Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why the "Perfect Crime" is Becoming Easier, not Harder

The Alligators Ate Her, so Ha Ha!
One would think with the advances in science these days - better DNA analysis, greater analysis of all physical evidence, the ability to track phones and discover Internet search history - all of these things would mean a case is easier to prosecute and to see a murderer put away for good.

And, yet, in my opinion, science is actually turning out to be a bit of a disaster for seeing justice done; while more cases are solved and closed (via DNA matches), less of these are actually being successfully prosecuted. Did I just contradict myself? No, let me explain further.

Solving a case simply means you are sure enough who did it that you don't need to investigate further.                   If you have enough evidence, you can go to prosecution. But, sometimes, the case is simply closed administratively because the suspect is dead. Other times, cases are called solved without actually proving who did it, they are solved because the investigators believe or claim to believe they know who did it (by way of circumstantial evidence or limited physical evidence) and the case is closed administratively. Sometimes, someone is simply railroaded because it is easy to get a jury to believe he did it or someone simply gets the label of perp in an administratively closed case because it is believable and comforting to the family and citizens and increases the closure rate for the police department. Doing so also gets the family, press, and community of their backs. Often crimes linked without true proof are glommed on to serial killers who are already serving time and it isn't a stretch to think they committed yet another crime even if it is never actually proven.

So, while added scientific evidence can close cases, some properly and some questionably, does science really help in the courtroom? I don't believe so...I think science and TV CSI shows along with lay juries and squirrelly defense attorneys and their bought experts combine to make it nigh impossible to convict these days especially since a good portion of crimes still just don't have strong physical evidence; circumstantial evidence must take the criminal down. Once upon a time, it was almost always circumstantial evidence that brought a guilty verdict but now juries overwhelmingly mistrust even solid circumstantial evidence;, they want solid proof that the party is guilty, incontrovertible proof that doesn't allow for a smidgeon of a doubt, no matter how minuscule and ridiculous  that doubt might be. Juries don't have faith in their own ability to determine guilt by the totality of thee evidence; they want science to do the determination for them and, oftentimes, that level of physical proof does not exist. The prosecutor doesn't want to wreck his win rate (a politically bad move) by taking anything but slam dunks to court so we THINK the system works because the citizens are unaware of how many cases are shoved under the carpet and forgotten over time. Most of the time when tough cases (well, tough in terms of getting lay juries to convict) go to court, it is because the press has put so much pressure on the police

A good example of prosecuis when Robert Durst was found not guilty of the murder of his neighbor, Morris Black. Mind you, he confessed to pulling the trigger, confessed to killing Black. He admitted to shooting Black with his own gun in his own apartment. He confessed to chopping up Black's body and getting rid of the parts and cleaning up the apartment. While many parts were found (and some showed signs of severe bruising indicating the victim was beaten), the head with the location of the bullet hole was hidden well enough to never locate. Durst never told police where the head was. Durst had a motive (stealing Black's identity along with other possible motives) and following the crime, he went on the run. If that isn't a solid circumstantial case, I don't know what is. The jury let him off though because they accepted Durst's explanation (created, I am sure, of his lawyer) that he shot Black in self-defense when Black (after somehow getting into his apartment and locating his gun) came at him with the weapon. Durst claims he grabbed the weapon, and in the struggle, shot Black. And because the jury did not have physical 100% absolute proof this did not happen, Durst walked.

Casey Anthony also walked because the jury was willing to accept a ridiculous alternative theory conjured up by her attorney. OJ Simpson walked, I guess, because there wasn't a videotape of the crime. Now, mind you, there are some people who get convicted by juries based on nearly zero evidence but these are scapegoats selected because it is pretty obvious the jury won't like these defendants and the prosecutor is quite sure they would be happy to convict him. But, if there is a chance the jury will feel the slightest bit sorry for the defendant, a circumstantial case is likely to go down in only because too much science has made juries not trust circumstantial evidence (and the lawyers  and experts who present it).

There never has really been such a thing as a perfect crime, just a good-enough crime that won't be closed in court. Serial killers get away with most of their crimes simply because they are strangers and the police have no idea who to connect to the evidence. Bodies that disappear rarely have justice meted out to the one that turned them into just a body because the jury almost always has to have proof that the person is dead. Elizabeth Johnson, in spite of the fact she told her estranged husband she killed their baby and he hasn't been seen in six years, only got a short sentence for false imprisonment (interfering with custody) and she is already out of prison. But, since she also claimed she gave the baby away to a stranger in the park, the jury thought the less horrible of her claims might be true and didn't convict her of homicide.

Killers now know that if you can hide enough of the evidence well enough (especially a body), you won't need to have committed a perfect crime because a good-enough crime will have the jury rule, "Not guilty."

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown

March 24, 2015


Lostribe said...

Very true. Popular shows like CSI have people convinced there is always physical evidence that can prove a case, when it's not true. Common sense and a pile of circumstantial evidence are barely acknowledged as valid proof. And there also seems to be a kind of television mentality where to so many people, the crime isn't real unless it has a linear storyline rather than scraps of evidence and timelines with big gaps. Not sure what the answer is. People like you talking about it, I guess!

Debilee said...

why a pic and a claim under it w/ no story? Ronald C knew what happened to his lil girl, everyone but NG knew that.. she gave him her cell #, wonder if she visits him after all these yrs?

Pat Brown said...

Debilee, the story is not about Ronald Cummings but about the problem with circumstantial evidence. But the comment Cummings made about alligators eliminating his daughter's body is quite body, no case.

Anonymous said...

The death penalty is also a factor in the reluctance of juries to convict in your courts, Pat. It surely was in the Anthony case. An English jury wouldn't have had that moral quandary. Also in an English court Baez wouldn't have been allowed to suggest alternative theories (he gave the jury more than one) that he had no evidence for.

Anonymous said...

Motive seems to be a bigger factor in your trials (at least in the high profile ones). That was another factor in Anthony's trial I believe. English juries don't concern themselves with the Why would the defendant do this? so much.

Your high profile trials are so well known and discussed publicly before they get to court (Anthony's trial was 3 years after the crime), when the prosecution still can't provide a motive after all that time it's a big factor with a jury.

In England there is no public discussion before a trial (or shouldn't be).

Pat Brown said...

Anon 11:26 and 11:37

You make two excellent points. The death penalty does cause juries to sometimes go with "not guilty" not because they really think they are not guilty but because they don't want to be responsible for a death sentence. And, this ridiculous attorney dreaming up some unsupported alternative theory should not be permitted. As to thee public discussion, this too is out of hand in the US. The media runs wild and the defense attorney puts this to good use. The whole jury system is a mess here and needs to be refurbished.

guerra said...

It is tougher to prosecute a case because the media has turned criminal cases into a form of entertainment. As Pat has stated, a case based on a mountain of circumstantial evidence pointing to one conclusion is no longer a guarantee of a conviction; people want that dramatic proof based on the latest scientific techniques. There is also the problem that high profile cases are discussed ad nauseam on shows like Nancy Grace even before they are brought to trial making it increasingly difficult to select a jury that has not formed an opinion on the guilt or innocence of the accused. The last high profile case I followed there was a show that had a mock jury ruling on various aspects of the case. If I were a defence lawyer I would be tuned in to these shows to gauge public opinion and to stimulate my creativity in building a case for my client, which I’m sure is what happens.