15A005 Twisted Justice by Jim Davies, 1/17/2015    


For government to adjudicate its own cause (even to the extent of sometimes refusing to be sued, using the doctrine of "sovereign immunity") is blatantly unjust and there are plenty of examples (here's one) to illustrate that. Frequently however it also grossly distorts true justice even when managing ordinary cases of wrongdoing between real people.

Very little on mainstream TV informs the public about this distortion, but I've noticed one exception: NBC's Dateline. The series is easy to criticize; the programs are far too long and there's far too much repetition within each; the material could readily be presented in about a third of the time available. But the reporters do a very good job of interviewing the key participants in high-profile trials, and manage to show some real empathy even towards admitted murderers. The viewer gets a ringside seat. My favorite correspondent is Keith Morrison, but they are all professional.

NBC by no means ever states that government operates a parody of justice; if they did, a note would be sent round to Rockefeller Plaza by express, to remind the network where its true interests lie. But by presenting as evenly as it can both sides of the case, each program draws in the viewer to form his own verdict, and rather often, the actual one appears highly bizarre. After seeing several episodes, it would be a dull viewer indeed, who failed to form the view that something is badly wrong with government justice.

Here's one example, to support this theme. Last year I saw an episode about a murder in  Rome, GA; it was spiced by sex as well as violence so was a sure choice for high ratings. Two leaders in a Baptist church were close friends, each married with children, and often took weekends and vacations together. Thad and Michelle Reynolds had had a rocky relationship, having married young, divorced, then re-married. Scott and Pam Harper were more stable. Trouble brewed when Scott and Michelle began a steamy affair.

Michelle persuaded Scott to tell Thad the bad news that he was carrying on with his wife, and neither could see a good outcome though both agreed they had to come clean. He tried several times and could not bring himself to do so; eventually he turned up early one morning at Thad's workplace and told him "I want what you have." However, instead of explaining and discussing what to do next, Scott produced a knife and stabbed his friend 19 times, leaving him dead. He took no elaborate precautions to conceal the killing, and a couple of days later 'fessed up and was arrested. So was Michelle, as an accessory to murder. Later Scott was imprisoned for life and Michelle for 20 years.

Here's where the process went badly wrong; and first, the case against Scott. Most likely, he did not premeditate the murder. In his Dateline interview he claimed he went to bed the previous night with no idea what he was going to do when he met Thad, and neither he nor Michelle had made any plans for how they would live together when Thad had been told about their affair (or killed, as it turned out.) Scott failed to clear up clues from the scene; his glasses were left behind, his car was seen leaving, and megabytes of torrid, explicit emails with Michelle were left openly on his PC for detectives to find, even though he was an IT professional. It was obvious, I'd say, that the killing was done on the spur of the moment, or nearly so. In some states they'd call it "Murder 2" or "Voluntary Manslaughter." Certainly, justice demands that he should be held accountable; but to lock him up for ever at the cost of taxpayers including Thad's parents, is disgusting. This was clearly a one-off event; he poses no evident danger to anyone else.

The case against Michelle was weaker yet; there was no clear evidence that she knew in advance that Scott would kill her husband. The (female and less attractive) prosecutors painted her as an evil seductress, and her interviews with Dateline suggested she is an accomplished liar with few if any signs of human emotion or compassion; but in the plea "bargain" she was persuaded to sign, the "offense" was listed as "manslaughter." Again, her children will be deprived of their mother, and her neighbors of their money, for the next two wasted decades.

To cap it all, the government system needed four years to process the case, even though all the evidence was handed to the prosecutors on a plate, complete with a confession by Scott. In earlier times (of admittedly rougher justice) it might have taken four days; for sure, four weeks would have been enough in a ZGS, with its competititve, for-profit justice system. So much for the government's guarantee of a "speedy" trial.

Had this murder been committed in the coming Zero Government Society, what kind of outcome might there be? - I'd say the evidence against Michelle was so weak, no case would have withstood a competent defense. She would for ever be known as the adulterous lover of a murderer, and that would have limited her lifetime opportunities, but nothing worse. Her children would have grown up with a mother.

Scott would have been caused to make restitution to Thad's widow, parents and children, probably as a fraction of his future earnings. He might have divorced Pam and married Michelle, and he would always be known as the killer of her first husband. Neither would have lived a very happy and fullfilling life, but there would have been no other victims than Thad. There is no way to restore a murder victim's life, but that's much closer to real justice.

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