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I Knew His Name Sounded Familiar

What's it like to look into the eyes of a future accused killer?

Apparently, pretty much the same as any typical campus interaction. As I finally got around to reading news of the former Cornell graduate student charged last month with the second-degree murder of his wife, it dawned on me that I'd known him. Blazej Kot, seen most recently on local news being led around in an orange jumpsuit, had been my teaching assistant.

And I have the e-mails to prove it! In fall 2005, I took CS 430: Information Retrieval, and, looking back, our exchanges were about as mundane and task-specific as you could imagine: Which version of this algorithm should I use? What type of file input is best? Why isn't this compiling?

Which is all to say that in three and a half years, a successful and happily married (and diligently helpful) graduate student allegedly got to the point where he killed his wife, set the house on fire to cover it up and led police on a five-mile high-speed chase before trying to slit his own throat.

I have no idea whether this was a one-time domestic dispute that somehow escalated beyond control, or if there were more fundamental underlying disturbances. Either possibility is terrifying: That an unbalanced individual could maintain a steady facade to his wife, his family, and his departmental colleagues for so long; or that someone could be perfectly normal and happy, only for an unlikely sequence of actions and reactions to undo it all in a single day.

(N.B. Nagowski has asked me to convey his apologies for not updating the site in approximately forever. On behalf of all of you, I accept.)

Andy Guess | Posted on July 04, 2009 (#)

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