25th December 1995

Column 8

I have managed to get my hands on a ribbon. Sorry for the delay and I hope that the ribbon problem has been resolved . . . at least until they go and "disappear" again.

First of all, I would like to say that I am grateful for the kind words and the letters of support that I have received in response to what I have been writing. It is good to know that what I am writing is being read because most of the time I feel as if I am writing into a vacuum. It's good to know that's not the case.

As tempting as it has been on occasion, up until know I have avoided talking about the OJ Simpson trial. I'm sure that most people are as sick of it as I am. However, a number of people I have talked with have tried to draw various comparisons between what happened in the OJ trial and what I, and others here on the Row have been through. So, I think that I should say a few things about it.

It seems that there is very little middle ground as far as opinions in his case. People feel strongly one way or the other in their feelings on whether he is guilty or not. I am no exception . . . but what I think doesn't matter. No matter if I think he did it, or didn't do it, was made irrelevant as soon as it came out in the trial that the Los Angeles Police Department had tampered with and planted evidence. As soon as I heard that, everything else didn't matter after that. People argue that the evidence against him was overwhelming and irrefutable. But who can say where the tainted evidence stops and the legitimate evidence begins? Since it's impossible to say, the Jury didn't have any choice except to acquit OJ. Perhaps the best quote I've heard that sums up what I think was, "the LAPD framed a guilty man."

What disturbs me is, out of the ashes of the OJ trial, there will be the politicians, prosecutors and the special interest groups like those who say they are for victims rights that will use the OJ case to further their own agendas. It seems that generally, the public will buy whatever these people serve up as the truth and I have no doubt that they are already at work, using the OJ case as an example of how screwed up our courts are and how it needs to be "fixed" so it doesn't happen again. But in reality, the OJ trial is not how the courts really work. Death Row is full of "guilty men that the cops have framed." But there are also guys sitting here on Death Row (and all through the prison system) who are not guilty, but have had the cops tamper with and plant evidence in their cases, and it is they who will end up paying for what happened in the OJ case.

The one comment that sticks out in my mind the most, out of all the things I have heard in the OJ trial, was when I was watching the evening news on TV the night that the Jury acquitted him. It was one of those things the news media loves to do and they pass it off to the viewers as legitimate news. They stop people on the street and let them say what they think. They had asked this young woman, who looked like she might be a college student, what she thought of the verdict and her reply sent a chill down my spine. She said that she would rather see 10 innocent people go to prison for something they didn't do, rather then see one guilty person go free. When I heard her say that, it really sunk in that it was going to get a lot harder for those of us here on Death Row that are fighting for our lives.

I think it's safe to say that if everyone here on Death Row had the money and resources that OJ had in his trial, at least 90% of us would probably be doing LWOP (Life With Out Parole) or we would be free. But, nobody here can afford a "Dream Team." I don't mind that OJ was able to afford it, he earned his money. I just wish that I could have defended myself like he was able to.

Just to make my point, I will give you a true, but extreme example of what the guys here on the Row had in comparison to the OJ trial. There is about seven guys that were convicted in Los Angeles County (the same courts that OJ was in) and all seven of these guys were represented by the same lawyer in their various trials. Now, remember that we are talking about a complete Death Penalty trial here. In a Death Penalty trial, there are really two trials. One is the Guilt Phase, which is to determine the guilt or innocence of a person. If you are convicted, then you go through another trial to try and decide if you should get the Death Penalty or LWOP. With the seven guys who had gone to trial with this one Attorney, the length of their trials, both the guilt and penalty phases combined lasted two to four days. This includes the picking of the Jury. I can't comment on the guilt or innocence of any of these guys, but I do know that it isn't possible to have a complete trial in a Death Penalty case in two days. Shit, you can drag out a drunk driving case for longer then that.

This Attorney that I am talking about is being investigated by one of the California Attorneys groups and I heard that there was the possibility of legal action taken against him, but I doubt if anything will come of it. Up until the time that other Defense Attorneys started raising hell about it, the Trial judges loved to appoint this Attorney to the Death Penalty cases that were in their courtrooms.

I don't know what the situation is with the guys up here who went to trial with this lawyer. The California Supreme Court has a "Catch-all" decision that they love to use in the cases they are reviewing. It is something that they call "Harmless Error." This is a thing that they use in a case when they find that there has been mistakes made in a trial. Instead of sending the case back to a Superior court so that a Jury can decide on the guilt or innocence of a person, the Supreme Court takes it upon themselves to make that decision. They will claim that the error was no big deal and that the Jury would have convicted the person anyway. Well, excuuuuuse me for beating my chest and waving the American flag here, but isn't the whole system of justice in America based on the premise that you can be tried in front of a jury of your peers and it is not the Courts that can decide on the guilt or innocence of a person, it is supposed to be done by a Jury? Maybe I missed that meeting where they changed it. If it doesn't sound like a big deal to you, maybe you would feel different if it was you, or someone that you love who was on trial.

I guess that it all boils down to money. If you have money you can defend yourself. I know that if OJ didn't have all that money, he would be sitting in, up here on Death Row right now. I don't begrudge OJ and his money. I just wish that I could of had the same resources as he did.

The one thing that really bothers me about the OJ trial is, even though the LAPD were caught (for once) doing the things that they did in the OJ case, no one seems to be too concerned about that. It seems like most people have just shrugged it off as not really being important. If people think that what they did in the OJ case was an aberration, they are mistaken. The only thing that was different in OJ's case was he had the money to fight back and expose what they had done. It isn't just the LAPD that does it either, I think that most police tend to "fudge" in order to convict people and it is no big deal to them . . . it is just business as usual, as long as you can put guilty people in prison, who cares if a few innocent ones get caught up at the same time.

Well, that is it for this one. I'm out of here until the next time. I just hope that I didn't babble too much and was able to make you think about what I've said. It is a tough one to explain and make sense of it. Just don't think OJ's trial is how trials are carried out.