Monday, January 23, 2006

Journalistic Prudence

I joined Bacchus in his snuffling and snorting this morning; couldn't tell if it was my cold or his explorations that caused the most noise but we got the walk in. I kept thinking about an issue that has eaten at me since yesterday morning. From Huckleberries this morning -

"In a Coeur d'Alene biz office, two femme co-workers debated the merits of a fair trial for Groene family murder suspect Joseph Edward Duncan III, while a Berry Picker listened in. Worker Bee No. 1 (while reading a newspaper article about a possible change of venue for Duncan): "Boohoo, they are saying Joseph Duncan's not going to get a fair trial here." Worker Bee No. 2 (huffing): "Well, he won't!" Responded WB1: "Well, who cares?" Shot back WB2: "Well, if anything ever happens to me, I sure hope you're not on my jury!" WB1 (as she walked away): "Well, then let's just hope you never murder or molest anyone!" Mebbe the attorneys for the convicted child molester do need to look elsewhere for jurors."

The Joseph Duncan trial is due to begin April 4. The defense is concerned about being able to find an impartial jury in this area. Yet to be resolved, changes of venue have been requested; even importing jurors from other areas has been considered. This is the defense doing it's job. We have laws that grant a person, no matter how heinous his crime, the right to a fair trial with an impartial jury. I find myself wondering if the front page story in Sunday's CDA Press detailing the feelings of a neighbor of the victims is responsible journalism - especially as the trial looms closer.

Stories such as this bring it all back in technicolor to those of us who lived through it and creates an element of curiosity and emotionalism for newcomers to the area. Potential jurors all. I question if running such a story does anything more than further taint the jury pool? In reading the excerpt from Huckleberries it is obvious that emotions still run high. No one can drive past the cinder block house off I-90 or even Denny's without remembering what occurred.

More than anything in the world I want the prosecution to be thorough and without flaw. I do not want this man ever to have the freedom to walk a street, what's more see a child. The more the impartiality of the jury is put in question, the more difficult the prosecution will be. He could be acquitted, strong grounds for appeal might be found. He could spend years, years denied his victims, appealing - and living.

I sincerely hope all media, local and national - both print and broadcast - will refrain from emotionalism and sensationalism as the time frame tightens. Let the process work. Report what is pertinent, not what drives anger and fear and hate.

If I am to believe in anything this day and age it has to be that this man and his crime are so despicable a just outcome needs no help from a sensationalistic press.


Bre said...

Wow, if the ladies in my office only knew their little "tiff" was causing such a debate. =)

I like what you wrote, I know that he needs to have a fair trial, but I'm one of those that wouldn't feel bad for him if he didn't, but you put it in a new perspective for me. An un-fair trial doesn't nessicarily mean un-fair to him, it could mean un-fair to the victims or the community because he could get a mis-trial or an appeal. I just never thought of it like that before.
I guess people really can learn something new everyday.

Mel said...

As long as there's someone buying, there'll be someone selling, hence, you'll never stop the sensationalism; it's an endless seed.


I've always said I could never be a defense attorney, I'm too biased. To me, no suspect is innocent till proven guilty; au contraire, they're guilty till proven innocent. From that point of view, a partial jury would most surely have him convicted in the blink of an eye.

But then, Mari, what you said kicks in: the defense will have ample grounds of appeal if it gets so much as a whiff of a mistrial (sorry if I'm confusing terms), letting this maniac, even if behind bars, live, which is most certainly NOT "eye for an eye".

But then again, I can't help remembering something Ghandi said (just something I heard randomly): "If it were really eye for an eye, then the whole world would go blind"; ie, stop encouraging violence.

So just where the heck do we stand??

Anonymous said...

Mel, your blog profile says you're in chile. How did the Pinochet regime work out with respect to guilty-until-proven-innocent? All those poor dissident sods that got locked up or disappeared got what they deserved by your measure, and nobody should have been held accountable later for killing them?


Jump over to Arbitrary & Capricious, a blog from near Seattle done by a Public Defender. Google up some cases where DNA led to acquittals. Imagine you or a loved one getting caught up by circumstance (unlike in TV-land, acquittals or convictions in the real world usually are based on witness statements and/or confirmable alibis, not on immutable evidence like DNA tests).

Guilty-until-proven-innocent is absurd. It says that a trial is unneccessary, since a knee-jerk reaction by a cop is sufficient to genuinely detect innocence or guilt. Do you HONESTLY believe that nobody makes a mistake in arresting someone?!

There are a lot of knee-jerk opinions that wise people outgrow. Guilty until proven innocent is such a self-indulgent bit of sophistry, I'd recommend you rethink it.

Mel said...

Indeed "Annonymous" (you didn't provide a name :) ), I obviously hadn't thought of that. And you are quite right. I guess I can be narrow-minded sometimes; must come from being so out-of-touch with goings on.

So though I see your point, I beg you not to ask me too much of the Pinochet regime, because of the above, as well as the fact that I was never one for History. All I hear is what my dad - who was a teenager in those times - and another family member relate... well, I'm not that hopeless, I do watch some news, hehe. Why, right now, Pinochet's wife is being held in Washington 'cause they issued some kind of warrant against her here. She's requesting political asylum (?) there in the States.

But I'm getting off-track, sorry. My main point is simply to recognize yours, and also to apologize if I've offended anyone. Guess we all just have to keep learning, eh? :)

Mel said...

Sorry, I remembered why they issued something against her: tax evasion.