Jean Randomski, a psychologist and Buzz Knight, her 35-year-old mental patient, were wed on March 28, 1978, in a stairwell at the Togus Veterans Administration Hospital in Maine. It was one of the great events at the hospital, an occasion that made Knight a hero among the other patients. a
Two years, two months and two days later the Massachusetts courts annulled the marriage at the request of Knight's father. The son, a decorated Vietnam war captain who suffered brain damage in a 1972 hit-and-run accident, was mentally incompetent and could not marry without his father's permission, the court said. The father, Knight's legal guardian, had never given it. Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court let the annulment stand.
Randomski's appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court listed her as "Jean Radomski, also known as Jean Knight." "Also known as" is about all that is left of the marriage, for Radomski and Knight haven't seen each other in almost two years. She lives in Phoenix. He's back at Togas, where he was spirited in a lightning-fast, air-and-land recovery mission allegedly executed by his father.
No one has ever contended that William Austin (Buzz) Knight is a vegetable. He talks, he is understood, he understands and at one point after his accident, the former Marine pilot even helped fly an airplane. The first judge in the case, later reversed by a higher court, concluded after hearing testimony on both sides that he had "sufficient mental capacity to understand the nature of his marriage" and its "duties and responsibilities." He is not Karen Quinlan.
Among Buzz Knight, his father and his former wife, there is now a tangle of lawsuits, motions and rulings which translate into one basic question: Does an adult, though "mentally incompetent" for some purposes, still have the right to decide his future?
Neither the father, William B. Knight, nor his lawyers, would be interviewed for this article. Radomski and her attorney were. While most of the facts provided by Radomski are confirmed in court rulings, other information may reflect her bias. She says the father has never told her why he objects to the marriage. His court case was based on his son's "mental incompetence." Others, who have spoken with him, speculate that he resented what he considered the secretive, rushed way the marriage took place, without any notice to him. No one questions his love for his son, or the pain he has endured, or his motives.
Buzz Knight returned decorated and uninjured from Vietnam and was assigned as a flight instructor (he became flight-instructor-of-the-year) at Quantico Marine base. In 1972, he was struck by a car which left the scene of the accident. His injuries were massive: paralysis on the left side, sight impairment, speech impairment, impairment of his ability to socialize, to figure out how to get from one point to another in his life.
He was eventually hospitalized at Togus, near Augusta and near his parents. According to Radomski, he was antisocial and made little rehabilitative progress until she came onto his case. Then he started walking, behaving, feeling and even planning for a future. Radomski, then 44 and the wife of a psychiatrist, gradually fell in love.
"When I first met him," Radomski recalled, "he was in a wheelchair, with a catheter. He said awful things, especially sexual things. I and the supervising nurse felt we should try to do something because he was so young. He had his whole life in front of him. Little by little, he improved. He walked with the parallel bars. I would hold his hand when the pain got too much. He would squeeze my hand when the fractures hurt. When he was done, he would come up to me, put his head on my shoulder and cry.
"As I got to know him, I began to sense what lay behind the angry, nasty facade. It's hard to put into words, but we thought along the same kind of lines. He and I both wanted to do more with our lives. He had a sense of adventure about him. He was willing to bear the pain that would be involved in the trying and I admired that. He was very close to his grandmother and so was I. We were both Irish. There was a kind of community of spirit between us.
"I could see the love developing down there in that P.T [physical therapy] room. Once, he looked down at my wedding ring from those parallel bars and said he wished that wedding ring was one he had put there."
According to Radomski, Knight's parents also saw love developing and at one point she broached the subject with them.The court opinion said they expressed reservations. She says they did not.
She acknowledges that two things did concern them. Her suggestion that Knight go to New York for expensive, specialized treatment unavailable at Togus was one. The family would be separated, she said, and the parents objected to the potential expense involved, since neither they nor the son were well-off.
In addition, they objected to a form of group therapy in which she involved Knight. "He began to understand his feelings, some of the past anger he felt during his growing-up time. Apparently, Mr. and Mrs. Knight did not like this. It may have seemed to them that I was turning him against his family." t
In September 1977, her husband divorced her. "He met him. We had him to our home," she said, adding that her husband "understood what was happening. He saw it was something I wanted to do."
Knight's father began proceedings to be named legal guardian of his son. Knight and Radomski, who by then had transferred to a VA hospital in Colorado, made plans to marry. On March 28, 1978, both actions were made final, the guardianship several hours before the wedding.
The newlyweds moved to Colorado, where Jean placed Knight in a nursing facility. The father began annulment proceedings.
Then, one day when she was in Phoenix for a seminar, she got a call from a social worker at the nursing home. "He said a strange thing has happened to your husband. Two men came in, put him in a car, and drove off, leaving the wheelchair behind."
Shortly thereafter, Stephan A. Tisdell, a district attorney in Colorado, obtained arrest warrants for the father and two other men. He said he was going to charge them with kidnaping, though he dropped the case because of questions about whether Knight had resisted his removal from the nursing home.
Tisdell said Knight's father, using a van and a chartered airplane, took the son back to Maine and Togus Hospital, where he is now, unavailable for comment.
The first judge in the annulment case ruled in Radomski's favor, saying that Knight appeared capable of contracting a marriage. "This court," Superior Court Justice David Roberts said, "must approach with great reluctance the prospect of judicially terminating a marriage entered into voluntarily, without fraud and with the apparent consent of both parties . . . . The issue was not the character, good, bad or indifferent, of the wife, or whether the marriage, in the opinion of relatives or others, was hasty or ill-advised, as common experience indicates is many times the wont of the human race."
The Main Supreme Judicial Court reversed the ruling. A legal guardianship gave the father veto power over all contracts, it said. Marriage, in Maine, is a contract. Therefore it cannot be valid without the father's permission.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined yesterday to review the case.