He has five children. Today, he says, is the birthday of his sixth.
"She died of leukemia in 1993. She was almost 3."
Mobley pauses. He doesn't want to create the wrong impression.
He made the decision on the law, he says, "but I also have some idea what it feels like, what it does to you, when you lose a child."
So, after his son's death, Andrew Culpepper was sent home to try to live the remainder of his life with what he had done. After his son's death, Miles Harrison was charged with a felony. His mug shot was in the newspapers and on TV, with the haunted, hunted, naked-eyed look these parents always have, up against the wall. He hired an expensive lawyer. Over months, both sides developed their cases. Witnesses were assembled and interviewed. Efforts at a plea bargain failed. The trial began.
The court heard how Harrison and his wife had been a late-40s childless couple desperately wanting to become parents, and how they'd made three visits to Moscow, setting out each time on a grueling 10-hour railroad trip to the Russian hinterlands to find and adopt their 18-month-old son from an orphanage bed he'd seldom been allowed to leave. Harrison's next-door neighbor testified how she'd watched the new father giddily frolic on the lawn with his son. Harrison's sister testified how she had worked with her brother and sister-in-law for weeks to find the ideal day-care situation for the boy, who would need special attention to recover from the effects of his painfully austere beginnings.
From the witness stand, Harrison's mother defiantly declared that Miles had been a fine son and a perfect, loving father. Distraught but composed, Harrison's wife, Carol, described the phone call that her husband had made to her right after he'd discovered what he'd done, the phone call she'd fielded on a bus coming home from work. It was, she said, unintelligible screaming.
In the end, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge R. Terence Ney found Miles Harrison not guilty. There was no crime, he said, citing the identical legal reasons Earle Mobley had cited for not charging Andrew Culpepper in the first place.
At the verdict, Harrison gasped, sobbed, then tried to stand, but the man had nothing left. His legs buckled, and he crashed pathetically to his knees.
So, if it's not manslaughter, what is it? An accident?
"No, that's an imperfect word."
This is Mark Warschauer, an internationally acclaimed expert in language learning and technology, professor of education at the University of California at Irvine.
"The word 'accident' makes it sound like it can't be prevented," Warschauer says, "but 'incident' makes it sound trivial. And it is not trivial."
Warschauer is a Fulbright scholar, specializing in the use of laptops to spread literacy to children. In the summer of 2003, he returned to his office from lunch to find a crowd surrounding a car in the parking lot. Police had smashed the window open with a crowbar. Only as he got closer did Warschauer realize it was his car. That was his first clue that he'd forgotten to drop his 10-month-old son, Mikey, at day care that morning. Mikey was dead.
Warschauer wasn't charged with a crime, but for months afterward he contemplated suicide. Gradually, he says, the urge subsided, if not the grief and guilt.
"We lack a term for what this is," Warschauer says. And also, he says, we need an understanding of why it happens to the people it happens to.
David Diamond is picking at his breakfast at a Washington hotel, trying to explain.
"Memory is a machine," he says, "and it is not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you're capable of forgetting your cellphone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child."
Diamond is a professor of molecular physiology at the University of South Florida and a consultant to the veterans hospital in Tampa. He's here for a national science conference to give a speech about his research, which involves the intersection of emotion, stress and memory. What he's found is that under some circumstances, the most sophisticated part of our thought-processing center can be held hostage to a competing memory system, a primitive portion of the brain that is -- by a design as old as the dinosaur's -- inattentive, pigheaded, nonanalytical, stupid.
Diamond is the memory expert with a lousy memory, the one who recently realized, while driving to the mall, that his infant granddaughter was asleep in the back of the car. He remembered only because his wife, sitting beside him, mentioned the baby. He understands what could have happened had he been alone with the child. Almost worse, he understands exactly why.