Twice convicted of murder, once sentenced to death row and once recommended for death row, he asked a simple question, "How could I be guilty of something I didn’t do? How can that be our system of justice?”
How indeed can that be our system of justice?
What is the 'system'? Fundamentally, we have a number of facts. The facts may or may not be construed to indicate a crime has occurred and who committed it. There are four possible conclusions to be drawn from the set of facts for some person (or persons), assuming they are sufficient to conclude a crime did occur:
- They are insufficient to draw a conclusion as to guilt or innocence.
- They are sufficient to draw a conclusion both of guilt and of innocence.
- They are sufficient to draw a conclusion of innocence and not of guilt.
- They are sufficient to draw a conclusion of guilt and not of innocence.
In only one of these cases can we determine that the accused is guilty. That is number 4. In all other cases the law claims we must judge the accused as not guilty. This is referred to as the benefit of the doubt. Because in 2 the facts can be seen as going in two incompatible directions, we cannot be sure which facts are wrong, only that some are.
One way to imagine this is a dartboard. If the prosecution can get a dart into the dartboard and the defense cannot, then the accused is guilty. In all other circumstances, the correct verdict is not guilty.
Some people mistakenly believe that 'reasonable doubt' means that the quality of each side can be judged. This is wrong. It is wrong because circumstances can be strange but true. Examples of this include Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard, Colleen Stan and many, many more. In far too many cases, people are convicted because they are 'visible', because they are there. In the Central Park Jogger case for example, four of the juveniles charged — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Kharey Wise — officially confessed to the crime, and each implicated the others and a fifth, Yusef Salaam. That was the totality of the evidence. Analysis indicated that all of the DNA collected at the crime scene did not match any of the suspects — and that the crime scene DNA had all come from a single, then unknown person. They were convicted despite this. They were, in fact, innocent. The "not there" person (convicted rapist and murderer Matias Reyes) admitted to the crime later - and his DNA matched. Sadly, this is a very common occurrence.
So we must judge each case based on the reasonableness of each side, allowing that a strange but possible defense case must take priority over an apparently reasonable prosecution case. A weak prosecution case such as that of Oba Chandler can result in a guilty verdict where the defense case is non existent. Sadly, in cases such as those of T. Cullen Davis and Robert Durst, juries have chosen the ridiculous defense case and not the robust prosecution case. Just as those decisions are wrong, so a 'strange' but still reasonable defense case must be chosen over an 'obviously right' prosecution case.