Mitchell: There’s usually more to the story
I was privileged to speak about my experiences in Afghanistan at the annual conference of the Business Women of Missouri last weekend at State Fair Motor Inn. But while we were eating lunch prior to my presentation, the conversation drifted to the murder case in Warrensburg — the one involving accusations of murder for hire, a Saudi Arabian defendant, $2 million bail, a judge who wouldn’t release the prisoner after bail had been paid, and then finally, an abrupt dismissal of all charges.
One of our group wondered why the case had been dismissed, especially since the actual killer had accused the Saudi of paying him to commit the murder. I pointed out that the statement was merely an accusation, which would have given police a reason to investigate, but the alone would not be enough to convict.
I questioned why the judge didn’t release the defendant after bail had been paid. The defense lawyer had appealed that decision, but the Court of Appeals had sided with the judge. The defense had then asked the Court of Appeals to remove the judge from the case, which had not yet been decided.
When he first declined to release the defendant, the judge said that he thought the defendant was a flight risk. But bail is to discourage flight: If a defendant pays the bail and doesn’t show up in court, he or she forfeits the bond amount — in this case, $2 million.
In this case, however, the defendant did not pay the bond. The government of Saudi Arabia paid it, which probably complicated the issue for the judge. If the defendant left the country before trial, would the government of Saudi Arabia care if it lost the $2 million? The judge also said that the defendant’s immigration status was questionable, and that were he freed, he could be deported, thereby depriving the State of a trial.
The judge also had to face a courtroom full of community members every time the defendant appeared. Often, people forget the presumption of innocence and figure, “If the police arrested him, he’s probably guilty.” Those people might not be happy if the judge released someone they assumed to be a co-conspirator in a murder.
Regardless of the issues of bail and the defendant’s release, if the prosecution cannot prove every element of the case, then the defendant cannot be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We have to figure that the prosecution dismissed this case because it couldn’t prove every element of the crime.
A different kind of case, but one also requiring faith in the system, occurred last week in Kansas City. I read in the Democrat and the KC Star about a judge who fired a court clerk because she had provided a copy of a public document to the sister of an inmate who had been convicted of rape. The sister was convinced that her brother was innocent and pleaded with the court to do a DNA test. Until the clerk helped the sister, the court refused to order the test.
The sister then filed a proper motion, the judge granted the test and appointed a defense lawyer, and sure enough, the inmate was excluded as the rapist. Then the judge fired the clerk (see kansas
jackson-county-court-employee.html for comment).
I was pretty mad about that when I read it. After all, the bottom line was that the man was innocent and should have been released. Also, Max and I know both the judge and the lawyer for the defendant, and we were surprised by their actions. I wanted to know more, so we checked into it. We found out that, just as in the case in Warrensburg, there was more to the story, but whatever it was would have to stay unknown, probably because of confidentiality restrictions.
I chastised myself for being so quick to assume that something was fishy, and then I realized that this is how it feels to be on the outside of the justice system looking in.
So I will continue to remind myself, as well as others, that things are not always as they seem — and to wait to judge until all the pertinent information is revealed.
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