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Law can hurt the innocent

first_imgThe cost to everyone involved in these horrible displays of injustice has been tremendous and punctuate the fallacies of a system in which too often one’s life may be ruined or, in cases involving faulty capital convictions, even ended. The latter could have been Jewell’s reward for diligence had then FBI Director Louis Freeh not been yanked up from his pursuit of this hapless hero by overwhelming facts. It is not beyond imagining that FBI profilers who saw Jewell as the villain would have had a scalp for their Hollywood science had Freeh not been forced to step back. Freeh had taken over the handling of the investigation from the very beginning, and his obsessive compulsion to make the FBI paramount in almost every high-profile case led him into this major boondoggle. He chose to ignore warnings from the ATF, the primary federal agency when it comes to explosives, that the bomb in Atlanta’s Olympic Park spotted first by Jewell fit the design of another known bomber, Eric Rudolph. Then Freeh sped evidence to FBI labs where it was contaminated, bypassing the ATF’s far superior explosives lab only a few miles from the site. The profilers suspected Jewell of being a frustrated wannabe cop who planted the bomb, then identified it to win attention as a hero and further a career in full-fledged law enforcement. This suspicion triggered Freeh’s personal interrogation and then was leaked to the local Atlanta press and the television networks, which foolishly printed that Jewell was the leading suspect, causing the pleasant, overweight young man to be subjected to the most excruciatingly painful publicity. When it became clear that Jewell was a true hero and Rudolph, now in prison, was the culprit, the FBI’s apology was not only slow in coming but also very muted. The Duke case, of course, was among the worst miscarriages of justice in recent memory, and a judge recently added to former prosecutor Nifong’s deserved misery by slapping him with criminal contempt for lying about evidence that should have gone to the defense team and sentencing him to a day in jail. He already had lost his job and his law license for his almost rabid election-time pursuit of the lacrosse players on accusations made by a black stripper that proved quite quickly to be utterly groundless. Once again, the press response was overly sensational and ethically questionable. Major newspapers failed to question thoroughly Nifong’s motivation, preferring an almost knee jerk reaction to the racial implications of the case – wealthy, privileged white boys attacking a black woman in a reverse of the Scottsboro Boys miscarriage. The university moved far too precipitously, firing the lacrosse coach, suspending the season and taking action against the boys. It was a sad day for justice all around. Nifong had somehow failed to disclose to the defense that tests showed DNA on the woman belonged to several men, none of them the Duke players. Add these examples to the litany of recent instances in which DNA has proved the accused and the convicted were not guilty, and one could only hope never to be caught up in a system that is full of sloppy and expedient police work, overly ambitious and politically motivated prosecutors and inferior jurists, too many of whom are in their positions because they are incapable or too lazy to succeed in private practice. If that seems too harsh, there certainly is enough evidence to support the allegation. In both Jewell’s case and that of the errant Nifong, some justice did win out, but certainly not before huge damage was done to the system and those who believe in it and most importantly to its victims. Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! By Dan K. Thomasson A couple of recent back-of-the-paper news items once again served as a reminder of the perils of getting caught up in the nation’s haphazard criminal justice system where political expedience too often results in a rush to judgment that obscures the truth. The first was the death of Richard Jewell, the private security guard who saved lives during the Olympic bombing incident in Atlanta and ended up being victimized by an overzealous FBI director and the press in what has to be everyone’s worst nightmare. The second was the final punctuation to one of the larger travesties in modern jurisprudence, the unfounded allegations against three members of the Duke lacrosse team, with the conviction for criminal contempt of disbarred former prosecutor Michael Nifong. last_img read more

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