It’s simple: Don’t lie

Marilyn Charlesworth is a liar.

She admitted as much, telling investigators she didn’t regret a false claim she made in front of the Grand Junction City Council in April 2013. In demanding the resignation of councilman Rick Brainard following his domestic violence arrest, Charlesworth said she had been a victim of domestic violence for 10 years.

But that lie (if it is a lie) has now led to a series of consequences she probably never saw coming, including a convicted killer’s motion for a new trial.

The problem with lying is that it robs one’s credibility. Charlesworth was a juror in Michael Blagg’s murder trial in 2004. She completed a juror questionnaire in which she denied ever having been involved in domestic violence.

After Charlesworth publicly portrayed herself as a battered wife, Blagg’s defense team filed a motion for a new trial on the basis that her false statement deprived him of a fair trial. Indeed, court records reveal that Charlesworth twice reported physical altercations with two ex-husbands before she was a juror in Blagg’s case. Now she says her abuse was only emotional.

So, the court has the difficult task of determining which lie is the truth.

Charlesworth is a classic example of the deleterious effects of lying. It’s a childhood conceit that lying is a no-no, supported by tales of Pinocchio and George Washington’s tree-chopping exploits. But as adults we’re seduced by the illusory benefits of lying. We lie to avoid embarrassment or disguise wrongdoing. Sometimes we even convince ourselves that lying can be virtuous.

Sam Harris, a neuroscientist who writes about ethics and morality in modern culture, wrote a fascinating ebook, “Lying” which exposes the insidious nature of lies and how they erode trust and mutual understanding and carry the potential to ruin lives. Big or small, intentional or not, lies sap perpetrators of their moral wealth and deny those lied-to the truth to which they are entitled.

Harris writes, “A wasteland of embarrassment and social upheaval can be neatly avoided by following a single precept in life: Do not lie.”

A lie often leads to other lies to conceal the initial falsehood. We saw an extreme example of this on Tuesday’s front page. A woman trying to keep her family from learning that she had dropped out of college called in bomb threats to a commencement ceremony at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. She was wearing a cap and gown when she was arrested.

Lying can go undetected, of course. But Harris says there’s always a price to be paid for it. In Charlesworth’s case, it could be the cost of a new trial, to say nothing of personal integrity.


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