the guilt? Since most alcoholics have many things to be guilty about he might find good support in such a group or whatever the equivalent might be where he is located. I would guess there will be one in prison.
posted by caddis at 9:03 AM on April 24, 2007

Your friend may benefit from participation in AA and you and his family will benefit immensely from participating in AL-Anon, a 12 step program for friends and families of alcoholics. Alcoholism is a disease, and it affects both the drinker and everyone around them. Your friend may or may not choose to go to AA, but AL-Anon will help you and those around you heal from this series of events. You can be happy whether the alcoholic is making the choices you want them to or not. Find more information at
posted by potterybliss at 9:03 AM on April 24, 2007

I would agree with the others who say to get him away from the surroundings he is in and into rehab or AA if possible.

The depression could be due to coming off drink as much as the event. Both need treated. You are a good friend, are his immediate family as supportive? If so would his wife and kids consider moving?
posted by twistedonion at 9:05 AM on April 24, 2007

Do you think it's reasonable for him to spend the rest of his life apathetic and depressed?
Of course not. But this is only a year later and the trial has yet to start. Any sort of getting-over-it right now is basically impossible.

hermitosis, he’s going to jail. He won’t be able to invest in the lives of those currently around him from there. That’s something his family and friends need to deal with anyway, whether now or soon. But without Miguel choosing to participate, this doesn’t help, so I’ll stop the derail now.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 9:14 AM on April 24, 2007

You've probably already found this, but just in case:

AA Portugal
posted by romakimmy at 9:26 AM on April 24, 2007

You have multiple questions while most answers here are addressing just one aspect or another. Let me try to respond to the whole post and see where this goes.

Possibly a support group for victims of PTSD (post-traumatic stress) would help. This is what many vets returning from Iraq are going through. Certainly AA should be able to facilitate that if it's available in Portugal.

I would also think, as you suggest, that ultimately some redemptive positive goals in his life would help, like volunteering in an anti drinking/driving organization. Some people have done great things as a result of being involved in events like this. But he's obviously not ready to do that now, the therapy needs to come first.

On the legal side, without having any idea of the Portuguese legalities, it would seem that coming clean, outlining what he has done for himself, and throwing himself on the mercy of the court is pretty much the best best bet in any jurisdiction.

For any of this to work his apathy needs to be addressed and he needs to become willing to take some actions on his own. It sounds to me like the kind of situation where an "intervention" by those who love him is appropriate. And somebody needs to look at that heavy medication which may be complicating the picture or even substituting one addiction for another.
posted by beagle at 9:45 AM on April 24, 2007

Disclaimer: I have neither expertise nor personal experience with anything remotely like this situation. All I have is an idea, unfettered by evidence or support, that I hope might be helpful.

Is there any way he could help others and so help himself? Perhaps he could set up an organization to help drunk drivers stop drinking or drinking-and-driving?

I think you've really seized on something important here. Is there some way that you can suggest to him that withdrawing from society and family, and being consumed by depression and guilt, in fact dishonors the memory of his friend even more? Perhaps he can use this terrible experience to galvanize himself into helping others as some form of redemption - by volunteering for some community organization, or by working to help end drunk-driving, or some such thing. Perhaps you could do some research and provide him with specific suggestions on organizations that would dovetail with his interests or skills in some way.

I am not trying to say that he has to do this, or that he can in fact "redeem" himself through volunteer work. I only suggest that it might be an effective argument for getting him to become more socially active. He probably feels like his life is worthless right now; one way of convincing him otherwise is to suggest that, instead of compounding the tragedy of his friend's death by moping, he dedicate himself to doing good in the world in some way. Of course, only you know whether or not this kind of reasoning would be effective with him.
posted by googly at 9:47 AM on April 24, 2007

Miguel --

(1) Has his attorney advised him what kind of sentence he's looking at if he is convicted?

(2) Has he been offered a plea agreement? What was the plea agreement?
posted by jayder at 10:16 AM on April 24, 2007

If I got drunk and killed someone, I'd probably want to ease the burden on my family too, and I'd welcome the opportunity to escape the world at large for a while to stew in my own guilt.

If he wants to go to jail for a few years or months and pay his penance for his crime, why not let him?
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:59 AM on April 24, 2007

Thank you all for your advice, which I'll be filtering and considering with two mutual friends, so that I only pass on suggestions which can actually help.

