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Saturday, August 27, 2011

If justice is blind, witnesses aren't... but perhaps it would be better if they were

The prosecuting attorney asked the key witness, a 60-year-old nun, to identify the man she saw murder the victim.

That man!" she demonstrably told the judge, jury and world. She pointed her saintly finger and repeated, with emphasis, "THAT MAN, the accused, right there." The trial was as good as over before the jury returned its guilty verdict.

Other trials saw witnesses putting it differently: "There is absolutely no question in my mind..." "I'm 120 percent sure...." "That is a face I shall never forget..." Guilty, guilty, guilty.

In this digital age of Photoshop and technically skilled users, courts will no longer accept photos as incontrovertible evidence... but an eyewitness... that's a different story.

There are 75,000 eyewitness accounts per year, according to the New York Times, and up to a third of those are, regrettably, wrong! We are human, after all. When DNA could offer absolute proof of a person's involvement or innocence in a crime, the first 250 DNA exonerations showed that 190 eyewitness accounts were wrong!

Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny


Anyone who has watched My Cousin Vinny (and if you haven't, you should) with Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, and Ralph Macchio knows that. And how about that Marisa Tomei as Mona Lisa Vito... an Oscar, no less, for stuff like this:


Vinny Gambini: Your Honor, may I have permission to treat Ms. Vito as a hostile witness?
Mona Lisa Vito: You think I'm hostile now, wait 'til you see me tonight.
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Do you two know each other?
Vinny Gambini: Yeah, she's my fiancée.
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Well, that would certainly explain the hostility.

At one time, I knew flamboyant attorney F. Lee Bailey well enough to ask if it is difficult for him to defend a client that he knows is guilty. Bailey, whose famous clients included the innocent O. J. Simpson, told me that if a person is actually innocent or guilty has no bearing on the trial. Every trial, he said, starts as a clean slate and what happens there is the de-facto ruling of guilt or innocence, right or wrong... and the flamboyant egotist loved the game.

Sadly, O.J. was, perhaps mistakenly convicted--you know how juries are-- for another 'situation' and is now serving time in jail instead of exhausting every waking moment searching the world for the real killer of his wife and her boy friend. Boy... talk about a rotten break.

Isn't justice scary put that way? One of my childhood nightmares: I was wrongly convicted of a murder and got the electric chair... really! Then, as I grew up, I realized how silly that was. Then, as I grew 'more up,' I thought, happens all the time.

I guess it then makes even more sense that criminals try anything and everything to avoid being caught and sent to trial... much like the Washington state guy who, while allegedly (the key word the media uses to keep from getting sued) drunk, backed his car into a building structure and brought it down. As police arrived at the scene, he ducked into a portable toilet and doused himself with a bucket of human excrement. "He thought," said the unlucky office who had to drag him to the ground and 'cuff' him, "that the dogs were coming and he was trying to throw them off the scent."

Well, nice try. He now needs F. Lee Bailey to tell the impartial jury, "If the excrement don't fit, you must acquit."

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