Sometimes Prosecutors Do Good Work: A Dead Clock Is Right Twice a Day

I began watching Making a Murderer, Part II because Michelle Malkin recommended the work being done by Kathleen Zellner to free the victims of wrongful conviction.  Now, I’m not devoid of skepticism in these matters—not by a long shot.  As they say in the Jug, “Everybody’s always innocent.”  No, everybody in prison has not been wrongfully convicted… but not all have been rightly, justly convicted.  If everybody in a room filled with one hundred people claims to be left-handed, probably about ninety of them are lying.  That leaves ten who are telling the truth.

The case of Steven Avery (and the yet more outrageous case of Brendan Dassey, a minor from whom a confession was wrung because the material evidence against Avery was all but non-existent) interested me enough to explore Netflix further.  Another disclaimer: I do not much care for the Netflix operation.  One certainly stands a much better chance of finding Michael Moore’s latest documentary than Dinesh D’Souza’s.  And, of course, there’s always a tendency to cash in on a good thing. “Wrongful conviction” serials have almost become a genre, apparently. I watched the first segment of an Australian series titled I Am Innocent yesterday… and was not particularly stirred. Yes, the investigating officers who ramroded three Aboriginal school girls into prison for a brutal mugging without bothering to check their alibis (and on the victim’s assurance that these were not her assailants) should have been cashiered on the spot; but much of the hour seemed devoted to maintaining that the girls’ lives were “ruined” by half a year in lock-up before their conviction was overturned, and that the hundreds of thousands of dollars they were paid in indemnity just had to be frittered away–no fault of their own–on booze and partying to erase the nightmare.

So… yes, Netflix is a pander both to left-wing crusades and to shameless capitalist marketing. But… but then we have a production in which author John Grisham was deeply involved titled The Innocent Man. This one was riveting in a responsible and disturbing way.  I was bothered by a few loose ends.  Ron Williamson was fully exonerated of the murder of Debbie Carter thanks to a more meticulous and sophisticated examination of DNA evidence… but another woman appears to have testified that he broke in and raped her once upon a time, yet the narration made no further mention of this incident.  Were we to assume that it was concocted?  It bothered me.  Tocqueville wrote that rape was universally punished by hanging in the America of 1830; and, were it not for the ravages of Political Correctness and the sexual revolution upon our collective sanity, I’d be fairly comfortable with that penalty for that crime today.  Williamson was no choirboy, apparently.

The victim of sloppy “assembly line” justice who truly excited my sympathy was Tommy Ward.  Also a favorite local bad boy because of his being born on the wrong side of the tracks, Ward fit the “narrative”.  After hours of good cop/bad cop interrogation, during which critical details were constantly fed to him, a package of the selectively taped “interview”, complete with “confession”, was prepared for the defense and the jury.  I was beginning to wonder why we Americans so rail against Putin’s KGB rookie days when many of our jurisdictions favor the same tactics.  The intolerable irony in Tommy’s case is that he will never be granted parole, despite decades of flawless behavior in prison, unless he confirms his false confession to a heinous murder—a murder whose details both he and his puppeteer-examiners got wrong, as it turned out when Denice Haraway’s remains were finally located.

So what’s going on with our judges?  Is the objective for the convict to “show remorse”… or is it for His Honor to sleep well at night?

Next up, Out of Thin Air: a documentary revisiting case in Iceland, of all places, that involved hundreds (not thousands—mere hundreds) of hours of solitary confinement accompanied by sleep-deprivation tactics, dosing with depressants, and (in one instance) what we know affectionately as water-boarding.  Wow… the Vikings live on!  To this day, some of the then-teenagers convicted of two murders (for which no bodies were ever recovered and whose circumstances were utterly unrelated) cannot distinguish between fact and implanted fantasy.  It was some small comfort to me as an American, however, to learn that our system remains a bit more enlightened than somebody’s.