I should add - I don't want to go into too much detail - that moving is not an option as his wife, daughter and son-in-law own a small restaurant that is inextricably tied to that particular fishing spot. The mother cooks; the daughter and son-in-law do everything else. He used to run it but, since the accident, he justs sits there, like a ghost. He was always cheerful, hardworking and cocky, running about and greeting the customers (half of which fellow fishermen) but now it's as if only his body is left. His family love him dearly and are always trying to cheer him up - they're also frightened, of course, but he doesn't lack affection or attention. Although an alcoholic, he was never aggressive or maudlin or inappropriate and was often teased because he refused to drive if he'd had even one small beer.

I'm trying to get answers to your questions - legal and otherwise - so that the case can be made clearer.

Thank you so much - I thought of posting anonymously but then I knew I could trust you all not to mock or turn away from this very difficult situation.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:06 AM on April 24, 2007

Unless he's actively anti-religious, I second what craichead said, even if he's not religious. And pick an old church- Catholic or Orthodox- not something new and Protestant. Find an older priest who's seen it all, (interview him first), and then send your friend there. They get it, they really do.

I know NA sponsors who've done this for their sponsorees who had pretty horrific pasts (way more horrific than your friend's, if it matters), even when the sponsorees weren't particularly religious.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:55 AM on April 24, 2007

And what everyone else said about AA. He'll find people who understand about making amends for things that are impossible to make amends for, usually in the ways you first mentioned, about setting up (or volunteering for) anti-drinking-and-driving programs, or volunteering to take care of people permanently injured by drunk drivers, etc.

(And he will never be able be able to make amends in any way if he's not alive to do it. Suicide, however slow, is against the rules in these programs.)
posted by small_ruminant at 12:05 PM on April 24, 2007

Miguel, find him a man of God. It's gotta start there.

I think small_ruminant has a point-a priest who has been around the block a few times might be just the ticket. Not just for the God part-altho I believe that is essential-but because a man with that vocation understands people, their flaws, their makeup, and will know how to talk to your friend.

But be picky about who you pick, of course.
posted by konolia at 12:20 PM on April 24, 2007

I know nothing about Portuguese criminal procedure, so this may be nonsense:

You used the word "guilty." Is trial coming up, or sentencing? At sentencing (perhaps the two are consolidated in Portugal), remorse, recovery and reformation (and their ultimate effect on likelihood of recidivism) are often very important mitigating factors. If character testimony can come in at sentencing hearings, your friend will need to marshal the support of his friends, family and perhaps professionals in the field (especially those who can testify to his recovery from alcoholism) in hopes of reducing his sentence. Some of the steps folks here are urging may have a practical benefit at trial and sentencing. Genuine evidence that he has undergone successful treatment and therefore is not a threat to repeat this behavior could, depending on questions of Portuguese law far beyond my knowledge, earn him a short(er) sentence.
posted by kosem at 12:42 PM on April 24, 2007

I have an acquaintance in almost the same situation.

He is currently serving a sentence in prison. Taking a plea cut his sentence in half, and he will shave further time off by going to some boot camp program. (This is in the US, so YMMV.)

He killed one of his best friends (a passenger in his car) and has faced significant anger and hostility from the victim's family. While this is to be expected, having it come from the family of a friend - former friends themselves - has taken a toll. And while he understands their anger and grief, their urging for a harsher sentence has been rough for him.

The biggest problem that he is having is that this decision (to drive while drunk) has utterly shattered his life. His girlfriend left him while he was imprisoned, he lost his job and his house and his prospects aren't looking too bright for when he is released.

To say that this has caused him some depression would be an understatement.

I have no bright side. This situation and story utterly sucks.

But if I could give you one piece of advice based on what my acquaintance has gone through, it would be to not abandon him, and to make him aware that he has not been/will not be abandoned.
posted by Sheppagus at 12:45 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do you think it's reasonable for him to spend the rest of his life apathetic and depressed?

