David R. Cameron, distinguished professor of political science at Yale and a member of the State of Connecticut’s Eyewitness ID Task Force has written one of the most incomprehensible and bizarre opinion columns in the New Haven Register.
The feeling I got after reading that column is similar to the feeling I get after reading briefs written by the prosecution: one struggles for a sizeable chunk of time with where to start in response. As my favorite law professor used to say: it’s not even wrong.
Cameron uses three recent trials in New Haven Part A to illustrate the lesson that more evidence of guilt is better for conviction than lesser evidence of guilt and that without such additional evidence, guilty people will be found not guilty.
No, I’m serious.
Cameron tells us the tale of three trials conducted in recent months, all of which resulted in either acquittals or mistrials. He starts off by presenting unfiltered pro-prosecution evidence in each case:
In October, a jury found Jermaine Scott, 33, not guilty of murdering Marquise Baskin, 26, on June 19, 2010, in a parking lot behind Winchester Avenue. It did so despite the fact that a relative of Scott’s who had taken care of him since he was a child told police in a taped interview that she saw him in the parking lot with a gun, saw flashes of gunfire and heard gunshots.
In November, a jury found Tyrick Warren, 20, not guilty of conspiring with Rajoun Julious to rob John Henry Cates, a 57-year-old homeless man who was murdered on Jan. 3, 2010, near the corner of Huntington and Newhall streets. But it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the charges of felony murder and attempted robbery, despite a taped statement in which Warren implicated himself in the crime. The judge declared a mistrial.
And a week ago, Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue granted a defense motion for acquittal in the trial of Kenta Wilson, 22, for the murder of Timothy Mathis, 25, on Sept. 3, 2011, in a parked car on South Genesee Street on the grounds that the state had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The motion came after a prosecution witness, Alfonso Dixon, refused to acknowledge that he told the police that several days after the shooting Wilson told friends he shot Mathis. Dixon was sentenced to six months for contempt of court.
He then goes through the rest of the evidence, essentially arguing that there were very good reasons why each judge or jury could not and did not convict the defendant. He boils down the similarities in each to:
But in all three, the prosecutors relied heavily upon a taped statement by an eyewitness, the defendant himself or an acquaintance that unambiguously implicated the defendant only to have the eyewitness, defendant or acquaintance subsequently recant, claim the statement was made under pressure, or refuse to acknowledge having made it.
Just in case you weren’t clear, he doesn’t believe any of this eyewitness recantation pressure nonsense, because clearly no one’s ever falsely confessed or misidentified the perpetrator. It’s understandable that a lay professor isn’t up on wrongful convictions across the country. It’s not like he’s on a task fo-oh.
And then he makes this really absurd conclusion:
However persuasive such statements may sound at the time to investigators and however useful they may be in demonstrating probable cause, they are quite likely to be recanted or otherwise denied later on at trial, especially if they were made by someone who is related to or acquainted with the defendant or by the defendant himself.
It is the fact of kinship that causes recantation, not the possibility that the statement may itself have been obtained under coercive circumstances. Cameron completely ignores this possibility again, so he’s either drunk or trolling everyone with this.
And let’s not forget the lesson he wants the good guys to learn from this:
That means investigators and prosecutors need to realize that judges and/or juries will usually need some corroborating evidence — ideally, forensic evidence — in addition to such statements in order to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; probable cause isn’t enough.
I don’t even know where to start. What is he saying? That confessions aren’t enough because they’re only probable cause, and probable cause is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt?
That prosecutors should “find” some physical evidence because without that murderers and killers are going to go free because they can simply magically say they didn’t do it and juries are so stupid that they automatically believe all recantations?
I’m sorry this post is so rambling, but I literally do not know how to comprehend and deconstruct the vast amount of stupid that is this opinion column.
Wouldn’t it have made more sense for his opinion column to be about reminding prosecutors and police that they should only pursue cases in which there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt and to not try to convict people who are quite apparently not guilty?
That’s not what he writes, though, because surprisingly for someone who comes from his position, he too is of the all too common mindset that once police and prosecutors arrest someone, we have full faith that they’ve got the right person and all that’s left is a matter of meeting the ministerial burden of proof BRD and any prosecution that fails to meet that pro forma hurdle is a victim of cheating, dishonest witnesses and incompetent juries and “liberal” judges.
Never once does he demonstrate the understanding that maybe, just maybe, in each instance the verdict was the just one and the only one that upheld the integrity of the legal system.
But shit like that doesn’t get you on task forces now, does it?