And then… and then, I took a plunge into The Confession Tapes.  The first case in the series concerned two teens (notice a pattern? teenagers as putty in the hands of seasoned detectives?) who had airtight alibis for the night during which the parents and sister of one were bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat.  Didn’t matter.  One of them read Nietzsche, and both used the insurance money to party with inappropriate abandon.  (Maybe the detective who gave himself a crash course in German philosophy should have read Camus’s Stranger, where a man gets the guillotine essentially for not showing grief upon his mother’s death.)  Defendants Burns and Rafay were not even interrogated by American police: their “confession” (again fed to them, one detail after another) was part of a Canadian sting that would be patently unconstitutional south of the border.  Particularly hard to watch was the pompous buffoon of a judge who unleashed a flatulent thunder of righteous indignation upon Burns because the fellow dared to protest his innocence before sentencing.

Is one prohibited, as a judge, from recognizing that one is not God, and that a verdict may be incorrect even though one is obliged to accept it and sentence accordingly?  Indeed, hasn’t a judge the authority—and the obligation—to vacate a verdict when the defendants are positively identified by multiple witnesses as being miles from the scene of the crime at the time of its commission?  Guess not.

At this point, I was psychologically drained.  I used to believe that our system performed reasonably well at putting bad guys in detention.  Now I see nothing but detectives reviewing evidence in search of bits that fit some novel they’re writing, DA’s trying to nail down convictions quickly in high-profile cases, and judges covering the obscene rat’s tail of the profession upon which they have built a claim to be local gods.  I couldn’t take any more.  I was ready for Netflix to give me David Attenborough hoarsely murmuring over Andean hummingbirds.

I’m on Twitter—have been so for about a year (@GringoViego41, if you’re interested; I can’t explain the 41–I just thought that the first part would surely have been claimed by many another old white guy).  Upon tweeting something about my Netflix ordeal, I drew a response that forced me back to The Confession Tapes.  I will not be terribly specific, because I once tried to help an Iranian Christian broadcast her message of persecution amid Germany’s flood of “refugees”… and was reviled for the indiscretion.  (Could never understand that, inasmuch as she had posted a video on YouTube of herself blaring away in Nuremberg’s town square.)  But without being explicit, I will share that I was directed by a response to my Tweet to view a later episode of the Netflix serial.  It’s one of the most preposterous cases I have yet seen.  The murdered man’s daughter was supposed to have been called by the killer shortly before the deed, and to have given out her dad’s location unwittingly.  The man charged with and convicted of this crime is the woman’s cousin, who positively identified his voice as not being the one she heard over the phone.  With no material evidence, then—no murder weapon, no DNA, no items of clothing—and also no motive and no eye-witness, this man received a life sentence because… because he “confessed” to being present (not to pulling the trigger) after ten hours following upon a day of working two jobs, and with the assurance that he could “go home” if he would recite the magic words.

I think Michelle Malkin may pick this one up, just as she has been in the vanguard of drawing attention to the judicial railroading of Officer Daniel Holtzclaw.  (The Williamson and Ward convictions are also frame-jobs from the Oklahoma gallery.). You and I both know that some bad actors waste a lot of the court’s time in filing infinite appeals: that mustn’t blind us to the reality that sometimes, as Diogenes once remarked, “The big crooks are arresting the little one.”  Indeed, one can see on the nation’s broadest possible stage that prosecutors can go a-riding like McNelly’s Rangers with a little book of suspects in one hand, a sixgun in the other, and a rope hanging from the saddle horn.  If they want you, they’ll get you.

Do you recognize our nation any more?  I don’t.

Author: nilnoviblog

I hold a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (Latin/Greek) but have not navigated academe very successfully for the past thirty years. This is owed partly to my non-PC place of origin (Texas), but probably more to my conviction--along with the ancients--that human nature is immutable, and my further conviction--along with Stoics and true Christians-- that we have a natural calling to surmount our nature. Or maybe I just don't play office politics well. I'm much looking forward to impending retirement, when I can tend to my orchards and perhaps market the secrets of Dead Ball hitting that I've excavated. No, there's nothing new (nil novi) under the sun... but what a huge amount has been forgotten, in baseball and elsewhere!

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