The news that Google executive Forrest Hayes died on a yacht after being injected with heroin by a "date" he met on a website that connects "sugar daddies" with "sugar babies" has prompted not only charges against the woman, 26-year-old Alix Tichelman, and an investigation of a similar death (ruled accidental) involving Ms. Tichelman in 2013, but also questions about the website that brought the dead husband and father into contact with the woman who literally killed him.
While police have described the woman as a high-priced escort with an ongoing "prostitution relationship" with the executive, the website "Seeking Arrangements," denies that its site in any way condones prostitution. According to the site's spokesperson, "What we do know is that these were two adults that were involved in a consensual relationship that was ongoing. This appears to be a case of recreational drug use gone wrong."
Actually, it appears to be quite a bit worse than that. It wasn't just that Tichelman allegedly injected Hayes with a lethal dose of heroin. The security cameras show her injecting the heroin, and then watching as Hayes' body went limp. Instead of calling 911, as anyone with an ounce of humanity would do, Ms. Tichelman allegedly finished her wine, packed up her needles and heroin, and then stepped over his body to leave, pausing only to reach back and pull down the blinds so no one would see the dying man inside.
This is, of course, according to the police. Ms. Tichelman is innocent until proven guilty. But if the report of what was captured on camera is correct, she deserves to be charged not with manslaughter (the current charge against her, along with drug and prostitution charges) but murder. She may not have intended that Hayes die when she injected him, but her actions once she did so establish malice; to leave someone to die, much less pull down the shades, when they are potentially facing death is an omission that is as serious as an intentional act of killing. And the fact that another man — this one in Georgia, last year — died under similar circumstances while Ms. Tichelman was showering not only raises questions for Georgia police, but also is relevant to Tichelman's knowledge and intent on the night she injected Hayes.
In short, Ms. Tichelman has big problems, as well she should. The degrees of murder reflect the fact that not all killings are alike: The killer for hire, the killer who plans his act, are punished more seriously because they are, quite simply, more evil than one who kills in the heat of passion. On the "scumbag scorecard," a woman who would finish her wine and pull down the shades after killing the man with whom she was supposedly "involved in a consensual relationship" deserves to be in that same category.
And the website? They claim that matching a "sugar daddy" with a "sugar baby" for a "no-strings" ideal relationship for the daddy and financial stability, shopping sprees and exotic travel for the baby has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with prostitution. Meet "background-checked" babies, the men are promised. I wonder if Ms. Tichelman's background check picked up the man who died while she was in the shower? I doubt it.
Prostitution by another name is still prostitution. A website which facilitates prostitution is complicit in that crime, at least. There are so many sites like that on the web (to quote the song, "The Internet Is for Porn,") that it would be impossible to shut them down, even if anyone had the will to try. But when prostitution leads directly to death, there is a case to be made that all those complicit share in the responsibility for the death, if not under the criminal law, at least under the civil law, and certainly as a matter of morality.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)