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The Death of Justice?
Scott Peterson stands convicted and condemned for the murder of his wife and unborn son. A jury of hie peers heard the evidence, totally circumstantial, and determined his guilt. Whatís wrong with this? Well, nothing, as long as the circumstantial evidence supports no logical conclusion other than the guilt of the defendant. I have reviewed the evidence in this case, and there is enough evidence to support the juryís verdict. So why am I uncomfortable? I personally think that the jury had its mind made up not by the evidence, but rather by the defendantís in-trial demeanor. I listened to the post-trial jury interviews and felt sick.
"Read the interviews or watch them on TV. The jury apparently made up its mind because Mr. Peterson laughed at something his attorney said after a court session, and did not cry enough when the pictures of the deformed and decomposed Laci and Connor (the name for that poor full-term boy) were shown. His reaction was taken as a lack of remorse."
Read the interviews or watch them on TV. The jury apparently made up its mind because Mr. Peterson laughed at something his attorney said after a court session, and did not cry enough when the pictures of the deformed and decomposed Laci and Connor (the name for that poor full-term boy) were shown. His reaction was taken as a lack of remorse. But Mr. Petersonís defense was innocence. Remorse from an innocent person is wholly inconsistent with his claim of innocence. In fact, defense attorneys often coach the defendant in trial demeanor, lest the defendant conduct himself in a manner that compromises his or her case.
It is also apparent that Mr. Petersonís decision to decline to testify on his own behalf was taken, at least in part, as an admission of guilt. That is wholly wrong, and any jury that acts in that manner has made its decision wrongly. The defendant is entitled to a new trial. In this case, I think that the jury has shown that it did not evaluate the facts, and did not come to a reasoned conclusion that there was no other theory, except guilt, that fit the facts.
I am not saying that Scott Peterson is innocent. As I said, there is ample evidence to support a conclusion of guilt. That said, the guilty deserve an unequivocally fair trial, as do the innocent. If the trial is not a true test of innocence or guilt, then it is unfair. Since the "true test" standard is elusive, the courts have developed sets of rules as to how the finder of fact ought to review evidence. In this case, I think that the court properly instructed the jury, and the jury promptly forgot its charge and decided things based on irrelevancies.
It is not relevant that Mr. Peterson was a philanderer. Philanderer does not equal murderer. It is not relevant that he cheated on a pregnant woman. What is relevant is the evidence that shows or purports to show that he killed that pregnant woman. Consider that and nothing else. If the guilty man goes free, that is better than fudging the standards; you could be the innocent victim of fudged standards. Here in Illinois, since 1977, more people on death row were shown to be actually innocent than were executed! Why? Police, prosecutors and juries, acting in rage over horrendous crimes, decided guilt with emotion rather than a detached analysis of facts. Finally, in frustration, Governor George Ryan commuted (on his last day in office) every death row inmateís sentence, rather than risk executing a guilty person.
The rage over the horrendous crime is right. Making sure that the guilty are brought to justice is more important. While this is true, we donít cheat to get there.
The last thing I must mention is this: Scott Peterson may not have planned to kill his wife. If his murder was a crime of passion, without planning, then he was wrongly convicted of premeditated murder. I have to check before I open my mouth. I need to see if Mr. Peterson bought the concrete for the weights (that were never found) before Laci disappeared. Covering up is not premeditation.
Enough said. I am not a softie for those who murder woman and children. If the man is guilty, lock him up and throw away the key. But letís be carefully fair in our judgments.