August 12th, 1999

Column 23

In the past, I have attempted to explain a bit about the courts and justice system. My intent was to try and help you understand how the system works (or doesn't work, depending on your point of view). I haven't spent as much time as I wanted to, on that topic. It's frustrating, trying to make sense out of something that seems to defy explanation. It's easy to get bogged down, trying to explain the details and lose sight of the big picture. Not to mention, the topic can be very dry and boring unless you have an interest in that area. I can keep talking about how Juries are selected in a way that makes them pro prosecution, or I can talk about how the Prosecution has unlimited resources to try and convict a defendant, while that person doesn't have much to defend themselves with. I doubt if that is very interesting to you, so I will focus on other areas and hope in the process, you get an idea of what I am talking about, in a way that's more coherent.

In the last (+/-) 5 years there have been a number of stories in the news about men who have spent 15 to 20 years in prison, or on death row, before it was proved they were innocent. Some of the men (who were on death row) came within hours of being executed, before getting a postponement for various reasons. If they hadn't managed to get these postponements, they would be dead, rather than free men.

Those who support the death penalty have found a solution to stop this irritating detail from happening in the future. They have managed to cut the amount of time a death row prisoner has for appeals and to try proving they are innocent. These people have also been successful in cutting the resources death row prisoners have for defending themselves. These resources weren't much to begin with, especially when compared to what the Prosecution has to work with. Since, in most cases, it took these men 15 years (or more) to prove their innocence, the pro death penalty people got the appeal time shortened to less than 10 years. I guess that's their way to solve the problem of wrongfully convicting and sentencing innocent men to die. You just make it impossible for them to prove they are innocent.

The hypocrisy of this is, these people who push to have the appeal time shortened, talk about how justice needs to be served. They see no justice in giving a person time to prove they are innocent. These people confuse their own agenda with real justice. It would be laughable, if it wasn't a matter of life and death. If they really cared about justice, they would do all they could to insure the government doesn't kill innocent people.

The reason I talk about the legal system and innocent people is because of something that happened, here in California, this year. It was in February (I think) three people were murdered in Yosemite National Park. It would've just been a case of another tragic murder(s), except for one thing. The families of these women are very wealthy and influential. As a result, the case got a lot of attention and extra effort was put into the case. The media had stories about this case in the news everyday and there was a public (media) outcry to make an arrest in the case. Yosemite National Park is Federal land, so the FBI was called in to run the investigation and work with the various police agencies who were working on the case.

The public (media) pressure was intense for the authorities to make an arrest in the case. Almost daily, the media would parade the victim's families out in front of the camera's, to demand justice and for arrests to be made in the case. After a few weeks, the FBI held a press conference to announce a break in the case and proceeded to arrest two men. It seems the police can't proceed in a case unless they hold a press conference first. A couple of men, who had prior petty criminal records, had been arrested. Both men had done a little time in prison (for minor drug or property offences) and seemed to fit the stereotype the media and authorities create for "suspects" in serious crimes. All the usual police cliché's were coming fast and furious and the police provided the "Perp Walk". That is when the police parade the suspects in front of the media, so pictures can be taken to show on the TV news, or in the newspapers. The media gets their pictures of the two guys looking like criminals and the machinery is set in motion to convict these two men and send them to death row.

The FBI put the two men in the County Jail to "hold" them while more investigation could be completed, before charging them. It takes time to manufacture a case against innocent people (well, sometimes it doesn't take them long). While the case was being "made" against these two men, the authorities were holding them in jail on some charges they happened to find to charge them with.

While the two men are sitting in jail, the FBI are holding press conferences to try and convince the public that these two men are guilty. Of course, the media was already rubbing their hands together in anticipation of a good juicy trial. After all, they haven't had a real decent (entertaining) trial since OJ's trial.

Last month (July 1999) there was another murder at Yosemite National Park. It wouldn't be worthy of the media's attention, maybe a soundbite on the news, or a few paragraphs in the back part of the newspaper, at the most. Another sad case, but the woman didn't come from a wealthy family, so not worthy of any real attention from the media.

The police had a break in this case as there was a witness who identified a car which led to the arrest of a man for this murder. The man was arrested and confessed to the murder, but to the shock of the authorities, the man also confessed to the earlier Yosemite murders. The very same murders the authorities were keeping the other two men in jail for, while "a case could be made" to charge THEM with the murders.

I have NO doubts, if this other man hadn't confessed to all these murders, the FBI (and other police agencies) would have been able to "build a case" against the two men. I know they would have been convicted and sentence to death for murders they didn't commit. Once on Death Row, they would just be some more guys on Death Row, claiming to be innocent.

What bothers me, as much as anything, is how the public (media) just shrugs it off as if it wasn't any big deal. Their attention is now on this man who confessed and no mention is made of the two men who were being set up for conviction. The media doesn't seem to find anything wrong with it's behaviour, nor with the behaviour of the authorities. It's as if this is the way justice is served. I guess when the media's conduct is as bad as the authorities, they don't like to draw too much attention to it.