I don't know, he killed his best friend because he liked the booze and didn't have the good sense not to drive ("manslaughter" is a bit too impersonal, forgive me for spelling this out) -- people spend their lives depressed for much, much less -- ask a doctor if you don't believe me.

this guy has certainly reasons to be depressed. and short of raising his friend from the dead, I'm not sure a "man of God" could help him. see, it's called guilt, and it's not even necessarily a Catholic thing, even if Catholics are the world champions at it.
posted by matteo at 12:55 PM on April 24, 2007

Miguel, I just wanted to say that you are really a good guy to seek out assistance for your friend as he lives with the terrible guilt and grief over his actions. Compassion is not a very popular virtue in this day and age (as some comments in this thread attest), so kudos to you for cultivating it.
posted by scody at 1:30 PM on April 24, 2007

matteo, no one's arguing that it's not normal. We are suggesting it's not productive and benefits no one. Who wants to live in a world like that?
posted by small_ruminant at 1:44 PM on April 24, 2007

He killed one of his best friends (a passenger in his car) and has faced significant anger and hostility from the victim's family.

Pardon this slight derail: presumably the victim willingly got into the car with the drunk driver, so while I certainly understand the feelings of guilt, I don't understand the hostility from the victim's family---didn't the victim also display some bad judgment?
posted by jayder at 2:14 PM on April 24, 2007

He was always cheerful, hardworking and cocky, running about and greeting the customers (half of which fellow fishermen) but now it's as if only his body is left. His family love him dearly and are always trying to cheer him up

Hmm, maybe after the penal institution issues are out of the equation, and after giving him some time to stew in his juices, his friends and family could stage an intervention. They could tell him how much they miss him and want him to come back, challenge him to define an appropriate penance ("what would it take for you to feel like you'd made up for this one terrible deed?"), and remind him of what is so good about him and all the ways he made (could make) their lives better.
posted by ruff at 2:15 PM on April 24, 2007

I think the problem is that he will probably never feel like he's made up for this one terrible deed. No matter what he does, it won't change the fact that his best friend is dead and it's his fault and he's still alive. It's going to be an open wound and an unpayable debt for the rest of his life. He needs to figure out some way to deal with that and to acknowledge it (which he's doing now) without allowing it to negate every other aspect of his existence (which he's also doing now.) I doubt that he'd be helped very much by anyone who tried to minimize the enormity of his guilt, because I don't think that person would have much credibility with him. I think that's why both religion and AA might be useful to him: they offer the possibility of redemption without downplaying the severity of the offense.
posted by craichead at 2:48 PM on April 24, 2007

I really think he should go to a psychologist. A psychologist can refer him to appropriate resources. He may not be ready for a group situation such as AA or it might be the best thing he could do. A psychologist could help him develop tools for dealing with his emotions and for managing the trial and imprisonment. Moreover, a psychologist can help him determine whether he's dealing with other mental health issues, such as OCD, PTSD and the like.

I doubt that a psychologist will try to cheer him up. Much of what he's going through may be a normal response to an abnormal situation. Instead, the psychologist will try to help him create a structure that will help him work through this period in his life, with the hope that he won't take himself and his family down.
posted by acoutu at 3:07 PM on April 24, 2007

I think you actually have the best idea yourself: he should help others not make the same terrible mistakes that he did. I don't know enough about alcoholism recovery to be able to give specific suggestions, but maybe the AA has ideas about this?
posted by davar at 3:16 PM on April 24, 2007

Sorry to hear about this, Miguel. You may find better options by talking with other lawyers who've dealt with this kind of case and know good psychologists or religious figures who've helped others in similar situations. If his current legally-appointed lawyer isn't knowledgeable in that area, start asking your friends, acquaintances and legal professionals for lawyers who are. I've gotten great leads in the past by doing that.

find him a man of God. It's gotta start there.

It's "gotta" do nothing of the sort. There are many professionals, religious and otherwise, who are trained in helping someone in Miguel's friend's situation.

posted by mediareport at 7:42 PM on April 24, 2007

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for every word. I shall report back here when I have important news.

Meanwhile, my friend's wife had a heart attack the day before yesterday but she left the hospital last night and is recovering at home. What a bad run this family has had.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:39 AM on April 27, 2007

Miguel, I went through what your friend has done. It happened in 1988, I was involved in a accident that happened as a direct result of what i did that day. I walked out of the hospital that night..she did not. She lived for 17 years in a vegetative state and passed away in 2005. She was my girlfriend. I know the pain,shame guilt,remorse and hell he is going through. I have 13 years clean and sober.
There is life after what we have done,if we choose to live.
posted by 396man at 5:31 PM on October 16, 2007

I have also searched for any support groups for people such as myself who have committed acts as these. I could not find any. I do want to start one I know there must be many of us out there. My email address is
posted by 396man at 5:42 PM on October 16, 2007

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