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Karen Read Case Raises Important Issues of Gender Bias, Scapegoating in the Justice System

Karen Read’s trial is approaching its end as closing arguments were made on June 25. Her trial has captivated the nation, likely because its unique nature forces one to consider gender bias in the justice system and how women may be more susceptible to scapegoating and framing.

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The case centers around the 2022 death of Read’s boyfriend, Boston Police Department Officer John O’Keefe. On January 29, 2022, O’Keefe was found unresponsive in the snow outside the home of a Canton, Massachusetts, residence. The incident occurred after O’Keefe and Read had been out drinking with friends, including fellow police officer Brian Albert. After visiting two bars, Read drove O’Keefe to Albert’s home in Canton, where she dropped him off before she went home and went to bed. Upon waking up the following day, she discovered O’Keefe never came home. She and two acquaintances, Jennifer McCabe and Kerry Roberts, went out looking for him.

Upon driving to Albert’s residence, they spotted O’Keefe unresponsive on the ground and called 911. He was soon pronounced dead. Medical examiners suggested hypothermia and blunt force trauma contributed to his death, but his official cause of death was listed as undetermined. Since his death, two distinct theories have arisen about what happened to him. Investigators and prosecutors claim they found evidence that Read was driving drunk when she dropped O’Keefe off and unknowingly backed into him with her SUV while leaving the residence. However, Read and her lawyers claim that a fight broke out at the Alberts’ residence, in which O’Keefe was beaten, attacked by a dog, and left to die outside. Her lawyers allege she is now being framed for his murder as part of an elaborate coverup.

Why the Karen Read case is so complex

Over the course of the trial, accusations of perjury, conflict of interests, corruption, disposing of evidence, and botching of the crime scene have surfaced. Much of the complexity ties back to three primary families: the Albert family, the Proctor family, and the McCabe family. The Alberts are central to the case, since everything happened outside their home. On the night of O’Keefe’s death, couples Brian and Nicole Albert, Chris and Julie Albert, and Jennifer and Matthew McCabe joined Read and O’Keefe for drinks at a bar. Brian and Nicole then invited everyone to their home to celebrate their son Brian Albert Jr.’s birthday.

Despite a large number of key witnesses, not a single individual at the Alberts’ residence that night saw Read hit O’Keefe with her car, saw O’Keefe lying in the snow, or witnessed any damage on Read’s SUV when they spotted it in the driveaway around midnight. Hence, the only evidence supporting the claims that Read hit O’Keefe were paramedics’ and Jennifer McCabe’s claims that they heard Read saying, “I hit him” and “This is my fault” at the scene, as well as a broken taillight found on her SUV. Prosecutors have also tried to use Read and O’Keefe’s troubled relationship to prove she killed him.

What’s most troubling, though, is that the lead investigator in the case, Michael Proctor, and his sister, Courtney Proctor, are friends with the Albert family. The McCabes were also friendly with the Albert family and even had a group chat where they talked about the case and may have tried to get their stories straight. Meanwhile, one of the paramedics, Katie McLaughlin, who testified against Read, was also extremely close to the Albert family and has been accused of perjury by the defense for failing to disclose the relationship. The defense has pointed to other troubling aspects of the case. Witnesses have alleged investigators didn’t follow standard practices for preserving the crime scene, using leaf blowers to remove snow and collecting evidence in solo cups. They even failed to have an officer guard the scene during the two-hour search for evidence.

Meanwhile, the trial found that Brian Albert sold his house and rehomed his dog after the incident. He also traded in his cellphone just one day before being court-ordered to keep his cellphone data, although he claimed he just happened to be in need of an upgrade. One of the biggest unexplainable revelations of the trial is that Jennifer McCabe was found to have searched on her phone how long it would take someone to die in the snow. While Jennifer claimed she made the search after discovering O’Keefe, the defense provided evidence showing the search was made at 2:27 AM, long before Read found O’Keefe.

#FreeKarenRead trends as her trial nears its conclusion

As mentioned above, the public has taken an interest in Read’s case, with many believing that she was, indeed, framed for the murder and is not guilty. On X (formerly Twitter), her supporters have successfully circulated #FreeKarenRead and #NotGuilty. Many also gathered outside the courthouse, holding signs and chanting “Free Karen Read.” It’s not surprising that her trial has evoked such strong reactions, as it’s not often a case arises where the argument of being framed can’t be easily disproven.

One can also see how fairness is questionable in this case. On the one side, there’s a dozen key witnesses who are all family and friends. There are so many of them that they bear close connections to other key witnesses, including investigators, police officers, and paramedics in the case. On the other side of this massive tangled web of interconnected players, there’s just one woman, Read, asking to be believed.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen what the verdict will be, but the case raises important conversations about our justice system. It’s well known that women are less likely to be believed due to gender bias and that their perceived wrongdoings often stir far more severe reactions and outrage than the wrongdoings of men. Hence, women are particularly easy targets for scapegoating and framing. Even though it’s not proven this is happening in Read’s case, it’s quite scary to think of a case where dozens of key witnesses—including a police officer who might otherwise be implicated himself—are aligned against one woman. Is it possible cases like this have happened in the past and just fell under the radar?

Whatever the outcome of Read’s case, it raises an unavoidable conversation about fairness, corruption, and the extra challenges women face going through the justice system.

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.