Native Writes: Seeking justice in a country courtroom


It’s time to cover another murder trial and I hope to be mentally ready.

These things are the most difficult parts of my profession because one life is gone and another is literally on the line.

What I think can’t enter into it.

Just what do I think about this one?

I have some, but not all, of the details. My opinion is unimportant.

Law enforcement has details, the defense attorneys do and the prosecution has enough to argue for conviction.

A very experienced attorney who isn’t practicing but still has my respect told me when he was public defender and working on behalf of someone I believed was innocent: “It’s like a game of chess. You have to anticipate and be prepared for the other side’s next move.”

It turned out the defendant was genuinely innocent. He didn’t shout, “checkmate.”

A district attorney back in the early 1980s called me his “13th juror” because I warned him his case was weak. He had a puny argument and a hole in his evidence that would accommodate a Sherman Tank. The defendant walked free.

I’m not always right and my opinion may change when all the evidence has been presented.

When someone is blatantly guilty, I wonder how any attorney could wage a credible defense.

The law, I am told, ensures a vigorous defense. In my opinion, it takes a special person to provide that.

Some cases have people on both sides, some supporting the accused and others mourning the deceased.

The first criminal case I covered when my career began more than 50 years ago was a battle between two old-timers who disagreed about time using a head gate. One hit the other with a shovel, knocking him cold. Even six months later, they were both still angry.

Today, there are specialists who can make a successful effort to help people like this reconcile.

They would fail in others.

The first vehicular homicide case I covered was one of a young man who, intoxicated, drove carelessly and killed the mother of a family. I sat with the man’s young wife, but accepted the guilty verdict.

She went on with her life.

The current trial will go on for well over a week and the jury pool is large.

It was standing room only in the courtroom while attorneys questioned potential jurors and I left before the panel was chosen.

In my opinion, journalists don’t need to sit through that.

What each of us needs to do is to wipe the mental slate as clean as possible and look for the facts, the truth, innocence or guilt.

It won’t be Matlock, Perry Mason, L.A. Law or even Bull. The drama won’t be as graphic and the case will not have been solved in an hour, half hour or even two hours.

My sincerest hope is that justice will be served in the end.

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